motherlodeAn interview out today with John Browne via Bloomberg is significant. Browne is almost a household name even in households that rarely know about energy. Former CEO of BP, he now controls Riverstone LLC, a $27 billion energy investment fund that is the largest investor in renewable resources in the world. That inconvenient truth is  overlooked by green opponents of onshore natural gas, who see shale as a threat, even when far cheaper gas in the US appears to have minimal, or even a positive impact on wind power. Cuadrilla may appear as only a side bet in the Riverstone empire, but Browne seems very confident that the Bowland is going to be, as the geologists at Cuadrilla have long stated, a globally significant resource

“Shale gas could be very, very important for this country; it could be transformative,” says Browne, 66, who’s now chairman of Cuadrilla Resources Ltd., a British exploration firm that plans to frack the English countryside. “It’s like the opening of Alaska or western Siberia or the Gulf of Mexico.

This seems to be a trailer for an upcoming piece in Bloomberg Markets Magazine, which lest we forget, still has a print circulation of over 800,000. Thus, this is directed at a global audience, not to impress either the locals of Lancashire or the energy establishment of London. The energy establishment of Houston however will be looking at these words and immediately get the picture so many in the UK seem desperate to belittle.

Reflecting the confused signals Michael Bloomberg and Mike Liebreich of Bloomberg New Energy Finance give about natural gas, the article has some anti shale spin. “Frack the English countryside” sound much more foreboding than the 120 well pads nationally that some observers say will be needed. Next up on the foreboding front:

Even as evidence mounts that fracking operations drain aquifers and spew methane into the air, energy firms are fanning out across mammoth shale deposits in China, Russia, India, South Africa, Australia, Argentina and elsewhere

Drain aquifers? As compared to this as UK water management body CIWEM noted in January:

The volume of water used in hydraulic fracturing for shale gas when viewed in isolation appears large. However, when set in the context of national or regional water supply, it constitutes a very small fraction and compares with other industrial uses. 

Spewing methane? Define spew. Also from CIWEM

Other risks relate to the management of flowback and produced water on site. Any negligence associated with storage, transportation and operational spills represent the greatest threats to surface water, as well as to groundwater. These can be effectively managed through robust best practice and there is no reason why this should not be achievable.


In some cases, such as with respect to resources, we believe that these risks are often overplayed. In others, such as with regard to potential local damage to sensitive habitats or contamination of groundwaters through wellbore failure, they may not be and must be robustly regulated. It is important that the public are reassured that this regulation is fit for purpose and that transparency is displayed on all levels in order to establish trust. There appears to be scope for improvement on these fronts at the present time.

There’s definitely scope for improvement when there is a fine line between editorial decisions and just plain censorship. One would think that a professional organisation’s opinion on shale and water would be widely reported. Perhaps simply because there was no “controversy” the report remains unmentioned


What about the methane emissions? No matter how much the evidence that methane emissions are both negligible and manageable,  they consistently get mentioned. Yet, again, the UK press didn't run a single story on that issue even though it was published in the respected US academic journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and supported by the Environmental Defense Fund.

Drilling and fracking for natural gas don't seem to spew immense amounts of the greenhouse gas methane into the air, as has been feared, a new study says.

About 90 percent of the study funding came from nine energy companies that drill for natural gas with the rest coming from an environmental group. But study authors said they controlled how the research was done and how the wells were chosen for study. And even Robert Howarth of Cornell University, one of the scientists who first raised the methane leak alarm, calls the results "good news."

Howarth, who didn't participate in the new work, did caution that the results may represent a "best-case scenario." It might be, he said, that industry can produce gas with very low emissions, "but they very often do not do so. They do better when they know they are being carefully watched."

They’re certainly not watched by UK media, since yet again, any positive news is no news on UK shale. It’s enough to make me spew. Especially when Dr Howarth, is cited religiously both by antis and those who re-publish their press releases. At least Bob Howarth, is honest enough to mention it. The best case scenario for the UK press is not to print it at all. I don't think there's a plot going on here, simply that since UK journalists long stopped reporting and graduated to re-writing cheat sheets provided by those nice people at Greenpeace or FoE, they wouldn't have even come across alternative views in the first place.

It’s not only words that tell stories. Shale suffers from happening underground where no one can actually see it. That leaves it open to scary stories of what lurks beneath, often because imagining something the width of a saucer causing fractures the size of a grain of sand two miles below our feet is unimaginable. That doesn't provide good visuals. To give an example Bloomberg illustrates their story with pictures of rolling Lancashire hills: 


Who would want to despoil this landscape, even if it contradicts the UK is too crowded for shale gas narrative. The picture editor, like the headline writer, wanted to depict shale as “controversial” despoiler. The reality is a bit more prosaic. There’s a 360 degree picture at Cuadrilla’s site of what the Roseacre location will look like during drilling, this is the full frontal:


It’s neither scenic, nor scary. But one can imagine which images, and which words, Friends of the Earth would choose not to include in their press packs to UK journalists. Which then go, unfiltered by facts, to their declining readerships.

I've never met John Browne, but Francis Egan of Cuadrilla repeated a conversationto me. He mentioned that he had once asked Browne what was the difference between the US and the UK. His one word answer was "Optimism".

That appeals to me as an Anglo American. In any other country, John Browne stating that they had resources like the North Slope of Alaska would be cause for celebration. In the UK, it's going to make things difficult. Some people may actually have to do something about climate change instead of talking about it. Expect to see this story wither away, assuming it is even reported at all.

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  • Michael Roberts

    That 's a lovely photo of the Yorkshire Dales of Carboniferous Limestone (Dinantian) which lies below the Bowland shales (Namurian) so it gives the wrong impression. I think Bloomberg is playing on our emotions:) Your comments on images are very valid

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  • Nick Grealy

    So they couldn't even get the county right?!

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  • Michael Roberts

    Nor the geology

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