A permanent addition to the library, a set of specific UK Shale Well Guidelines hot off the keyboard from the UK Onshore Operators Group.
Ken Cronin, Chief Executive of UKOOG said “We have a strong regulatory environment in the UK, it is therefore important that the industry adopts the highest possible standards with respect to well integrity and fracturing operations. The publication of these guidelines demonstrates a commitment to comply with relevant legislation and best practice“.
Energy Minister John Hayes commented: “Shale gas is an exciting opportunity and could contribute significantly to our energy security. It is important that any development is safe and the public must be reassured that it is safe. I welcome these guidelines, which complement our robust regulatory system to ensure all operations are carried out to the highest possible standards and the environment is fully protected.”
A fundamental problem of the industry in the UK and Europe is that we only have the US experience to draw upon. That experience, while nowhere being as bad as some make out, doesn't provide an accurate path for our development. Lancaster County Pennsylvania can not be expected to supply what we need to be assured on in Lancashire England. Opponents in Europe consistently propose shale gas as a new, untried and unregulated market. It is, and it isn't. The scientific and regulatory proof worldwide provides far more comfort than some make out, but at the end of the day, local energy needs local people regulating what happens under everyone's back yard.
The new guidelines will probably put most people to sleep, but that is perhaps the point. It's very hard to make something not happening appear exciting. I've always remarked from my first days in the utility industry, how so many people work so hard to provide an invisible product. A thankless task perhaps, but in less than a century, constant light, power and heat moved being indistinguishable from magic to being taken for granted.
The structural inflection point of shale energy is to provide energy from local sources. We're used to not thinking about energy. We've averted our eyes as over the years, tens of thousands of miners worldwide sacrificed their lives to provide us with not only light, heat and power but also the fundamental building blocks of modern life via the chemical industry. We've sent our neighbours children, and sometime our own, as soldiers sent out to die to protect the fuel that goes into our petrol tanks, in often messy wars where hundreds of thousands of innocents also died. The energy supported plutocrats as often as it's created vibrant new industries. We've seen true environmental degradation in the Niger Delta, or the Amazon rain forest or Siberia but chosen to avert our eyes. We accept energy from any source. Anywhere except under our feet.
Today, people shop at a Co-op or Waitrose, and think themselves green, or buy cuddly toys from the WWF and think that these 21st century indulgences give them some sort of control over energy, or is it to simply assuage their guilt? On the way out the door, they may sign a petition against wind farms, but are perfectly happy to see them from the motorway near someone else's house. They're happy to pretend that offshore wind farms are out of sight and out of mind. They want a carbon free future, but prefer to avert their brains from thinking of how sometime in the 85th century someone is going be deprived of their present after stumbling upon a nuclear waste site: our gift to the future.
Shale energy is local energy we control. It may not be perfect. But it's ours and we need to have a debate. Energy we control creating local wealth, or abdicating responsibility? Do we want to send money we spend on energy abroad? Why outsource energy? Buying imported gas is as pointless as buying Russian milk or Qatari eggs. Or are we to continue dumping our fears of pollution or refusing to confront climate change on to someone else?
A debate needs to start not on shale gas, but on energy. Those who don't want to think about local energy must provide alternatives. The shale industry can now present shale as something we control from the drilling tip to the burner in our boiler. This starts out by using less, but producing more locally.
We all like the theory of organic local food provided by our neighbours. We need to check the provenance of locally produced energy. It's energy we would truly be in control of. If we want it.