6 june 2013

[4C note: Although we do not normally publish letters to the editor in our Breaking News rubric, the following letter to the Financial Times captures so well a number of excellent arguments against investing in shale gas that we make an exception for it. ]

Factors to consider before you invest in shale gas

The Financial Times, From Ms Gwen Harrison. June 5, 2013

Sir, Reading your recent articles on fracking (June 3), I notice three important yet largely overlooked issues. First, methane leakage and groundwater contamination. Whatever fracking companies tell us, anyone in the gas industry knows that well-integrity failure is a fact of life. This is particularly true when you subject your well to sustained explosions (fracking), then leave your cement-filled hole marinating in a cocktail of aggressive chemicals. If just a fraction of the anticipated tens of thousands of wells fail, it doesn’t take a clairvoyant to foretell investor gloom in the form of delays, clean-up costs (if clean-up is possible) and tighter regulation.

Second, climate change. Sceptics have done a splendid job persuading Joe Public that the 97 per cent of climate scientists believing in man-made climate change are wrong. Nevertheless, organisations that, until recently, would not have deigned to mention climate change are now popping up everywhere, warning us to ignore it at our peril; PwC, the International Energy Agency – they’re all at it. The tide of public opinion is turning and, when it does, the government must turn with it, leaving the gas industry and its investors high and dry.

Third, of course, public opposition, the true extent of which is severely underestimated. Locals have already repeatedly thwarted Cuadrilla Resources’ adventures in Lancashire in the UK, and that’s before anything much has happened; Cuadrilla has drilled just four wells, and fracked one. It proposes 800 more in Lancashire alone.

Your article “UK shale Eldorado – just off the M62” (Companies, June 3) quotes Andrew Austin, IGas chief, as suggesting northwest Britain could hold enough gas to rival America’s richest shale plays. Even in the US, opposition has led to fracking bans. To think it could be developed on anything approaching the same scale in the UK, where a more environmentally aware public has a head-start, and with a countryside so full of people, is absurd.

Simply chucking a few pounds at the natives won’t cut it – apart from anything else, it’ll take some sweetener to compensate for the likely drop in local house prices.

I, for one, would not want to be the investor sinking millions into gas that may never see the light of day.

Gwen Harrison, Kendal, Cumbria, UK

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