Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Welsh Government: quietly supporting the Shale gas revolution.

A new application to drill a borehole for Coal Bed Methane and Shale gas exploration in the Port Talbot area poses new questions about the role of the Welsh Government in the development of unconventional gas in the Welsh coalfields. The application, lodged by UK Methane Ltd. is on land that is directly owned by the Welsh Government itself, and while novel , shouldn’t be hugely surprising.

In the midst of the barrage of claims, counterclaims and spin flying around the whole issues of “Unconventional Gas”, the Welsh Government has been largely silent on the issue, but as with most things in Cardiff Bay, things are quietly developing behind the scenes. So let’s start at the top.

At a Cabinet meeting of the Welsh Government back in November 2013, Carwyn Jones himself brought a new document to the table – a draft policy document on Shale Gas. The thrust of this document, while hedged around with caveats, is broadly supportive. What it also makes clear is that the Welsh Government is taking an active role in the assessment of the full extent of the unconventional gas resource in Wales. To this end, they have commissioned the British Geological Society to undertake a survey of the potential Welsh resource. The BGS are due to report back shortly.

The recommendations of this document were approved by the Cabinet but strangely for an administration usually eager to crow it’s achievements from the rooftops, it was agreed not to publicise this determination in the press.

One very interesting piece of information is the onus placed on the new Regulator, Natural Resources Wales, to ensure that all the appropriate environmental safeguards are in place. Yet questions are already being raised from a number of quarters about potential conflicts on interest with a body which is supposed to on the one hand pursue a conservation agenda, while also issue permits for new energy projects.

Which brings us neatly back to Port Talbot.

For in the case of the Port Talbot application, it’s quite clear that the body responsible for giving out the environmental permits is also the body that manages the land on behalf of the landowner, the Welsh Assembly Government. It appears at this point that this body has consented to allow an activity with unquantified environmental consequences to take place on land under it’s care.

So what reason do we have to assume it’s not going to continue in this vein and give out the permits too?

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

The Vaughan Legacy

Letter to the Western Mail (and shortly all the other main local papers in Wales)...

Dear Editor,

On the face of it, Derek Vaughan’s voting record in the European Parliament – at 93%  - makes for an impressive statistic. In my experience, however, it always pays to get behind the statistics to get the real story.

So, for example, in a vote in the European Parliament on March 12th, 2014, Mr. Vaughan backtracked on a prior commitment (made in a vote on October 9th,  2013) to ensure that all unconventional gas projects were subject to mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment. This follows a vote on November 21st, 2012 in which Mr. Vaughan opposed a motion – co-sponsored by fellow Welsh MEP Jill Evans – to place a moratorium on “fracking” until key safety concerns are fully addressed.

So as readers can see, statistics do not tell us the whole story. In fact they disguise the abject betrayal by Mr. Vaughan of coalfield communities that are being earmarked for the large scale exploitation of our abundant gas resources without even mininal environmental safeguards.

It’s not just about the impressive size of Mr. Vaughan’s voting record, it’s what he does with his vote that counts.

Yours Sincerely,

Jim Dunckley. 

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

"Why Are You Using Loughor As A Guinea Pig?"

                                               Credit: Ben Croft

A recent packed public meeting in Burry Port saw heated exchanges as the company behind a proposed gas development in the Burry Inlet was forced to admit to an “uncontrolled explosion” at a Spanish trial site.

 The company, Cluff Natural Resources Ltd, was forced into the red-faced confession at a recent meeting organised by Llanelli MP Nia Griffiths.  Their proposal to develop an “Underground Coal Gasification” project in the Inlet was branded by one resident as an “experiment” when company representative Dr. Michael Green was forced to concede the accident had happened at a European trial site at El Tremadal, Spain.

 The explosion, referred to by Dr. Green as a “Blowout”, raises disturbing echoes of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico back in 2010, when a similar type of explosion led to the largest offshore oil spill in US history.

 In the case of the El Tremedal site, at a remote rural location, the accident led to short-term contamination of the site, but questions remain about the potential impact of such an accident on a protected marine site and near a heavily built-up area. Further testing on the site was abandoned following the incident.

 And while environmental concerns are central to the anxieties of many residents in the area, economic concerns also persist in the wake of the debate around possible sewage impacts on the Inlet’s multi-million pound cockling industry. As one exasparated resident put it “This whole area was given over for the commercial fishing of Bass in the 1980s, I just can’t believe I’m listening to this.”

Sunday, February 02, 2014

What goes around comes around.

 Four and a half thousand miles away from where I sit and type, on the other side of the Atlantic, sits a massive industrial complex. On the edge of the Gulf of Mexico, in the heart of Cajun country, it’s an incongruous sight. It dominates the skyline. A vast terminal for the processing of imported Liquefied Natural Gas, or LNG.

 On the banks of the Sabine River, Louisiana, the Sabine Pass LNG Terminal was designed to plug the United States’ growing energy gap. Commissioned in 2008, it was part of a global wave of LNG developments that were pressed into service as natural gas and oil prices rocketed on the back of a global boom that soon turned into a bust.

 But within two years of opening, the owners of Sabine Pass had a new idea. A new buzzword had caught hold in the States, “Shale gas”, and as anxiety turned to ambition, the owners decided to flip the coin and re-jig the whole facility – for export. One of their first contracts will be with Centrica, parent company to the corporation better known to you and me as British Gas.

 British Gas are no stranger to LNG. On the other side of the Atlantic, in Milford Haven, BG own a 50% stake in the "Dragon LNG Terminal", approved amid controversy and protest nearly 10 years ago. Ten years ago, LNG and other imported sources of gas were hailed as a “stable and secure supply of energy” by no less an authority than Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair.

 But flip the coin again, and you’ll hear exactly the same mantra coming from the lips of the current Tory Prime Minister as he hails shale gas in the UK as a “supply of cheaper, more secure energy.”

 Ten years on, LNG offers a salutory lesson for those still na├»ve enough to believe the promises of the politicians and the “power pirates”. Ten years ago we were told by a Labour Government that LNG would provide a stable source of energy supply and lead to lower gas prices. Ten years later, with more than one-third of Welsh families in fuel poverty, those promises look pretty hollow.

 Because what the politicians didn’t tell the people is that the ships weren't obligated to come to British ports. They go to the highest bidder. As North Sea gas reserves continue to run down, the consequences of our dependence on the whims of the global market couldn't be more stark. 

 And beyond this, LNG exposes the hypocrisy at the heart of a “Green” movement which had nothing to say when LNG terminals and pipelines were being constructed across South Wales, but now finds a fertile recruiting ground here for protests against Shale Gas in Balcombe and other leafy areas of England.  At the time, “Friends of the Earth” for example,  argued that LNG was “…an essential part of the fuel mix for the UK for the medium term future".

 A mere six years later, FoE cite LNG as part of “ a gas habit…that we need to kick”. So what’s changed?

 And as the Shale gas revolution (and it’s close cousin, Coal Bed Methane) gets into swing across the UK, is it really any coincidence that many of the boreholes in South Wales are being drilled along a pipeline route that FoE & Co. had nothing to say about? Or that the same company involved in shipping gas from the United States – Centrica – also has licensing rights for Coal Bed Methane in areas such as Neath, where the pipeline terminates? We think not.

  And so we enter a whole new phase of the Big Welsh Gas Project; a phase which we warned about "5 years ago", long before the Government or the Green movement jumped on the Shale gas bandwagon. And just as LNG in Wales was widely ignored by a London-centric media for which Balcombe is a mere hop and a skip for your average lazy Metropolitan hack, so you can guarantee that not much is going to change this time around.

 Hence the resurrection of this blog.

 And in much the same way that Wales is a resource open to exploitation by just about every energy company you can name right now, this blog aims to be a resource, a toolkit for communities willing to take a stand and fight. All you have to do is read and click on the links. So read on!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Let's Make it a Date Then!

Finally! After a year and a half of delays, a date has been sketched in for the commissioning of South Hook LNG. Funnily enough, this date pretty much co-incides with the commissioning of a number of other LNG terminals, too. One of them is called Adriatic LNG, in the Mediterranean, and the other is Golden Pass LNG on the other side of the Atlantic in the US.

So do they have anything else in common?

Well, as it happens they do, and they go by the name of Exxonmobil and Qatargas. These two companies have majority interests in all three terminals. So here goes my theory...

Our brand spanking new supersized Q-Max tanker loads up in Qatar, and makes it's way up the Suez canal. Once in the Mediterrannean, it has a choice. It can either make it's way to the Adriatic Terminal, or head out the straits of Gibraltar towards either South Hook, or Golden Pass on the other side of the Atlantic. It all depends on where it can get the best return. If it can get a good price in the UK, it'll go to the UK. If the prospects are better in the US, it'll go there, and ignore the UK, until wholesale gas prices rise enough to justify bothering with us. In the industry, they call it "Arbitrage".

The date sketched in for South Hook is early 2009. Golden Pass is mid 2009. Then we're back into Winter 2009, when Gas prices tend to rise, and Exxon and pals can take their pick while we freeze...

Welcome to the brave new world of LNG!