Paul Mobbs & MEIR:

Whitehall’s Fracking Science Failure

A report commissioned for Talk Fracking, it details the case that the government’s assessment of the climate change impacts of shale gas in Britain – outlined in the Mackay-Stone review – is fundamentally flawed due to the poor quality data it uses. In fact, shale gas fundamentally compromises Britain’s commitments to act on climate change.

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‘Whitehall‘s fracking science failure’ was commissioned by Talk Fracking. The report reviews the science on the climate change impacts of shale gas based upon the latest US research. That evidence is compared this to the British position, expressed in the Government’s Mackay-Stone review. The latest research clearly invalidates the Whitehall Government’s view (Wales and Scotland already have moratoriums in place) that shale gas is a ‘low carbon bridge’ in energy policy, and shows how the Mackay-Stone review uses misleading figures to understate the methane emissions from fracking.

dowload poster PDF click image to download PDF
of the ‘Whitehall‘s fracking science failure’ report
dowload poster PDF click image to download PDF
of the ‘Whitehall‘s fracking science failure’ poster

Download the associated article from The Ecologist:
Whitehall‘s fracking science failure: shale gas really is
worse for climate than coal
, 24th May 2017

How we measure and evaluate the pollution emitted by industrial processes is a compromise, between what is technically possible and realistically practicable. Reliably measuring gases emitted from equipment outdoors is difficult, so it requires some flexibility.

These historic difficulties mean that regulators have relied on a ‘bottom-up’ method to assess the leaks from oil and gas operations. Small parts of the equipment are tested, either in a laboratory or specially constructed test rigs, the leaks are measured or estimated, and the figures combined to produce a total. When the climate impacts of oil and gas production were first assessed at the end of the 1990s the assumption, from these bottom-up evaluations, was that the effects were “insignificant”.

Talk Fracking deliver the report to Lambeth Palace, questioning the science behind the Church of England Commissioner’s support for fracking.

Today it is possible to equip aircraft or large ground vehicles as mobile gas monitoring laboratories. These are flown or driven around oil and gas fields to sniff the air. From that sampling it is possible to produce a ‘top-down’ estimate of how much gas is leaking in order to create the measured concentrations in the air.

In an ideal world the top-down and bottom-up measurements would, within a reasonable boundary of uncertainty, match. The difficulty is that they do not. What consistent studies carried out over the last decade or so have found is that the leakage detected from real-world, ‘top-down’ monitoring exceeds the ‘bottom-up’ measurement of emissions by at least two to four times.

Whitehall‘s fracking science failure was the part of the basis for a legal challenge brought by Talk Fracking against the Government’s planning policies on fracking. The judge held that it was valid evidence that the Government had failed to consider, and in May 2019 quashed the planning policies that favour fracking developments.

Quite apart from the issue over measurement, however, one of the key scientific studies the Government relied upon has been invalidated by recent research.

Research by Howard et al. highlighted that one of the most widely used sensors to measure methane concentrations – which had been used in the Allen study – routinely malfunctioned, under-reporting methane concentrations. The US Argonne National Laboratory, which co-ordinates the reporting of US carbon emissions, noted that the sensor might be under-reporting methane levels by three to five times.

In 2016 the Environmental Defense Fund, who had part-funded the work, rejected the Allen study results.

From the date of its publication the Mackay-Stone report has been flawed – because of the approach taken to calculating the impacts of shale gas, particularly the selection of data used in the calculations. DECC and its authors defended this by referencing the Allen study as proof that emissions could be reduced to levels where the impacts would be ‘small’.

Now that the Allen study has been shown to be flawed, the Mackay-Stone report has been definitively invalidated too. However, that has not stopped ministers and Parliamentarians quoting it to support the Government’s policies on oil and gas extraction.

Having reviewed the evidence base on the impacts of shale gas extraction on climate change, the Mackay-Stone report must be withdrawn, and a moratorium implemented on all ‘fracking’ operations until we can state the impacts with certainty.