You may be thinking from what you’ve read that extraction of unconventional gas off the Northumberland coast is a boost for the North East and its proud history of industrial innovation.
But many of us who attended a meeting with Paul Younger of Five Quarter last week had questions and some serious concerns.
We heard that there has been no consultation, or even a full Environmental Assessment, which the Government at least managed for fracking.
We heard that the gas processing will take place in south-east Northumberland. But there will be an impact here. We heard of ‘perhaps half-a-dozen’ drilling platforms, at regular intervals up the coast.
We heard that these would be located in ‘industrial zones’, not near people’s homes. But people actually live near industrial zones. We didn’t hear what will take place at those drilling platforms. Will there be burning or release of excess gas? We didn’t hear how that gas will be transported from drilling platforms around here or how that will be done safely.
We heard that the main gases which the process would extract were methane, hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. And the main buyers would be the process industries of the North East.
But these companies already have their own suppliers. We didn’t hear what those suppliers will do with their unwanted methane . Quite possibly they will burn it – since it is the main ingredient of domestic gas – and create even more carbon dioxide. There’s already more than enough carbon dioxide to go round.
We heard that neither Prof Younger nor the rest of the board want this project to go ahead without a way of capturing and storing the CO2 which they extract. But we didn’t hear this technology has been five years away for well over a decade now.
We also heard that Prof Younger’s share in Five Quarter is just £850. This is a multimillion-pound business. What the Five Quarter founders want to do with the CO2 may not matter very much once the big money and the big boys waving it get involved.
Buccleuch Estates, which backs Five Quarter, have been investing in tracking around the UK, and don’t show any sign of wanting to pay for carbon capture and storage there.
We’ve already found quite enough accessible coal and gas worldwide to nicely toast the world on both sides. Now we’ve found a bit more. This isn’t a cause for celebration, despite the jobs it brings.
Because we heard that there are jobs in Deep Gas Winning. We didn’t hear what kind of jobs, who would do them, and for how long.
There are also jobs in coping with climate damage, like building ever higher flood defences, cleaning up when the water comes over just the same, tackling new farm pests and providing emergency water supplies. And Deep Gas Winning will help create those jobs too.
But we wouldn’t need either if we instead invested and created jobs in low-carbon energy and energy efficiency. As Prof Younger admitted, the North East is pretty good at these things too.