I attended a meeting of the following group in a parliamentary building on Tuesday. The following is a written submission I had earlier sent to them. But as I was placed fourth on the agenda, there were serious time pressures by my turn was reached and people from the floor of the meeting needed their opportunity to contribute. So I spoke very briefly. The group is chaired by Lee Rowley M.P.
To : All Party Parliamentary Group on “The Impact of Shale Gas“.
Dear Lee Rowley and Associates,
This is my submission for consideration at your meeting on 24 July when you will be investigating “Shale Impacts In Former Mining Areas”. I hope to attend your meeting and hopefully face questions related to this submission.
I am a Member of “Coal Aston and Dronfield Against Fracking” which is a non-political organisation drawing its membership from across the political spectrum. This presentation is made on their behalf. Whilst this body pursues a range of wider concerns, the matters I deal with below are part of their brief and are intended to cover the specific topic you are currently pursuing.
(1) Much Underground Fracking Will Operate Under Built-Up Areas.
In recent years, the Government have issued a wide range of “Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences” (PEDLs) given to firms who are permitted to seek authority to engage in exploratory vertical underground operations which will then (the firms hope) lead them on to engage in related horizontal fracking operations. The great bulk of these PEDLs cover territory where wide ranges of coal mining operations have taken place in the past and/or where untapped coal seams still remain. For it is in such areas that shale gas is the most likely to be found.
When these firms seek initial rights to engage in exploratory vertical operations in order to discover whether the surrounding underground territory will be able to deliver the quantities of shale gas they are seeking, such explorations tend only to be practical when they initially are undertaken either in rural areas or within significant green field territory contained within a basically urban unit. The early use of urban territory for purposes of exploration being restricted by the fact that very heavy traffic will need to be used during exploratory processes and these will prove to be extremely difficult to operate from in major built-up areas. For such areas already tend to have obvious high level transport operations. So any significant additions will be seen by planning authorities as being likely to lead to major bottlenecks. Although there are still major transport problems which many of us believe will arise in approaching the more rural sites.
But whilst vertical searches for initial access points for the discovery of shale gas will often be centred upon rural terrain, the bulk of shale gas sources themselves will eventually be found beneath urban territory. The entry points initially used by fracking firms in mainly rural territory, will thus often be used to lead onto underground access points which will undermine neighbouring urban territory. There are two main reasons why urban facilities have come to be built on top of former coal mining areas.
First of all, coal getting goes back 5,000 years to Neolithic times and was advanced especially by the Romans hundreds of years ago. Coal was initially only obtained close to the surface via digging into hillsides or via shallow digging into surface areas. Small mines with a single entrance each were then developed known as “bell pits” - these often came to run (one after the other) in single rows along the top of specific coal seams. Then shallow mines were operated, each with an entrance and exit in close proximity to each other. Often entrances came to double as exits. In time (when the above forms of shallow mining became inadequate or were worked out) the land they had previously occupied often came to have houses, gardens, paths, roads, shops, schools and other communal facilities built upon them. This occurred because the population in England needed such facilities as it grew rapidly over time from just over 2 million in 1500 to some 50 million by 2000. Formerly worked mining territory being seen as ideal spots for such developments.
A second factor leading to housing and other social provisions being built on top of exploited coal mining territory, was the dramatic increase in coal production which took place from the time of the birth of the Industrial Revolution. Miners and their families were moved into newly established coal mining areas, with their homes and other facilities being built above (or close to) the seams of coal which were being dug out. Whilst nowadays (apart from a small number of drift mines) coal production has ended in the UK, yet many former miners' residential areas remain occupied. So their current residents still live above or in the vicinity of former underground coal seams.
From the above pattern, it follows that the great bulk of proposed fracking operations (whilst often starting out from rural territory) will come to operate beneath much urban territory. For the starting point for any fracking operations will fan out from its underground (and normally rural) starting point. For instance, INEOS claim that when they move to horizontal fracking techniques they can fan out for a mile and a quarter from their starting point – which can be a total of two and a half miles if taken in opposing directions Yet in the USA (where INEOS admit they will need to hire fracking experts) the firm Haliburton claim that they have engaged in fracking operations which fan out for some three and a half miles.
(2) Will Underground Fracking Create Surface Damages ?
When a firm engages in fracking techniques under current government legislation, its seismic operations (which are a key to its procedures) are expected to operate at 1,000 metres or below; although the Government have powers to reduce this minimum level in specific cases. There is also the question of how closely the Government agencies will check that firms are always operating within the established guidelines.
The question that then arises is whether fracking taking place beneath former or remaining coal seams will cause surface problems. For this could be particularly damaging and dangerous when underground fracking operations take place. If disrupted by seismic fracking operations, there is the possibility that remaining low level or former coal seams might experience disruptions but (with luck) this might play itself out before surface sink holes or the like emerge. Although I know of an area in the past whose residents could at times hear such mining operations taking place beneath their homes.
However, if underground seismic fracking shakes up land which has had former coal mining operations taking place close to its surface, then ground level collapses could well be even more prevalent. For such disruptions have no time to settle before they reach ground level. An indications of some of the types of territory which could well be effected emerge via experiences from past natural earthquake activities. On 27 February 2008 an earthquake took place at Market Rasen in Lincolnshire which led to the United States Geological Earthquake Programme working with the Daily Telegraph and others to obtain reports from people whose land and properties had experienced the effects of this incident at its different levels of local intensity. Unfortunately, many people would not have been aware that the survey had taken place. Yet within my own area alone, the following number of disruptive incidents were recorded – Chesterfield 83, Sheffield 303, Rotherham 88. Mansfield 51 and Derby 150. See the following - https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1580010/UK-earthquake-town-by-town-statistics.html
But whilst there are limits to what can be done to protect people from natural earthquakes, they do not need to be exposed to dangers from man-made fracking operations. These can be blocked. A body which your APPG could pursue on this matter is .the British Geological Society. They hold details on underground fracture lines which could well be effected by man-made seismic operations.
The dangers of underground seismic fracking operations mainly as experienced in the USA is covered in a substantial work entitled “Methods of Environment and Social Impact Assessment”, edited by Riki Therivel and Graham Wood (Routledge). It states-
"Seismic Risk is a significant problem in some parts of the world.....For example, hydraulic fracturing ('fracking') can potentially cause significant geological problems that as ESIA (i.e. an "Environmental and Social Impact Assessment". HB) for a fracking operation would need to assess. Fracking involves pumping liquid under pressure into rock formations to force shale gas out. The main geological risks are that expelled gas might contaminate underground aquifers, and the possibility of earthquakes. Earthquakes caused by fracking are usually small, but associated waste-water disposal by injection into deep wells can induce larger earthquakes (Ellsworth 2013). For example, a fracking-induced 5.7 earthquake in central Oklahoma in November 2011 destroyed 14 homes and injured two people....Subsidence and slope stability are also factors that should be considered. Subsidence is caused by underground mining and is usually associated with traditional coalfield areas. where the subsidence extends for considerable distances around collieries". For more details see -
(3) Important Coal Authority Sources.
A major body which should concern itself about the dangers of seismic forms of damage from fracking operations is the British Coal Authority. It has a fine past record in discovering where past mining operations have taken place. And it points out that it has by no means yet discovered every site given the long, complex and often unrecorded ancient history of mining operations in this country. For instance, I lived immediately next to the Unstone-Dronfield By-Pass when it was constructed in the early 1970s. The Coal Authoritiy Interactive Map shows that over 20 former mine exits and entries appear under the road's construction, with many more of these being within close proximity of the road.
A major source for discovering the up-to-date records of past forms of mining operations which have taken place in the British Isles is the Coal Authority Interactive Map. Specific areas can be homed into on their Interactive Map and different categories can then be checked out. These include all discovered mine entries and exits, development risk areas, areas of past and probable shallow mine workings, coal outcrops, areas of underground workings and some two dozen further categories. In some cases (such as the crosses which show mine entries and exits) these can also be linked into and more specific details will appear such as those showing the depth of the mine shafts concerned. It would be helpful for your APPG to examine the Interactive Map, by linking it to a large screen. The Common's Library would also be an avenue which specific MPs could turn to for Coal Authority print outs of their own Constituency areas. The Interactive Map can be found here -
A whole host of other valuable coal mining data can also be traced from the Coal Authority's other sources, such as the following -
(4) Current Failures By The Coal Authority.
Unfortunately, when either Council or Government Planning Enquiries are being held to determine applications for planning permission for vertical or horizontal operations, the Coal Authority are currently failing to make adequate use of the information they hold.
In a printed submission from the Coal Authority relating to an application by INEOS for vertical exploration on a site near Bramleymoor Lane, Derbyshire S2 15RD which was made available for the public when a Planning Inspectorate held a public enquiry on the matter in Chesterfield recently, they stated that “There are no known coal mine entries within 20 meters of the boundary of the property” concerned. This was a phrase repeated in the written evidence which was also supplied by INEOS, but without them quoting its source. The quotation coming from the Coal Authority document “CON29M Non-Residential Report”, initially issued on 23 December 2016.
I appreciate that it is common practice for the Coal Authority to use such 20 metre measurements. But why do they not also point out that (a) there could be other coal mine entries within the 20 meter area which have not yet been discovered – especially as these are in the vicinity of other recorded mine entries and (b) provide us with the actual distance of the nearest known former mine entry ? For when INEOS made its initial application to the Derbyshire County Council for vertical operations in a field off Bramleymoor Lane, this showed that their operations were intended to take place either above or very close to two former recorded mine entrances. It was only under public criticism that INEOS then moved their site somewhat to the south of the same field. This has enabled them to evade the 20 metre limit which could have led to criticism from the Coal Authority. But the Coal Authority should not have allowed the final INEOS application to escape criticism, just for the sake of what can only be a few metres. (The initial map which was used by INEOS had added a red box to the Coal Authority's own Map showing its initial plans for its operations. It, appears as the second map on this blog item I ran - http://threescoreyearsandten.blogspot.com/2017/12/is-this-frackings-greatest-danger.html )
An illustration of the danger of surface collapses from past underground mining operations can be seen within a mile of my home at our aptly named “Coal Aston” area. At a house at Eckington Road in 2011 on land at its back garden, there was a collapse which was serious enough to require assistance from the facilities of the Coal Authority themselves and from other public bodies. This is at a spot next to the roads on which INEOS are currently seeking to employ heavy transport - if they can gain permission for vertical underground operations at nearby Bramleymoor Lane.
( I have found difficulty attaching the source for the above, but I will bring the relevant 22 page document with me to your session).
(5) A footnote : what expertise do I hold on these matters ?
A persistent question asked by INEOS at a recent Planning Authority enquiry into their proposals for the Bramleymoor Lane site, was what expertise contributors held on the matters they raised. So I had better pre-empt such a hurdle.
Although I have never worked in any aspect of coal mining, I come from solid mining stock. My father and father-in-law were miners and up to the age of 27 I was brought up in a solid mining community in County Durham at Easington Colliery. Also my six uncles all became miners and two of my aunts (obviously plus my mother) married miners. There was a pit disaster there when I was 14 years old, killing 81 miners and then two rescue workers. At the time, my father was in a different seam from where the explosion occurred. I also had numerous cousins who were miners or married to miners. At Easington I also came to work closely with the local MP Mannie Shinwell, who earlier as the Minister for Fuel and Power had nationalised the then coal industry.
I later taught separate Yorkshire and Derbyshire miners groups on Industrial Day Release classes run by the Sheffield University Extramural Department, annually over a period of 21 years. Also having close links with people such as Peter Heathfield who became the Secretary of the NUM. Then I became the MP for North East Derbyshire for 18 years, which for previous periods covering a total of 68 years from 1908 onwards had had ex-miners as MPs. It was during my period as an MP that the final deep mines were closed in Derbyshire, so these matters and ex-miners' futures were always solidly on my agenda. Then the future of the drift mine “Moorside Mining” (which still exists and is just five miles from my home) and its operations became a major item on my agenda.
In my time as an MP, four of my former day-release students were fellow MPs and one had previously served as an MEP. Another was a former Yorkshire Miner whom I had studied alongside when an adult student at Ruskin College in Oxford. Whilst many of my former mining students became local councillors, NUM officials, social workers and the like. Then in the Commons I had close links with my neighbouring MP Dennis Skinner, who is a former Derbyshire Miner. I was also member of a group of MPs who pursued miners and ex-miners concerns.
Given the massive social problems arising from the decline of local mining, I was faced with a wide-range of complex problems as an MP which would not have emerged in more settled circumstances.
From my own collection of books on the Mining Trade Unionism, I stress the three which are relevant to my own background. (1) W.R. Garside “The Durham Miners 1919-1960” - George Allen and Unwin 1971, (2) Frank Machin “The Yorkshire Miners” - NUM Yorkshire Area 1958, (3) J.E. Williams “The Derbyshire Miners” - George Allen and Unwin 1962. Williams impressive book is especially substantial, being 933 pages long. He taught on our Miners' Day Release Classes before I did.