Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Fracking In Areas With A History of Coal Mining

Image result for Fracking under coal mines

There are a large number of "Petroleum Exploration and Developent Licenses" which the Government has agreed with firms as the first stage of the development of fracking operations -  click here for the agreement in my own area which the Government have made with INEOS Upstream Limited.  INEOS hold a series of such agreements across wide areas of the East Midlands.

From the indications given by a platform speaker at a meeting I recently attended at Shirebrook in North Derbyshire, the firm INEOS will be applying at five sites in the East Midlands (soon after the New Year) to start its explorations for shale gas and oil. But this might just be the tip of the iceberg for such surveys do not normally need planning permissions when the above "Petroleum Exploration and Developent Licenses" are in operation - unless the work is due to last more than 28 days or it effects European-designated wildlife sites as in the Peak District.

Initially INEOS will engage in vertical core drilling.  This is, however,  just an opening which will lead on to underground horizontal drilling which uses seismic fracking techniques - this is what might take more than 28days. These are done to discover and then exploit shale gas and/or oil deposits. It was stated by INEOS that the horizontal techniques could be run for numbers of kilometres from their starting points. That enables vertical operations which might take place initially in farmers' fields to then take place under many people's homes, children's schools, public buildings, roads and the like. For it was in such areas (often built for coal miners) that coal getting took place in the past.

The Coal Authority have an important web-site which shows the extent of the differing types of mining operations which took place in North Derbyshire (and many other areas) in the past. This can be found by clicking here .  If this link does not work then you can google into "Interactive Map Viewer Coal Authority" to find the connection. But note that the Coal Authority hold the copyright on this material, so maps can't be reproduced for publication without their permission.

You will need to keep double clicking onto the general map on the above Coal Authority site, until you reach the best specific map for the area you wish to examine . Even then you can go a stage too far and will have to return to the start of the exercise. Once successfully established you can then, however, scrawl around to many other areas - anywhere in the country.

Note the tick-box headed "Planning" in the top right hand corner of the maps. The "Change Theme" section which can be found in the top right hand corner is well worth clicking into. A key item to tick is "Mine Entry". This will produce a series of red crosses indicating differing forms of mine shafts. These cover small "bell pits" (where a shaft was dug directly into a shallow coal seam and coal was extracted in something of a bell shape), up to major pit entry and exit shafts. Hence Dronfield where I live had coal near the surface in the past and still has in certain places. From the Coal Authority's discoveries we find over 230 red crosses - for a variety of differing forms of  operations. Yet Shirebrook shows only two red crosses, but these are for a major deep mine entry and an exit from its major pit, which had extensive underground operations. Then there are sets of brown crosses on the maps shown for adits (digging into hill sides for coal) - over 50 of these in Dronfield and just the one at Shirebrook. Much of Shirebrook will itself, of course, be built above its worked out major coal seam.   

An area with massive numbers of red and brown crosses is Chesterfield. They crop up all over the place in its wide Borough Council area, except for the old town centre. This does not mean that the old town centre has no coal seams near its surface. It is just that this area had already been built upon before such early forms of shafts were put into operation.  Digging close under the surface of town's famous Crooked Spire would never have be on, but this does not mean that its Parish Church does not still rest upon shallow unworked coal seams. Nor that INEOS will not find that it is a good underground place for its shale gas extraction.

The North East Derbyshire District Council area laps around the Chesterfield Borough Council in a C shape.  The combined area of the two authorities is covered in masses of red and brown crosses. On a crude count, there are probably more than a thousand of these in each authorities areas. Chesterfield being a more compact area. Where these crosses actually appear (and their quantities) will surprise many people.

Some might like to search for the red and brown crosses which are the closest to their homes, their work places, childrens' schools and the like - which seismic fracking (low-level earthquakes) could endanger. There was, for instance, an earthquake at Market Rasen at 00.55am on 27 February 2008 which led to 83 reports on its impacts being submitted from people in Chesterfield alone. See this link. The question also arises as to whether INEOS's (hopefully low-level) seismic activities could trigger anything similar ?

The Coal Authority also supplies a series of maps showing (a) coal mining risk areas, (b) the legacy of coal mining and (c) surface coal resources plans. The areas you may wish to examine can be found by clicking here.

There are many problems which arise from fracking operations which go beyond coal concerns. But coal related matters should be at the top of our list. They form the basis for the interests of firms such as INEOS.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Dronfield Against The Fracking Threat

FRACKING IS PLAIN D.A.F.T! (dronfield against the fracking threat).

If you have concerns or questions & want to know what this means for you, your family and your community & what you can do, then please come to this vitally important meeting at: Dronfield Civic Hall S18 1PD
On: December 8th 7.30pm Thank you Don’t miss out! See you there!

From "Dronfield Against Fracking" 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

New Labour And The Roots Of Labour's Crisis

The following two links give materials based upon my contribution at a recent day school run by  Independent Labour Publications.

Link 1 here.
Link 2 here.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Fracking : Why Dronfield ?

Image result for Fracking Photos(Apologies to the Simpsons)


Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth then moving lengthy distances horizontally in order to allow a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals to be directed at underground layers of rock in order to release shale gas and/or oil. It involves what are forms of seismic activity, which are "hoped" to be only very small tremors.

But first of all, those undertaking the process need to find out if it will be worth their while. So, initially firms obtain permission from the Government to undertake investigations. Their searches require them to seek out appropriate sites to start their underground examinations. They will then push pipes into the ground, which can eventually be spread out horizontally in a number of differing directions to test whether they have found appropriate and commercially viable gas or oil supplies.

INEOS have been given authority to do this in my own town of Dronfield in the very north of Derbyshire. They are the largest chemical company in the UK, operating six plants, the largest being a crude oil refinery at Grangemouth in Scotland. They are not currently fracking in the UK, but are importing shale gas and oil from overseas.

Jim Ratcliffe owns 60% of their shares and is the 30th richest person in the UK at £3.2 billion – well ahead of Bernie Ecclestone and of the Queen's personal wealth. A UK fracking programme would place him even higher up this list.

To set the ball rolling for stage one of the process (searching for shale gas) a very badly advertised drop-in meeting was run by the Government's Environment Agency for the citizens of Dronfield recently. This is so they can claim (a) that we have been consulted and (b) that we know and are happy about what is going on.

Once INEOS finds what it is after and decides it wishes to obtain the shale gas, it will then apply for a license to the Derbyshire County Council. The Council have been adopting a “Minerals Local Plan” which will hopefully be tough enough for them to be able to reject such an application. Our Constituency Labour Party (based on a Dronfield proposal) have also sent the County a detailed resolution seeking to block such applications.

The problem is that even if the County Council reject INEOS's application, then Jim Radcliffe's company merely has to go over the County Council's head to the Government (under a fast track system) to get the blockage to their application removed.

So we are likely to be into a sustained political fight against INEOS's plans. At least, the Labour Party nationally came out against fracking at its recent Conference – so we can hope for some parliamentary opposition to the plans.

Why Dronfield ?

Today Dronfield is something of a middle-class, private-car user commuter town, mainly serving Sheffield; with its own Conservative dominated Town Council. So the depth of its working class mining history may come as a surprise to many. It is its mining past which makes it attractive for fracking purposes.

Figures for 1921 showed that 114 mining operations had taken place over time in Dronfield. Yet many more bits and pieces have since emerged. A late mine called Hurst Hollow at the far end of Dronfield Woodhouse, being closed in 1947. Nearly 70 years ago.

Coal getting operations started around the 16th Century – initially these were just surface pickings and shallow ditches at places such as Stubley Hollow and Hill Top .

Then up to the 18th Century came outcrops, adit mines (i.e tunnels into hillsides), bell pits where people dug a shaft into the ground and took out coal without supports in a circular fashion and then moved further down the coal seam to dig a fresh bell shaped pit. For instance, a map of Firth Wood indicates a row of 24 bell pits along a coal seam. Evidence of former bell pits were also revealed during the building of the Unstone-Dronfield By-pass. Holmley Lane and many other areas are also likely to have had bell pits.

There were also some 40 pits as either drift mines or with shafts in the Dronfield and Unstone areas by the second half of the 19th century. Their development being aided by (a) the establishment of the Lucas Iron Malleable Foundry in 1811, (b) railway development in 1870 when Dronfield Railway Station was opened and (c) the shortly lived Wilson Cammell Steel Plant on Callywhite Lane from 1873 to around 1883. It is claimed that by 1879 the neighbouring Dronfield Silkstone Pit was then the town's largest employer.

In the late 19th Century pits were also entitled Dronfield Woodhouse, Gomersal, Green Lane, Hill Top, Longcroft, Gosforth, Stubley Hollow. The Coal Aston area of Dronfield also takes its name from coal mining. Then there were also many pits in neighbouring areas such as Apperknowle, Mickley and a wide range in Unstone.

In other words, the Dronfield area has over time been pocked marked with pits and mining operations and is today covered with existing and worked out coal seams. Any building, garden, road, railway line or street is likely to be close to former coal mining operations. 

Shale gas and oil are likely to be found significantly in these types of area, leading to the clear danger of us being subject to major, dangerous, and long term fracking operations in our community.

In North Derbyshire, Dronfield is by no means alone in facing fracking dangers. It is united in this situation with many former mining communities whose pits were still functioning in the final decades of the 20th Century. We are by no means isolated in our struggle against fracking proposals. We need to appreciate that there is strength in unity. 

(Details of Dronfield's mining history can be found in articles in "Dronfield Miscellany" by writers including Kathy Kearn and James Cartwright).

Friday, October 28, 2016

Me At The ILP

The ILP held a recent session on the current complex situation in the Labour Party and how we arrived at it. Everyone present contributed fully via questions, involvement in discussion groups, report backs and further responses.  I set the ball rolling, having had an association with the ILP now for over 40 years - more than half of my life.  Click here for a report of the day's activities.
 Labour on Brink HarryB

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Fracking Dangers in Chesterfield and Dronfield - Reject the Government's Bribes

 Image result for Chesterfield Crooked Spire

Click here for details of the bribe.    

Fracking can damage buildings, including homes and could even bring down Chesterfield's Crooked Spire (seen above) underneath which INEOS have the authority to search for shale gas and oil. Then in Dronfield in North Derbyshire, pillars holding up a section of the Unstone-Dronfield By-Pass (seen here at the time when I observed it under construction in the 1970's) and placed on the northern side of Gosforth Drive are almost built above the former entrances of shafts for the 19th century Gosforth Pit. So Fracking at this point (again a possibility by INEOS) could even help topple the viaduct itself. 

That these dangers exist is shown by the fact that INEOS have not been given permission to operate beneath Bolsover Castle, nor around a section of the M1 which includes the Heath Junction. Unfortunately, no similar caution has been taken concerning the Crooked Spire nor for my local By-Pass. The Government having ignored these points when I raised them during their consultative procedure.

Such problems are also massive across the whole of North Derbyshire (and in many other regions), which is pock-marked with a variety of different forms of historical coal extraction, from old fashioned "bell pits" to fully fledged deep-mines. The records for what has so far been discovered are open to the Government to investigate from the details held by the Coal Authority at Mansfield. But if they have even investigated these, they have learnt nothing. For the rest of us an investigation of the 993 pages of "The Derbyshire Miners" by J.E. Williams (George Allen and Unwin, 1962), will reveal the extent of some of the former coal operations in the area - and he doesn't by any means touch everything.

Then even if damage is miraculously avoided during both the initial search for shale gas/oil and then at its final extraction, there will be a regular long-term stream of tankers (day and night) which are larger than bin lorries which will service the sites used by INEOS  and others. It is to be hoped that people don't already suffer from traffic congestion, for the sites used for investigations and extractions don't need to be tucked away in distant rural areas, but could operate from part of say an industrial estate nearby or even a few kilometres away from people's homes. For extraction purposes, operations could go under homes, conservation areas, public buildings, shops, farms and local roads.

INEOS hold contracts to search for shale gas/oil across most of North Derbyshire granted by the Government, with the exception of the small bits I mentioned above and also the Peak District and the Chatsworth estate. The searching rights for the latter having gone to the Duke of Devonshire - who can at least (unlike the rest of us) thereby protect his own property at Chatsworth House. (Correction dated 6th April 2017 - I now understand that the Duke of Devonshire has historically owned the underground rights over his large section of land, well prior to the legislation which issued the above contracts to INEOS and others. Unfortunately, the rest of us in Derbyshire enjoy no such rights over the land and property we occupy. If the law was changed to place the Duke in the same position as the rest of us, we might then recruit him to the cause of anti-fracking. It would be better still if the law could be changed to put us all in the same position as the Duke - especially for those who rent their accommodation. HB)  

Even  if the Derbyshire County Council were to reject any final applications from INEOS for full fracking activities, INEOS can just apply over their heads to the Government who can accept the application under a fast track system.

In the end, what we need is a change in Government policy to protect our well-being. Not financial bribes to accept the fracking process. In any case, during the process of fracking itself (which can be lengthy) all forms of property will see a fall in their values. The Government bribes are not likely to cover such losses, which will include the need for individuals to pay more in insurance to cover the consequences of possible underground collapses.

On top of all this there are dangers from (1) contaminated groundwater, (2) the disposal of waste oil, water and gases - such as carbon dioxide, (3) strains on the use our water supplies (in an era subject to climate change), (4) the danger of shale gas, methane and nitrogen oxide being released into the atmosphere, (5) the impact on habitats, fauna and vegetation from noise, truck movements, vibrations, air and water movements, (6) possible earthquakes as with Caudrilla when drilling near Blackpool and (7) 24 hour workings with land loss, noise and disruption and (8) the serious lack of a professional, independent body to regulate operations.  All of these arises from North Derbyshire (and other targeted areas) being former heavy coal mining territory.  

Also click here
And here. (Its item 2 at the moment)

Note : I prepared this article a few week's ago, but thought that I had should first check out the exact details of the terms under which the Government had issued authority for INEOS to search for shale gas and oil in the area I was covering - in case I could be accused of scare mongering. So I emailed the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) under Freedom of Information Legislation to obtain the exact details. Eventually, they informed me that they did not hold the information and that instead I should approach the Oil and Gas Authority. I have now made three attempts to gain the information from the Authority, but have not yet received even an acknowledgment to my requests.  So it is a matter of publish and be damned. (PS. 2 Sept. I now have an acknowledgment - my reply could take some 20 working days; say the end of this month)

Now see what Defra, the Oil and Gas Authority and other avenues of Government officialdom are up to in Dronfield. I will be pressing them for full details.

Note : it is the Derbyshire County Council (and not the North East Derbyshire District Council) who hold the planning and mineral rights mentioned above.