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« Greenery kills the environment part 20 | Main | Green fairies »
Monday
Dec022013

Green fracking dilemma

Prominent green groups in Scotland have (inadvertently) called for fracking to take place north of the border as soon as possible.

Well, kind of.

In an article by Rob Edwards (who seems unable to write anything without quoting Friends of the Earth Scotland), we learn of a new study that examines the scope to use hot water from old mine workings to generate power.

As much as a third of the heat needed to keep Scotland warm could be provided by tapping geothermal energy from old coal mines across the central belt, a major new study for the Scottish government has concluded.

Warm water piped up from abandoned mine shafts between Glasgow and Edinburgh and in Ayrshire and Fife could help heat many thousands of homes and other buildings for decades, researchers say. They are urging ministers to embark upon an ambitious bid to make geothermal energy a major new source of clean, renewable power within a few years.

Apparently there are already some real-life pilot plants at work and environmental groups like Friends of the Earth (it's a Rob Edwards article after all) and WWF seem very keen:

Dr Sam Gardner, head of policy at WWF Scotland said it should be seriously examined and “taken forward in every suitable Scottish city and town.” 

Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: “It is a nice irony that some homes that used to be heated by coal are now being heated by water from old mine workings, and it would be great to see this idea deployed on a very wide scale.”

The sting in the tale is this bit though:

[The study] mentions that hydraulic fracturing – fracking – may be needed to help extract the heat.

Now there's a dilemma.

(Via Dart Energy's Twitter feed)

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Reader Comments (55)

'Och - but that's a DIFFERENT SORT of fracking - d'ye ken..?'

Dec 2, 2013 at 2:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterSherlock1

This of course will be called "clean Fracking" not to be
confused with the other kind.

Dec 2, 2013 at 2:15 PM | Unregistered Commenterpesadia

No it will be called something completely different, like "hydraulic easing" - just to throw us off the scent.

Dec 2, 2013 at 2:28 PM | Registered Commenterretireddave

So where would you find a Scottish "Gasland"? Bannockburn?

Dec 2, 2013 at 2:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterSnotrocket

Actually in this particulae case fracking might actually affect groundwater since coal mine workings are usually at a fairly shallow depth. By the way, this would only be good for heating, not power production.

Dec 2, 2013 at 2:48 PM | Unregistered Commentertty

@tty
I've got no doubt it *would* do that. Where I live in East Durham there are both polluted streams and earthquakes, well subsidence, due to past mining.

Dec 2, 2013 at 3:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterBK

Surely fracking for Natural Gas is a one-off, whereas fracking for geothermal energy would be a continuous process.

Dec 2, 2013 at 3:43 PM | Unregistered Commenterrogue

After ideating on conspiracies a bit I was thinking...

Wouldn't it be ironic if green backed fracking contaminated water, and then greens use this as the reason to ban fracking! Crazy I know...

James

Dec 2, 2013 at 3:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames

I am tempted to reproduce the comment from Rick Bradford on the previous thread.

These interlocking idiocies only frazzle the brains of those who practice rational thought; to the majority of Greens, who regard rational thought as a hate crime, the inconsistencies go unnoticed.

Dec 2, 2013 at 2:12 PM | Rick Bradford

Yielded to it.

Dec 2, 2013 at 4:02 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

Re Rogue's comment above, what is the potential for using worked out fracked gas wells for geothermal energy recovery. They are much deeper than mines so should be hotter, but still probably only hot enough for local heating not energy generation.

Dec 2, 2013 at 4:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterColin F

Surely fracking for Natural Gas is a one-off, whereas fracking for geothermal energy would be a continuous process.

Dec 2, 2013 at 3:43 PM | Unregistered Commenterrogue
--------------------------------------------

In either case they will run out eventually, it's just a question of how long. Average geothermal flux is very small. If you pump cold water through hot rock, the rock will cool down. "Sustainable" and "renewable" are words bandied about by the green lobby in a very loose way, as suits their whim.

Dec 2, 2013 at 4:12 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

John Shade (Dec 2, 2013 at 4:02 PM):

I am tempted to reproduce the comment from Rick Bradford on the previous thread.
These interlocking idiocies only frazzle the brains of those who practice rational thought; to the majority of Greens, who regard rational thought as a hate crime, the inconsistencies go unnoticed.
Dec 2, 2013 at 2:12 PM | Rick Bradford
Yielded to it.

I, too, thought about quoting Rick Bradford’s comment: “These interlocking idiocies only frazzle the brains of those who practice rational thought; to the majority of Greens, who regard rational thought as a hate crime, the inconsistencies go unnoticed.

However, I thought that it was so obvious, everyone would be running around, shouting: “These interlocking idiocies only frazzle the brains of those who practice rational thought; to the majority of Greens, who regard rational thought as a hate crime, the inconsistencies go unnoticed.” So I decided not to bother.

Dec 2, 2013 at 4:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

Bishop, you are right, it is a dilemma. Perhaps best we stick to wind and sun.

Dec 2, 2013 at 4:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterChandra

Chunder, your attempts at humour do leave a lot to be desired. Either that, or you do not understand what the Bishop is saying: the dramagreens who have shouted down any benefit of hydraulic fracturing are now applauding the prospect of hydraulic fracturing. That they dismiss hydraulic fracturing where it occurs several kilometres below the aquifer, yet laud it when it within a few hundred metres makes their logic as logical as… well, yours.

Dec 2, 2013 at 4:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

As a slightly sad idiot who wants to go back to Iceland (for holiday, not to live) I look at http://en.vedur.is/earthquakes-and-volcanism/earthquakes/ every day, which gives you perspective on the "earthquakes" caused by fracking. However, a large proportion of Iceland electricity generation is geothermal, and it it interesting to not the occasions where the power company first 'frack' a new borehole. (you have to wait for it to appear, but is unmistakable when it does - keep your eye on the Reykanes peninsular) It quite often generates complaints from Reykjavik residents, even thought they are used to tremours.

Dec 2, 2013 at 4:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimonJ

The fact that FoE and WWF think this is a good idea should be adequate warning to anyone here (except trolls) that this idea is bunk.

As Colin F says "only hot enough for local heating not energy generation."

"As much as a third of the heat needed to keep Scotland warm "? (Note lack of costing information).

Absolute balderdash.

Dec 2, 2013 at 4:39 PM | Unregistered Commentermartin brumby

I had a PG student look into the potential for this a few years ago. It could work on small district heating schemes but very locally. Unusually for renewable energy schemes it would be located next to the population centers created at the industrial revolution and not on the top of remote mountains or other inaccessible places. From memory there was a system installed in the East end of Glasgow which is referred to in the link below.

http://www.gcu.ac.uk/newsevents/news/article.php?id=53804

Dec 2, 2013 at 4:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterEddieo

"the actual contribution is likely to be less because of the problems of transporting heat over long distances"

Ha ha ha.

Lets cover Scotland with a network of heavily insulated pipes trying to move 17C water around efficiently.

Maybe they could power the pumps with electricity from wind turbines.

Dec 2, 2013 at 4:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterBruce

SimonJ - If Scotland could have those hot pools like they have in Iceland that would be good for tourism. Oh they can't - pity.

Seriously though Iceland, as a volcanic zone, has serious geothermal energy and makes good use of it.

I think martin brumby is right but perhaps a strike price of £1000 (gas £40) should do it. People will never notice it on their energy bills will they?

Dec 2, 2013 at 4:54 PM | Registered Commenterretireddave

The Camborne School of Mines -- in West Cornwall which used to be a world famous institution which I believe is now part of the University of Plymouth did a series of experiments with this in the 1960s and later but abandoned it as they found that the hot rocks gradually cooled down as the water extracted the heat. It was national news at the time. This is being talked about now as something quite new -- records must be kept which should be studied.

Dec 2, 2013 at 5:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Moore

O/T -

Just been contacted on my mobile to tell me that if I have unsecured debts of more than £10k I can apply to have 70 to 80 % written off.

No further comment is needed.

Dec 2, 2013 at 5:01 PM | Registered Commenterretireddave

Anybody know how the water get from one 4km deep geothermal energy-seeking borehole to the other in this, er, project? Maybe some amusement value in seeing Loathers of Humanity & Greenp*ss campaigning here. I assume a little fracking will be necessary, since granite isn't normally associated with porosity, but they've avoided the issue in the publicity literature.

http://www.egs-energy.com/projects/eden-egs-plant.html

Fear the liberated radioactivity!! Run for the (granite) hills! etc.

Hey, AND it's near Truro - maybe our tame troglodyte might break cover? <Spittle fleck shields engaged>

Dec 2, 2013 at 5:18 PM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

Re: SayNoToFearMongers

The planning documents are here

2.2 Phase 1 will principally involve drilling two wells to a depth of approximately 4.5km. Both wells will be cased to a depth of approximately 4km, leaving approximately 500 to 800m of openhole at the base. Each well will commence vertical and at a suitable depth will start to be deviated until achieving a maximum inclination of 30° at a depth of 4km. Drilling these deep wells will be carried out by a large land-based drilling rig (circa 1500 – 2000 HP model) using conventional oilfield-based technology. The practicalities of drilling these deep wells means that the drilling and associated operations have to be undertaken 24 hours per day, 7 days per week (see figure 1).

2.3 The first activity will be to prepare the site at Eden for the drilling operations (see section 3 for further details). The first well will be drilled and completed to total depth. The creation of the underground reservoir will involve injecting a large volume of water (up to 30,000 m3) at relatively high flow rates (up to 100 l/s) into the openhole section of the well to open natural fractures within the granite...

Dec 2, 2013 at 5:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

Adding to the irony, there was a geothermal project in Switzerland which was stopped because of significant seismic disturbance triggered by fracking - they got readings of over 4 on the Richter scale, IIRC.

Dec 2, 2013 at 5:32 PM | Registered Commentermikeh

TerryS; thanks for the info.
Maybe there is someone living nearby who could pop along with a noise meter for the 24/7 drilling? Is there a local chapter of "Frack Off"?
All that water, in an area which often gets water-stressed in the summer......
Lots of fun here, methinks.

Dec 2, 2013 at 5:35 PM | Registered Commentermikeh

http://www.edenproject.com/support-us/future-plans/deep-geothermal-energy

There is of course a current Geothermal Energy plant involving the requirement for a "fractured rock" zone to be created alreday underway at the Eden Project in Cornwall. Somehow this does not seem to make FoE supporters heads explode due to the cognitive dissonance

Dec 2, 2013 at 5:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterArthur Dent

A big problem I foresee is erosion causing mineshaft collapse, leading to the houses built above them sinking into the void. They could really only use the deepest mines with water injection. Much easier running air through it I'd have thought - or even CO2 (see link) :)

http://www.technologyreview.com/news/416294/using-co2-to-extract-geothermal-energy/

Dec 2, 2013 at 5:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

FoE might be in favour of this because it has even more potential than wind farms to be expensive and ineffective leading to scarce and costly energy which fits their underlying desire to destroy the consumer society.
District heating schemes also appeal to them as they are inherently under central, probably public sector control. Quite common in their ideal societal model the former USSR - I nearly wrote "popular" but such systems are usually very unpopular with their users who often get heat when they don't want it and none when they do; imagine having your heating controlled on the basis of the UKMO long range forecast!

Dec 2, 2013 at 6:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterNW

Thanks TerryS

...will involve injecting a large volume of water (up to 30,000 m3) at relatively high flow rates (up to 100 l/s) into the openhole section of the well to open natural fractures within the granite...

Given that there will be a 4km column of water above the site of alleged 'natural' fractures, can anybody tell me how this differs from the other sort of high-pressure hydraulic fracking? :-)

Dec 2, 2013 at 6:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterSayNoToFearmongers

"As a slightly sad idiot who wants to go back to Iceland (for holiday, not to live) I look at http://en.vedur.is/earthquakes-and-volcanism/earthquakes/ every day, which gives you perspective on the "earthquakes" caused by fracking."

Closer to home.....

http://www.earthquakes.bgs.ac.uk/earthquakes/recent_uk_events.html

..makes nearly as interesting reading as .....

http://www.gridwatch.templar.co.uk/

Dec 2, 2013 at 7:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterNial

St Andrews University are proposing building a biomass plant at an old paper works they have bought in a nearby village with the intention of pumping heated water to the student residences in town.three miles away. A lot of insulation will be required on the pipes no doubt - or am I missing something?

Dec 2, 2013 at 7:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

Messenger, that sort of arrangement (domestic hot water coming from a power station) is common in Germany.

Dec 2, 2013 at 7:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterChandra

Chandra/'someone'

Yes. Part of Germany used to have a centrally planned economy. Lots of crappy cardboard and asbestos flats heated by steam pipes.

A bugger to retrofit though.

Dec 2, 2013 at 7:58 PM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

Re: SayNoToFearMongers

> Given that there will be a 4km column of water above the site of alleged 'natural' fractures, can anybody tell me how this differs from the other sort of high-pressure hydraulic fracking? :-)

With the evil type of fracking, fluid is initially pumped down at high pressure to fracture the rock. After that fluid is no longer pumped down (and so cannot circulate contaminants). Sometimes they will decide to re-fracture at a later date.

With the good type of fracking, fluid is initially pumped down at high pressure to fracture the rock. After that, fluid is continuously circulated at pressure (down one well and up the other) and then goes through a heat exchanger.

Dec 2, 2013 at 8:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

@Nial

Here's another perspective from a different Icelandic blog on pumping water down to hot rocks for geothermal energy:

http://www.jonfr.com/volcano/?p=1514

Over 400 earthquakes have been recorded in this man made swarm. I am not sure on the depth on most of the earthquakes. But it is in the range of 1 to 10 km from what I can tell. The largest earthquake in this earthquake swarm was ML3.4 in size, it had the depth of 3.9 km.

This type of tremor activity in Iceland is all but ignored. The UK seems to have bred a generation of people frightened, out of ignorance, of almost everything.

Dec 2, 2013 at 8:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

Messenger @ 7:44pm

The old paper works is the one at Guardbridge which is a good 5km away from St Andrews and sited on the wrong side of the Eden estuary. Not only that, it will be interesting to see the reaction when the university applies to dig up St Andrew's golf course to lay the pipes...

Dec 2, 2013 at 8:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Chappell

TerryS,

An excellent summary - far be it from me to bring up the subject of contamination of the pristine Cornish environment with washed out heavy metals/arsenic/various *energetic* isotopes, but that's because there's not much around that you could make a material difference with, given the history and geology of the place - uranium mine spoil heaps and all... :-)

Dec 2, 2013 at 9:00 PM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

Southampton has been operating a geothermal scheme since 1986. It obviously has very doubtful economics since it is now supplemented by gas-fired boilers on the same site. It would seem that this form of low level energy is like wind and solar, uneconomic unless subsidised (in this case by on-site gas-fired energy generation):

http://www.southampton.gov.uk/Images/District%20Energy%20Scheme%202011_tcm46-299457.pdf

If it were economically successful it would have been replicated across the UK since there are plenty of sites with available hot rocks:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_power_in_the_United_Kingdom

Dec 2, 2013 at 9:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

If my memory serves me correctly there was a lot of talk about geothermal enegry in '70s. Two wells drilled into the granite and the hot rock would be fractured with explosives. Slioghtly different approach from squeezing in a bit of water.

There is an established "warm water" project in Southampton;
https://www.southampton.gov.uk/s-environment/energy/Geothermal/
.. that has beeen running since 1986.

And try this source;
http://www.seai.ie/uploadedfiles/fundedprogrammes/finalreport.pdf

"Para 4.6 (on page 40) Enhanced Geothermal or Hot Dry Rock (HDR)Systems
This system is based on drilling one or more boreholes into 5km deep crystalline rock,with little permeability, where temperatures of up to 250°C maybe expected. In order to allow water to circulate aroundthe borehole, the rock is artificially fractured byexplosive, chemical or hydraulic means. "

An interesting review of geothermal projects for Ireland.

Dec 2, 2013 at 9:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterNic L.

Messenger, I don't think you're missing anything. Dundee University has residences which used to be heated by electrical elements embedded in the ceilings. Given that heat rises, it worked about as well as you might expect.

Someone in the Physics department might have mentioned to the works dept. that heat rises, but presumably no one offered them enough money for "consultation".

Dec 2, 2013 at 9:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterNW

@ John Moore

The Camborne School of Mines -- in West Cornwall which used to be a world famous institution which I believe is now part of the University of Plymouth ...

Wrong university! The Camborne School of Mines is now part of the University of Exeter.

http://emps.exeter.ac.uk/csm/

Dec 2, 2013 at 11:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

The economics of geothermal energy stack up very nicely for any company able to get grants from the taxpayer:

http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/flannerys_little_earner

Dec 2, 2013 at 11:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterDocBud

If the drilling is into old mine workings (the term is not shafts which are vertical or sub-vertical roadways used to access a coal seam), I don't see why fracking would be necessary at all. Even collapsed workings would have more void space than could be generated by fracking.

@ JamesG:

"A big problem I foresee is erosion causing mineshaft collapse, leading to the houses built above them sinking into the void."

I don't think that is likely to be a major problem, James. When a mine roadway collapses, the bulking of the failed material eventually chokes the void so that the failure is stopped. This kind of subsidence (known as chimney subsidence) cannot reach surface beyond depths greater than about 50m. I believe most Scottish coal mines were considerably deeper and certainly any having water at a worthwhile temperature would be. The subsidence seen above mines in the UK was trough subsidence due to longwall mining (i.e. the extraction of large areas of coal with planned collapse of the roof behind the longwall to form what is termed the goaf or gob). As the goaf is already collapsed, there is only likely to be minimal movement associated with any dewatering of these areas.

Anyone who has been to Siberia will have noted the eyesore represented by poorly maintained hot water pipes distributing heating to the desirable, Soviet era apartment blocks.

Will nobody think of the children? Do we really want to risk one of these pipes bursting and a walking school bus being showered with water at a temperature of 17C? They could get hypothermia.

Dec 2, 2013 at 11:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterDocBud

I once walked across Scotland armed only with a few gas canisters, some instant noodles, several mars bars, and a sturdy tent. I can only conclude that the Scots are a bunch of jessies. Hot water? Poufs.

Dec 3, 2013 at 12:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Crawford

The mines are supposed to heat the water to 17C. The temperature of sea water around the UK in the summer is about 15-20C. Does anybody who has ever braved the UK seaside in summer seriously believe that water temperature at that summertime level is would be enough to heat Scottish homes in the depths of winter?

Dec 3, 2013 at 12:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

"The mines are supposed to heat the water to 17C. The temperature of sea water around the UK in the summer is about 15-20C. Does anybody who has ever braved the UK seaside in summer seriously believe that water temperature at that summertime level is would be enough to heat Scottish homes in the depths of winter?"

Dec 3, 2013 at 12:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS


It's pathetic, isn't it? Next week they'll be proposing to use it as a means to cool the houses of Scotland when catastrophic anthropogenic global warming sets in.

Traditional energy sources that actually deliver (coal, nuclear, gas), have to vent about 2/3 of the energy[see note*] as waste heat in the cooling system. Why not hook up that heat to Glasgow/Edinburgh? Seems much easier.

[*No, Greenpeece/FoE readers, that 2/3 of the energy being lost as heat is not being wasted profligately when generating electricity. It is due to fundamental, unavoidable, thermodynamic and engineering considerations. If you think you can do it better, then do so. And stop trying to force stupid, ignorant laws and antiquated technologies upon the rest of us: Nineteenth century politics coupled with eighteenth century science.]

/rant

Dec 3, 2013 at 2:47 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Disappointed to read that we can extract heat this way for only 37 years. Not any more renewable than shale gas then!

Dec 3, 2013 at 9:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Lets hope any tracking does not reach this extent. If wind turbines were used to the same extent there would be hell to pay. http://ecowatch.com/2013/01/02/industry-insider-to-fracking-opponent/

Dec 3, 2013 at 1:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterGarethman

Having worked on the drilling side of some geothermal projects, (but not had time to follow all the links here) can I add some titbits from the top of my head (not Google)?:

*Hot Dry Rock is considered a viable source of power generation when the very hot granite layer is within 5000m of surface , a drillable depth, and the geology doesn't present too many difficulties. The only places pursuing this that I know of are Central Australia and somewhere near Strasbourg. Central Australia has the additional issues of water supply and distance from power consumer. Other projects tend to drill toward hot aquifers that are in contact with the hot granite, rather than directly into the granite. The produced hot water is used to run a turbine via a heat exchanger.

*"Volcanic" geothermal such as in Iceland is very different - like tapping into steam. As far as I know, only used seriously for power generation in Iceland, NZ, Japan and some remote parts of Russia. It exploits natural fractures but also does top-down fracks to join them up. They are far bigger fractures than any proposed for shale gas but you'll struggle to find a campaign against it.

*Various other hot water geothermal projects are ongoing around Europe &elsewhere. The most active projects I think are in Bavaria where the drilling is relatively easy. The process for these hot water wells is pretty much exactly the same as oil & gas drilling, same mud, equipment, personnel etc, but I have never seen any demonstrators near the rigs. Since the German government's decision to shut down nuclear power, they are drilling like crazy - oil, gas, geothermal, anything except tight shale of course! They have guaranteed a feed-in tariff for 20 years to geothermal power producers. No worries, the taxpayers will fund it ....

of course these hot aquifers cool down after a few years of having cold water pumped in for a couple of years, but I'm told they'll recover if left "fallow" for six months. I suspect the "37 years" claim involves several of these heat/cool cycles. We're told the casing in Bavaria needs to be good for 50 years.

Dec 3, 2013 at 2:02 PM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown

Thanks, Kellydown, nice and useful summary.

Dec 3, 2013 at 2:30 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

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