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« Misson possible? | Main | A not-so-cunning plan »

A haszelnut in every bite

As I think I've mentioned before, I now  assume that most gongs are handed out to people, not for public service, but for "going the extra mile" in the furtherance of a cause dear to ministers' hearts. I was reminded of this when I read James Verdon's devastating take down of an article by our old friend Stuart Haszeldine OBE, professor of carbon capture and storage at the University of Edinburgh.

I first came across the good professor when I appeared at a Spectator debate on windfarms, and he spent a section of his talk bad-mouthing The Hockey Stick Illusion, before admitting that he hadn't actually read it. I'm therefore always on the lookout for his latest utterances. Earlier this week, he and colleagues from his group at Edinburgh wrote an article for the Energy and Carbon blog about waste water disposal in the oil and gas industry, with a particular focus shale gas fields. Unconventional oil and gas is not obviously where their expertise lies, and so one might have expected a few errors to have crept in to their text, but as James Verdon points out in his response, the level of incorrectness is...a bit of a worry.

For example, they misrepresent the situation in Oklahoma, where there has been a rash of earth tremors. Haszeldine and friends say that this was due to injection of produced water from shale wells. As readers here know, it is actually water from conventional oil wells that is involved.

They also say that waste water injection has led to environmental contamination caused by leaks. This is backed up with a citation of a Desmog article (snigger) that only makes claims about "fears" of such contamination. And as James Verdon points out, this is again mostly water from conventional fields and, moreover, the regulators involved have given the wells a clean bill of health. 

Haszeldine et al go on to grossly misrepresent the position of the Environment Agency, suggesting that it is going to allow wastewater injection on a massive scale, when in fact it has only left it open as an approach that might be used in exceptional circumstances.

But the real sting is in the tail of the piece, where Verdon points out that all of the problems that Haszeldine et al claim will afflict waste-water disposal apply to carbon capture and storage, only more so:

[In CCS] the injected fluid is in chemical dis-equilibrium with the in situ geological formation – indeed CO2 will dissolve into formation waters to create a mildly corrosive acid, which is not a problem for flowback or produced water re-injection; the CO2 will likely be stored in saline aquifers that have not been depleted, leading to the same issues with pressure increases and potential seismicity described by ODGH...only the volumes of CO2 to be stored far exceed the volumes of flowback typically re-injected, which will exacerbate the risk of larger seismic events. I would appreciate it if the authors could outline in more detail how it is that they can be fully supportive of CCS development, and yet believe these same issues pose a major issue with respect to the re-injection of other waste fluids.  
I'd like to know too.



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Reader Comments (59)

I listened to the Egan interview. I was left wondering whether it was a hatchet job. As always, Egan did a brilliant job (I've never heared him stumble in any interview) but some of the questions e.g.something like 'What about the fact that the likes of Paul McCartney and Vivienne Westwood are against fracking?' seemed designed to illustrate the paucity of the 'no fracking' argument. I began to wonder if the whole thing was designed to do that. More of it if so.

Jan 28, 2016 at 8:14 AM | Unregistered CommenterMikeA

" professor of carbon capture and storage"


Jan 28, 2016 at 8:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Duffin


Pharos (and TS?) - I was struck by the nature of both their CVs which seem to show academic rather than industrial career paths. Whilst acknowledging Verdon is still at a relatively early stage in his career, do you really think academic geologists are so out of touch with their industry colleagues?

I had to go and read James Verdons CV - it surprised me that he has not had industry experience other than academic roles. He writes very well and his technical statements are pretty much spot on - his expertise is more reservoir engineering (RE) + geophysics, I am geophysics and geostatistics, but I have 30+ years as a professional working in many areas including exploration and appraisal/development so I have a pretty good grasp of the areas on which he writes even if they are not my core expertise. In my opinion he is technically very sharp and his writing shows a very comprehensive understanding of the oil industry, very strong for an academic.

I was interested to see his society memberships (SEG, EAGE, RAS) and journal reviewing overlap directly with mine!

Many academics in this area are actually senior people from oil and gas research, and quite a few oil and gas professionals working in R&D get secondments to universities such as Imperial, Aberdeen etc. There is strong industry support within universities, scholarships, bursaries, lecturing (I provided lectures to Imperial MSc students on my specialist topic for some 14 years, for example) as well as joint industry/academic research projects - again I have been an industry sponsor/liaison person several times over the years. PhD students are often mentored/reviewed by people in oil companies.

So I would answer your question by saying that there are pure geology/geophysics (G&G) academics who are out of touch, but that is because they work on stuff of only peripheral interest in general to the oil and gas sector. Otherwise, academics working in G&G are pretty well connected to the oil industry. It is (or was until the oil price crashed!) the major employer for all those university graduates that they are helping to train too.

Jan 28, 2016 at 8:59 AM | Registered Commenterthinkingscientist

I was the one who, based on his description of the Hockey Stick Illusion, pointed out that he obviously hadn't read it.

I also realised that he'd stopped his big scary historical temperature graph at 1998, but too late to ask him why.

I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him.

Jan 28, 2016 at 9:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterNial


I support ts's comments on industry/academic liaison, but inevitably the industry professionals have an inherent advantage and experience from direct operational responsibility and immediate access to confidential survey data.

Jan 28, 2016 at 1:30 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

NCC 1701E

No DSC for this ignorant dork, methinks.

Don't be unkind to the Dork.....

Whatever happened to the Precautionary Principle when it comes to CCS?

Check out the Global CCS site:

"The Global CCS Institute has tried to make information on this website as accurate as possible. However, it does not guarantee that the information is totally accurate or complete. Therefore, the information on this website should not be relied upon solely when making commercial decisions."

Former World Bank chief James Wolfensohn was originally the chairman of the International Advisory Panel of the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, fellow travelling was former World Bank Chief Economist, Lord Nicholas Stern.

Wolfensohn, (Brookings Institution, Rockefeller Foundation, Council on Foreign Relations), seems to be long gone but Stern is still listed as their international Advisor.

One of the strategic partnerships was the Climate Group, set up by Tony Blair and Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004 which received AU$2 million to “explore financing options for large-scale and first-of-a-kind CCS projects, and the role of public policy in improving confidence to financiers.. Another strategic partner was the Clinton Foundation which received AU$10 million to “support the work being conducted through the Clinton Climate Initiative to accelerate key ‘early mover’ CCS projects around the world.”

Global CCS was set up by former Australian Labour PM Kevin Rudd and had a budget of AU$100 million dollars per annum for 4 years starting from 2008. It also had $500,000 from the US Department of State.

They claim 15 large-scale CCS projects in operation, with a further seven under construction.

Jan 28, 2016 at 2:33 PM | Registered Commenterdennisa

Conservative Home quotes Hazeldine:

Jan 28, 2016 at 2:37 PM | Registered Commenterdennisa

@ dennisa 2:33 PM
I followed the link to globalccs
A quick look suggests that many of the CC projects** are associated with activities that support themselves. As I understand the need for CCS, the big benefit would be to grid-important facilities using coal. I wonder if there are any?

**A few notes about one, namely, Shute Creek Gas Processing Facility
– The majority of captured CO2 is sold via pipeline distribution to a number of Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR projects) in Wyoming and Colorado;
– a minor portion is reinjected;
– first commissioned in 1986;

Jan 28, 2016 at 5:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Hultquist

We shouldn't just be anti-CCS, cos it would be the golden chalice if you got it to work. If it can the market will find a way.

That requires a whole lot of assumptions about what happens as a result of CO2 in the atmosphere that I'm not qualified to comment on. However, some CCS requires drilling and I'm totally in favour of that!

I suspect they do, if they have any idea what it is.
Every deep green I've discussed it with is against it because they see it as enabling Fossil Fuel use. Not enough hair shirt - and not enough public funds diverted to wind and solar profiteers.

Jan 28, 2016 at 5:54 PM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown

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