UK Onshore Oil and Gas responds to Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s comments about fracking

27 November 2017

Ken Cronin, Chief Executive of UK Onshore Oil and Gas, the trade body for the UK onshore industry, said:

"It is deeply troubling that the Mayor of London has chosen to ignore the science around onshore gas and oil production, and instead has repeated a number of wholly fallacious myths about the industry.  His stance is all the more inexplicable when more than 84% of households in London use gas every day for cooking or heating their homes. Half of the electricity used across the capital comes from burning gas, including powering the London Underground or meeting the electricity demands of the one million businesses in London.  Oil is a building block for London’s infrastructure, its many homes and other structures.  Yet despite the fact that London needs oil and gas Mr Khan would prefer that the great city he oversees becomes more and more dependent on imports from overseas rather than utilising domestic resources to the full.

"The Mayor also risks further widening the divide in this country between London and the rest of the nation.  Onshore oil and gas production in the UK is already bringing direct and indirect local investment to communities in the North of England.  It stands poised to bring a much-needed new stream of tax revenue to the UK public purse, and it is projected to create 64,000 jobs across the country.  A populist gesture like this may well be construed as London yet again putting its needs over the rest of the country, undermining domestic production whilst continuing to be dependent on oil and gas for the foreseeable future.  All of this is completely unnecessary: it is demonstrably the case that within a stringent regulatory environment like the UK’s, hydraulic fracturing – or ‘fracking’ – can help to reduce our emission-heavy import dependency and boost the UK economy while safely meeting the country’s energy needs."


Notes to Editors

Myth: “The fracking process itself can cause chronic damage to public health.”

Fact: Public Health England (PHE) has concluded that the potential risks to public health from exposure to emissions associated with the shale gas extraction process are low if operations are properly run and regulated.[i]  At a recent public meeting in North Yorkshire, PHE confirmed that since its report was produced it has continued to review the evidence that is available.  It remains of the view that the conclusions and recommendations of the 2014 report continue to be supported from the evidence that it has received since.[ii] 

This point is further reinforced by the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) representing the collective voice of European science to advise European policy-makers; the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering; the UK Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM); and the Scottish Government's Independent Expert Scientific Panel.


Myth: “The fracking process itself can … worsen toxic air quality.”

Fact: All fracking operations require environmental permits from the Environment Agency which place strict limits on emissions to air from a site.  These are backed up by the requirement to monitor baseline levels of air pollutants before operations begin, and to continue monitoring during operations.  If emission levels are breached the Environment Agency can require operations to stop.  At early shale gas sites, a programme of independent monitoring led by the British Geological Survey will also be carried out, and the results made publicly available.  At one of the first shale gas sites, in Lancashire, air quality monitoring data is being made publicly available by the operator, Cuadrilla – see here


Myth: “The fracking process itself can … contaminate water supplies.”

Fact: As the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) report in their 2016 paper Shale Gas and Water[iii], risks can be ‘be effectively managed through robust best practice and there is no reason why this should not be achievable’. The risk of any groundwater contamination occurs when there is poor integrity of the well. In the UK, our wells must be cased with three layers of steel and cement. All well designs must be inspected and approved by the Health and Safety Executive, to ensure any risk is negligible, and they receive weekly updates from an independent well examiner on the well[iv]. Operators too lay an impermeable membrane underneath their sites to ensure that spills do not affect the soil. Any surface water is captured and taken away to be treated off-site. Further to this, hydraulic fracturing in the UK is only permitted 1000m underneath the ground[v]. That’s the height of over ten Big Bens stacked on top of one another. Any groundwater lies much closer to the surface.

Myth: “Health and Safety Executive estimates that hundreds of people across the country develop lung cancer associated with silica dust exposure, which can occur during fracking.”

Fact: Silica dust come from sand – the same sand that we find on beaches around our coastline, and the same sand that is used in the construction industry in large quantities.  Handling of sand has been undertaken in oil and gas production in the North Sea for decades with no issues and workers are not exposed to silica dust.  The hazard still exists, but the risk is reduced to zero by avoiding exposure through the use of approved methods of control.  If the workers who handle the material are not exposed to the risk, how will the public be? 

Sand is used in the building construction industry, in glass manufacture and in many other industries, with no risk as long as it is handled correctly.  The HSE would not permit operations that would involve risk to workers, let alone the public, and it is no different for fracking operations. 

If silica is used as a reason to ban fracking and the same reasoning is used for other industries, then the construction industry would be shut down overnight, and the hundreds of thousands of new homes that London needs would not be built. 

Myth: “Pollutants such as VOCs and hydrogen sulphide, meanwhile, can worsen neurological problems ranging from dizziness to seizures.”

Fact: It is certainly true that VOCs and other pollutants can worsen neurological problems, but there won’t be harmful exposure from fracking sites.  This is because, as described above, all fracking operations require environmental permits from the Environment Agency which place strict limits on emissions to air from a site. 


Myth: “The volume of water required in fracking could lead to public water restrictions in areas prone to shortages.”

Fact: The CIWEM in their Shale Gas and Water 2016 report challenged the conception that the UK shale gas industry would cause widespread water shortages. In fact, as they write in the paper, ‘when compared to the lifetime of a shale gas well, the period for water demand is quite short and focused at the early stages of the well’s development’. Indeed, the amount of water needed to operate a hydraulically fractured (fracked) well for a decade is the same as the amount of water that the average golf course uses in a month. Further to this, it is always the first responsibility of UK water companies to ensure that homes are supplied with water. If there was a risk that this supply would be affected due to hydraulic fracturing operations, the shale gas operator would not be permitted to undergo the fracturing process.

Myth: “The harmful, negative impact of the use of fossil fuels on the environment and on the air we breathe is well known.”

Fact: Natural gas has played an enormous role in helping the UK to reduce CO2 emissions and could help to improve air quality:

·         In 1990, 50 million tonnes of oil equivalent (mtoe) of coal was burned to create power – by 2016, this had fallen to just 7 mtoe.  At the same time, gas use increased from almost nothing to 25 mtoe.  Gas fired power stations emit half as much greenhouse gases as coal-fired stations, and barely any air pollutants.  This coal-to-gas switch has helped the UK to reduce emissions from power stations by 62% since 1990, a saving of 125 million tonnes of CO2 a year.[vi]

·         The recent Department for Transport low carbon truck tests found that, compared with the newest Euro VI diesel, natural gas vehicles can deliver particulate emissions savings of 96%, NOx savings of 41% and NO2 reductions of 74%.[vii]  Natural gas trucks could therefore help to clean up London’s dirty air.

Myth: “We must instead focus our resources on developing technologies for the efficient extraction of clean, renewable forms of energy, rather than coming up with more ever innovative ways to keeping burning fossil fuels.”

Fact: UKOOG is supportive of developing renewables, but there is no choice between gas and renewables.  Both are needed in the UK’s energy system, and globally, and the real choice is whether we import our gas or produce it at home.  Firstly, gas is vital in our everyday lives:

·         Gas is used to heat 84% of homes,[viii] and for cooking in 61% of domestic kitchens.[ix]  A typical household will use around four times more gas than electricity – 12,000 kWh of gas annually, compared with 3,100 kWh of electricity.[x] 

·         Heat accounts for around 80% of industrial energy use and can represent 20-40% of final product costs.[xi]  In many industrial processes, gas cannot be replaced by electricity. 

·         Gas is now the single most important source of electricity generation, regularly meeting more than 50% of the UK’s power demand. 

·         Gas is also used to help make fertilisers that are spread on three quarters of our farmland to help grow food;[xii] to help make a whole range of manufactured items from PVC window frames to medicines to the seat covers on London Underground trains; and to help make green goods such as loft insulation and solar panels.[xiii] 

·         Gas is less than one third the cost of electricity per kWh[xiv] – without gas, fuel poverty rates would be even higher. 

Secondly, every forecast shows that gas will be needed in large quantities for decades to come:

·         The Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) Fifth Carbon Budget report, for the period 2028-32, expects that natural gas demand will only fall from 810 TWh in 2014 to 700 TWh in 2030, in a scenario consistent with meeting the fifth carbon budget.[xv] 

·         In the National Grid Two Degrees scenario, where all the UK’s decarbonisation targets are met, gas demand will still be 45 billion cubic metres (bcm) in 2050, compared with 78 bcm in 2015.  Of this 45 bcm, only 6 bcm is projected to come from biogas.[xvi] 

·         Globally, in 2016, 3,635 bcm of natural gas was consumed.  Under the International Energy Agency sustainable development scenario, which is consistent with the Paris Agreement, natural gas use increases by 16% to 4,217 bcm in 2040, with gas becoming the largest energy single source internationally.[xvii] 

Thirdly, without domestic production, the UK will be every more reliant on imports:

·         As recently as the early 2000s, the UK was a net gas exporter, but with North Sea production falling, by 2030 we are set to be importing more than 70% of our gas.[xviii]  Any in 2050, under the National Grid Two Degrees scenario, 87% of the UK’s gas supply will be provided by imports.[xix] 

·         Much of this import dependency will be met by LNG, the least environmentally-friendly source of gas.  As the recent MacKay and Stone report for DECC concluded, the lifecycle emissions of imported LNG, or long-distance pipeline, are on average 10% higher than from UK-produced shale gas.[xx]  This is because it takes a lot of energy to freeze gas, transport it on a ship and then re-gasify it at a British terminal.  In addition, countries such as Qatar (where most of Britain’s LNG comes from) may lack the UK’s rigorous environmental, health and safety, and human rights standards. 


Newgate Communications: Deborah Saw /Andrew Turner

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About UKOOG:

UKOOG is the representative body for the UK onshore oil and gas industry, including exploration, production and storage. The organisation's objectives are to enhance the profile of the onshore industry, promote better and more open dialogue with key stakeholders, deliver industry wide initiatives and programmes and to ensure standards in safety, the environment and operations are maintained to the highest possible level. Membership is open to all companies active in the onshore industry including those involved in the supply chain.

[i] Public Health England, Review of the Potential Public Health Impacts of Exposures to Chemical and Radioactive Pollutants as a Result of the Shale Gas Extraction Process, 2014

[ii] See

[iii] The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM), Shale Gas and Water, 2016

[iv] See

[v] See

[vi] BEIS, Provisional Greenhouse Gas Emissions 2016

[vii] Department for Transport, Emissions Testing of Gas-Powered Commercial Vehicles, Prepared by Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, January 2017  Also see

[viii]Department of Energy and Climate Change, United Kingdom housing energy fact file 2013, Tables 6a, 6b and 6d – data for 2011 (most recent year available)

[ix]Energy Follow-Up Survey 2011, Report 9: Domestic appliances, cooking and cooling equipment, Prepared by BRE on behalf of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, December 2013

[x] Ofgem, Typical Domestic Consumption Values 2017

[xi] Department of Energy and Climate Change, The Future of Heating: A strategic framework for low carbon heat in the UK, March 2012, pp.77-79

[xii] The main forms of inorganic nitrogen fertilisers are ammonium nitrate, urea, ammonium phosphates and ammonium sulphate.  Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, The British Survey of Fertiliser Practice: Fertiliser Use on Farm Crops for Crop Year 2015, p.9 and Table ES1

[xiii] For further details on the use of gas (and oil) in products, see

[xiv] Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Quarterly Energy Prices, June 2017, Tables 2.2.3, 2.3.3 and 3.4.1

[xv] Committee on Climate Change, The Fifth Carbon Budget: The next step towards a low-carbon economy, November 2015, pp.89-90

[xvi] National Grid, Future Energy Scenarios 2017, Two Degrees scenario

[xvii] International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook 2017, Annex Table A.2

[xviii]Oil and Gas Authority, UKCS Oil and Gas Production and Demand Projections

[xix] National Grid, Future Energy Scenarios 2017, Two Degrees scenario

[xx]Comparison of midpoint of ranges.  Professor David MacKay and Dr Timothy Stone, Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions Associated with Shale Gas Extraction and Use, Department of Energy and Climate Change, September 2013, pp.3-4