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The State of Independence

No, not the song.

I like to keep an occasional eye on the local anti-fracking activists.  One particular group, Residents Action on Fylde Fracking (RAFF – featured here) puts a lot of store in what an engineer called Michael Hill has to say about regulating the fracking industry.  Since these activists are comfortable with the notion that a suitable go to person on fighting Big Frack is an ex-BBC journalist now working for Al Jazeera, I wondered about the provenance of Michael Hill.  Here is what RAFF have to say about him.

Mike Hill is an independent engineer, with drilling experience, who has been Technical Advisor to RAFF since last year. Those of you who have been to any of our public meetings will have heard him speak on the lack of any regulatory framework surrounding the shale gas industry.  He has also answered numerous technical questions that we all have as we try to get to grips with fracking technology.

A grass roots group with its very own technical advisor?  Well it’s not unknown.  He is obviously held in high esteem by the group because they seem to promote his views on fracking industry regulation and safety at every opportunity.   I don’t have much of a problem with that providing regulations are rational and practical rather than oppressive and over-precautionary.  What interests me about Mr. Hill is that he has drilling experience yet he has become the technical advisor to a bunch of post modern Luddites.  So who is Michael Hill and what does he know that we don’t?

Michael Hill B.Sc. C.Eng. MIET.

Chartered Electrical Engineer

Ex-oil and gas (wireline and seismic)

Fylde Borough Council Technical Advisor to Task and Finish Group Shale Gas

Local resident in the key U.K. shale gas zone

Fylde Borough Council has apparently appointed an activist for a shale gas technical advisor?  No conflict of interest there then.  He’s also a local.  He styles himself as an independent expert who commenced an investigation into shale gas regulation in the UK in December 2010.  Here is what he has to say about his independent status.

Self funded to remain independent. Cost is presently approx. £17K. Passionate I am. Study has told me what regs are needed and how it should be implemented.

Mr. Hill has dipped into his own pocket to the tune of seventeen thousand pounds in order to fund his investigation.  Passionate indeed.  Unfortunately he doesn’t give a breakdown on how the seventeen grand was spent.  He has been busy though.

On what basis: Freedom of Information Act responses (FOI), site trips, meetings, speaking at conferences, letters, mails and calls.

With the DECC, EA, HSE, BGS, Cuadrilla and Select Committee – DECC, IGEM, United Utilities, Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering

Mr. Hill’s main area of concern in his report seems not to be micro-earthquakes but rather the disposal of flow-back fracking fluid and the risk of aquifer contamination.  These are sensible concerns.  His main target appears to be the government rather than Cuadrilla, the company who owns and runs the Preece Hall fracking rig at Singleton.  He wants what he views as lax government practices tightened up and lists the areas of most concern to him.

8 site inspections all unannounced in 12 months – changed to 8 site inspections – all announced.

Taking Mr. Hill at his word, spot checks are not really spot checks if you tell the checkee you are going to pay them a visit.  Given the fear and suspicion surrounding fracking, being too close to Cuardrilla is not the best way to put the minds of locals at ease.

Fracking chemicals missing off ‘determinand’** list.

It would have been helpful if Mr. Hill had listed the chemicals he claims are missing from the determinand list.

No verification of quantity of flow back water (even though it is subject to a permit)

I do not know enough about this issue to comment.  I can say, though, that so far the borehole has been fracked twice, the last frack being over twelve months ago.  Drilling came to a standstill to allow a British Geological Survey investigation into the cause of the micro-earthquakes.  Cuadrilla has since been busy installing seismic sensors all over the Fylde.

Water found to be 10 – 90 times EA*** max permissible limit. Permit required since 1/Oct/2011.

I’m not sure what Mr. Hill is trying to say.  First he claims there was no verification and now he’s saying it’s grossly over the permitted limit. Ten to ninety times the maximum permissible limit is vagueness on steroids.   Either the figures exist or they do not.  Mr Hill does not supply evidence within the report to underpin his claim.  Guesstimating, which this appears to be, isn’t an acceptable substitute for verifiable facts.

RIA**** now required. Assessed dose to receptors accounting for accident.

Clearly Mr. Hill is at odds with DECC (Dept. of Energy & Climate change), the EA, H&SE and Old Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all who decided a RIA was not warranted.  Perhaps he’s right.  Perhaps he isn’t.

Recycling of flowback – illegal (London) – not clear – Preston.

United Utilities will be supplying the water required to frack the Preece Halle borehole.  Presumably they will ultimately be responsible for the disposal of the contaminated flow-back fluid.  It seems that Mr. Hill is uncertain whether or not the flow-back can be legally recycled in the North West rather than stored as non-recyclable hazardous waste.  Why he feels it pertinent to mention London is anyone’s guess since it is hardly likely the flow-back will be trucked all the way to the Big Smoke thus leaving a big fat hazardous waste contract going begging oop t’north.  Mr. Hill has time and resources, perhaps he should press UU harder for an answer?

Resource issues – Coping with any ramp up in number of wells in Lancashire.

An issue that certainly needs addressing.  Not so much supply of water but the safe disposal of millions of gallons of flow-back.

So Mr. Hill appears to be a philanthropist prepared to spend his own money collating information for a report in the name of safety.  Seventeen thousand pounds in two years is a lot of money.  Clearly Mr. Hill is comfortably off.  I certainly wouldn’t be able to dip into my pockets so deeply, not even for a cause so close to my heart.  Neither could anyone I know.  Mr. Hill promises to:

…continue as an independent engineer to push for regulation.

RAFF were very lucky to find him.

What’s that I hear you say?  Am I going soft on anti-technology greenies Scammelling up our energy security?

Nah, of course not.

Most people who have money to burn and want to push for regulation tend to lobby the government directly.  Or, if they are in a hurry, bung enormous bribes at corrupt politicians.  I’m cynical enough to wonder if Mr. Hill has an angle so I went trawling but where to start?  At the foot of each page of the report is © Michael Hill – GCAL.  GCAL could refer to Glasgow Caledonian University.  It also refers to this.

Gemini Control and Automation Ltd (GCAL) make bespoke filters for industrial centrifuges – Heinkel centrifuges in particular.  This company is based in Lytham, not a million miles from Preece Hall.  One of the uses for Heinkel centrifuges is in the fracking industry, specifically servicing flow-back.  By amazing coincidence a bloke called Mike Hill is associated with Gemini Control and Automation Ltd.

Well knock me down with a filleted kipper!

It’s possible that Michael Hill B.Sc. C.Eng. MIET has no connection with Gemini. If he is not associated with this GCAL then I apologise in advance for thinking him less of a philanthropist and more of a mercenary.  I also apologise to Gemini in advance if this is nothing more than a very weird coincidence.

However, if Michael Hill B.Sc. C.Eng. MIET is indeed Mike Hill of Gemini Control and Automation Ltd I can only speculate about why he is playing technical advisor to an anti-fracking pressure group and lobbying government for more regulation. Any resulting regulation will have the potential to give a niche market company like Gemini a handy advantage if fracking takes off on a commercial scale and centrifuges are used to process back-flow.  As for his independent status, if we are dealing with one and the same person, it begs a leading question regarding where the money for the report is coming from.  Is Mr. Hill using his own private funds for the sole purpose of promoting safety in the fracking industry (honourable) or is the money coming out if a company slush fund in the hope the company might gain future benefit if Mr. Hill is successful (Machiavellian)?  Or maybe something in between?

Now don’t get me wrong.  I find the idea of an industrial company using a group of anti-fracking activists to drum up business for machinery that can be used to service the fracking industry both creative and amusing.  What I don’t find so amusing is the possibility that this same company may be engaged in a strategy to lobby for new regulations that will affect the whole industry, using a greenwash veneer to impress the morons at DECC, in anticipation of expanding its order books.  Would Mr. Hill be as keen to open his wallet if he worked for/owned a company that manufactured electrical domestic appliances?

Is this all a coincidence?  I don’t know.   The circumstantial evidence suggests…well what do you think?

**A determinand is a substance that may be or is known to be hazardous to health or the environment – usually associated with the water industry

***Environmental Agency

****Regulatory Impact Assessment: The role of a RIA is to provide a detailed and systematic of the potential impacts of a new regulation in order to assess whether the regulation is likely to achieve the desired objectives. The need for RIA arises from the fact that regulation commonly has numerous impacts and that these are often difficult to foresee without detailed study and consultation with affected parties. Economic approaches to the issue of regulation also emphasize the high risk that regulatory costs may exceed benefits. From this perspective, the central purpose of RIA is to ensure that regulation will be welfare-enhancing from the societal viewpoint – that is, that benefits will exceed costs. RIA is generally conducted in a comparative context, with different means of achieving the objective sought being analysed and the results compared. [Wiki]

53 Comments

  1. RAB says:

    As we landed at Caen, and father in law also landed around Caen with 2 Para back on june the 6th 1944, we went to see some of the beaches. Spent a lot of time filling our faces in Arromanches which abutts Gold beach. The weather is in the high 70sF.

    We went to Bayeux cos it’s close and it was market day. Oh god French markets! The food the smells the incredible characters roaming free! Did a lot of shopping there. Then headed to our Gite way down south, about 3 hours south one map we downloaded said, but our sat nav disagreed and tried to send us on the scenic route of 6 hours plus! Spotted the mistake very quickly and got in the motorway toll road. We paid 3.50 euros initially. Very reasonable we thought. But about a hundred miles south there was another booth when you were getting off it. So I reached out to put the coins in the slot, and the bloody machine was asking for 21. 50 euros! I thought the fuckin thing was broken, but it bloody wasn’t! No wonder there was practically nobody but us foreign suckers using it.

    Now I am here sat in the very extensive garden, swimming pool gurgling away, the crickets chirping, with a very decent glass of Merlot in one hand and a cheap fag in the other and looking up at the Plough and a myriad of other constellations that I havent sean from the UK since I was a boy.

    My life is hell isn’t it? But I only do it on all your behalf you know! I suffer that you may all find salvation. And pity me you all, the way it’s looking, I’m going to be suffering like this for the next two weeks! :-)

  2. Lynne says:

    Hi Tina Louise, thanks for those links. I’m out and about most of today (to heck with the rain) so I’ll give both links a thorough read tomorrow (that’s Monday because, for some reason, your post took its time getting through again – I’ll try and find out why. It seems that microdave at the beginning of the comments thread encountered a similar problem).

    Cheers

  3. Lynne says:

    RAB I’ll gladly share your suffering. :)

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