Saturday, 31 January 2015

Fracking - A Real and Present Danger

I have been concerned about fracking ever since talking to a geologist and a oil and gas finance specialist last year. They are both extremely knowledgeable and have been involved in many oil and gas deals around the world. However, they are thoughtfully opposed to almost all fracking in our small and crowded island.

OS Map of Stockbridge. Each division of the map is a square kilometre 
Then later in 2014 I attended a well-reasoned and unsensational talk in our town hall which drew attention to the environmental and health risks of the practice. But at that time I didn't know that the Stockbridge / Winchester area along the A3049 in fact lies above a layer of Kimmeridge Clay,  the kind that is a particularly valuable source of oil. And what is more, the map below shows the oil field in that area currently being drilled by iGAS Ltd.

The Department of Energy map of the area between Stockbridge and Winchester showing the four wells currently being worked for oil - but the whole area could fracked for gas or even improved oil flow.
The Danger

The area from Stockbridge to Winchester is an oolite field.  The oil field currently being worked as shown above has 80 million barrels STOIP (Stop Tank Oil in Place) but the recovery from primary means (ie. pumping) is low - only 12% of the oil in place.  Total recovery to date has been 8.5 mmbbls: remaining reserves 1.5.  There are only 22 wells in total, some twinned and some water injectors over an area of about 30 km2 (ie 22 wells over 7500 acres).

Fracking can improve the recovery as it opens up fractures in the oolithe (good porosity, but very low permeability) and gets the oil to flow easier.  Maybe another 5% or 4 mmbbls can be extracted in this way.

The oolite is overlain by Kimmeridgian Clay (which is really a shale) and is the richest source rock for oil as it has up to 20% of organic matter as the prime shale oil target. This could be what iGAS intends to frack, though as yet, no licence for fracking there has been granted or sought.

However, this article in the Guardian warns that Osborne has apparently written to his government colleagues urging them to fast-track fracking in their areas.

The current iGAS fields approved by Hampshire County Council and test valley are shown here 

What is the difference between a oil well and a fracking site? 

There is an enormous difference between a well drilled for oil and a well being fracked. Drilling for oil is comparatively easy on land and although some heavy equipment is used, it doesn't take long and afterwards the well-head is small and unobtrusive - usually it's left with just a quiet 'nodding donkey' to mark its presence. Oil will be taken away by pipeline laid under the fields to a tank where lorries can collect it easily, and there is little in the way of regular heavy traffic.

By contrast. a well being fracked is a hub of an enormous amount of activity, well described in the website Frac Focus which shows this photograph of a well being fracked in the US.

 The photo above shows the typical layout of a site that has been prepared for hydraulic fracturing.  The surface facilities and layout typically involve a number of pieces of mobile equipment including fracture fluid storage tanks, sand storage units, chemical trucks, blending equipment and pumping equipment.  All facets of the hydraulic fracturing job from the blending and pumping of the fracture fluids and proppants - solid material, usually sand, that is pumped into fractures to hold them open - to the way the rock formation responds to the fracturing, are managed from a single truck often referred to as the Data Monitoring Van. 
How many lorries a day do you think attend this one site?

Drilling for shale gas normally needs between 40 - 25 acre spacing of pads ie per km2 (250 acres) - 4 to 10 pads.  Each pad has 6 wells. Consequently this is what an area that has been drilled for shale gas looks like.


What can go wrong in the fracking process?

This paper summaries the risks as analysed by the EU and the UN Environment Programme here

A full listing of the dangers and disruption that can be caused by fracking appears here.
The major risks and hazards are:
Water Pollution
Air Contamination
Health hazards
Waste disposal
Blowouts, spills and explosions
Hugely increased transport and heavy transport requirements

The West Virginia Surface Owners' Rights Organisation website has some very clear photographs and diagrams detailing what can go wrong in the fracking process including the risks of ground-water pollution.

Is it really wise to use explosives and huge quantities of water and chemicals to fracture the rocks beneath our precious countryside to extract still more fossil fuel, particularly when the risk and the possible environmental degradation is so potentially severe?

One telling question is why don't the local oil major such as Shell and BP get involved with fracking?*
One reason must be that the companies involved with fracking are have little capital and still less public reputation to lose. iGas for instance has a market capitalisation of £89m and debt of £80m. If things go wrong, companies like this could walk away from the problem in a way that the majors could not.

This does not inspire confidence in a practice that governments such as Wales and Scotland are now putting the brakes on - but not England, where the government seems to be hell-bent on pressing ahead despite growing public disquiet.

This is how it works. Small companies do some exploration, if proof of gas or oil is found the small company sells out to a large multi-national and the CEO(s) of the small company retire on a white-sanded beach somewhere. Shale gas wells give most of their gas in a mere 3 years, so after that period the big company usually sells off wells to a smaller company that specialises in eeking out the last bits of gas. 
Then that company sells to another, smaller company that attempts to get the dregs. These companies don't have any financial resilience, so when they go under their wells are abandoned. This story has played out across the U.S for decades. Now the country is coated in leaking 'orphaned' wells that are poisoning the soil, water and environment with no-one either responsible or capable of plugging them fast enough to prevent this harm. 

All UK applications and licences: httpa//…/…/extreme-energy-fullscreen/
See all UK community groups here: httpa//…/frack-off.or…/local-group-specific-pages/
New UK fracking licensing threat
See also "An Objectors' Guide to Fracking' by Leigh, Day & Co
Traffic movements 

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Favourite Recipes - Dark Chunky Marmalade

The finished marmalade cooling outside. The small jars are for those who ask for some!

I love marmalade - the darker and richer the better - and eat it every day for breakfast with soughdough toast. But I have never tried to make it myself until this year. However this January, finding Seville oranges in my local greengrocer, Beccy's, I bought three pounds and posted my intentions on Facebook, looking to my friends for their best recipes. I received several, including one that required a pressure cooker and others that sounded pretty complicated.

In fact, I was given a jar of my sister-in-law's marmalade and thought it the best that I had tasted, and so in the end, decided to follow her recipe which she had from Delia Smith and which involves slow cooking over two days. This is it:

Dark Chunky Marmalade

The problem with modern marmalade-making is that today's hobs don't always oblige when it comes to getting large amounts of marmalade up to what old-fashioned cooks called a rolling boil, without which traditional marmalade stubbornly refuses to set. So when, in 1994, I tasted one of the best marmalades ever, I was thrilled to learn that the friend who had made it had cooked it long and slow – which solves the dilemma completely. Here is my version of Mary McDermot's original recipe, and it's the best I've ever tasted.

Makes seven 0.5 litre jars

This recipe is taken from Delia Smith’s Winter Collection.

Dark Chunky Marmalade
 3 lb (1.35 kg) Seville oranges
 2 lemons
 6 lb (2.7 kg) granulated sugar
You will also need a preserving pan, a 15 inch (38 cm) piece of muslin or double gauze, a nylon sieve, some foil, seven 0.5 litre jars, and some small flat plates to test for setting point.


So for stage 1: lightly scrub the fruit then place it in the preserving pan, add 5 pints (3 litres) of water and bring it all up to a gentle simmer. Now take a large piece of double foil, place it over the top of the pan and fold the edges firmly over the rim. What needs to happen is for the fruit to very gently poach without any of the liquid evaporating. This initial simmering will take 3 hours. After this, remove the preserving pan from the heat and allow everything to get cool enough to handle. Then place a large colander over a bowl and, using a draining spoon, lift the fruit out of the liquid and into this. Now cut the oranges in half and scoop out all the inside flesh and pips as well, straight into a medium-sized saucepan. Next do the same with the lemons but discard the peel. Now add 1 pint (570 ml) of the poaching liquid to the fruit pulp, then place the saucepan over a medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Have ready a large nylon sieve, lined with gauze, and place it over a bowl, then strain the contents of the saucepan through the sieve. Leave it all like this while it cools and drips through.While you are waiting for it to cool is a good time to deal with the orange peel. Cut the halves of peel into quarters then cut them into chunky strips – the thickness is up to you – according to how you like your marmalade. Add these back into the preserving pan. When the pulp is cool what you need to do next is gather up the corners of the muslin and twist it into a ball, then, using your hands, squeeze all of the pectin-rich juices into the preserving pan. Don't be faint-hearted here – squeeze like mad so that every last bit of stickiness is extracted and you're left only with the pithy membranes of the fruit, which you can now discard. When you have added the strained pectin, just leave all of this overnight, loosely covered with a clean teacloth.
Stage 2: the following day, empty the sugar into a large roasting tin lined with foil then place it in a warm oven, gas mark 3, 325°F (170°C), and allow it to warm gently for 10 minutes. Then place the preserving pan and its contents over a gentle heat and as soon as it starts to warm through tip the warmed sugar into the pan to join the rest. Now, using a large wooden spoon, stir the marmalade, keeping the heat gentle, until all the sugar crystals have fully dissolved. What you must not do is let the marmalade boil until all the sugar is completely dissolved. Keep looking at the back of the wooden spoon as you stir and when you are sure there are no more crystals left turn up the heat and let the marmalade bubble away gently – it can take 3-4 hours for it to darken and develop its lovely rich flavour.

When the marmalade has been cooking for 2½ hours place some small flat plates in the fridge. Then to test for a set, after 3 hours draw the pan from the heat and spoon a teaspoonful of marmalade on to a chilled plate. Allow it to cool for a minute back in the fridge, then push it with your little finger – if a crinkly skin forms, it has reached setting point. If not, continue cooking and do more testing at 15-minute intervals. When it has set, leave the marmalade to cool for 30 minutes before ladling through a funnel into jars that have been washed thoroughly in warm soapy water, rinsed and dried, then warmed in a medium oven. Seal the jars with waxed discs while they are still hot, then label the next day when cold. Then, as soon as possible, make Chunky Marmalade Bread and Butter Pudding. It's utterly divine!

Monday, 26 January 2015

Inequality - A Growing Problem

Much is true in this article; I have watched pay inequality growing exponentially since the 1980's.  I began work in the City in 1967 on a salary of £1000 a year, when at that time an average CEO's (then called a managing director) salary was only five times as much - £5000 a year. By the early1980's, although then a partner, I was still only earning £25,000 a year. The big changes began in 1986 when 'Big Bang' allowed American financial institutions to buy up the City - the banks, insurance companies and stockbrokers - and soon introduce bonuses.

Bonuses built into one's employment contract were an anathema to old-established businesses and were regarded as immoral - both in the giving of them, as they were liable to twist a person's performance in a particular unintended direction - and the receiving of them. We would have felt insulted to be offered a bonus when we already worked as hard as we could.  In those days exceptional work could be rewarded by some one-off gift - such as the trip on the QEII to New York given to one of my colleagues who had done enormously valuable work on the removal of the wreck of the 'old' Queen Elizabeth in Hong Kong harbour after a fire.  And this is the only example that I can recall. Even now, my old firm avoids bonuses but has has a modest profit-sharing scheme. Furthermore the most senior executives are not paid a disproportionate amount more than those at entry level (probably a multiple of 10), despite the firm being one of the most successful and respected in the City.    

2016: This is a continuing problem. I was glad to come across this article disputing the link between pay and performance

Monday, 12 January 2015

Annie May Spawton 1944 - 2014

Annie May

Annie May (nee Hilltout, later Ommanney - took the name May which was one of the Christian names of her paternal grandmother whom she loved dearly) was born at the Anglo-Italian Hospital in Alexandria on 3rd April 1944. Her Italian-born mother Tita had followed her father to Egypt but they separated early. Tita then married Max, a naval officer, who became Annie's step-father and they lived for a while in Hong Hong and Malta. A half-sister, Frances ('Fanny'), followed in 1950.

Annie grew up in and around Droxford and went to Miss Etheridge's kindergarten school in the stables at Fir Hill House, then owned by the Hulberts, where she was the contemporary of Will Martin and Herry. She later claimed that she bit Will ('and everyone') but we only have fond memories of her in those early days. Her mother Tita was a formidable woman - among other things an Italian Olympic swimmer. She had a fiery disposition and she and Annie clashed from an early age. And it was not until Fanny was 15 that Annie took her aside and told her that she was her half-sister. In 1962, she attended Les Rosey School in Lausanne and later went to finishing school there. Needless to say, she spoke perfect French.

Because she moved around so much and because of her schooling abroad, she didn't join the active social life of the rest of us until later. We were rarely out of each other's houses and pursued a constant round of tennis parties in the summer and dances in the winter. But she attended the naval parties at HMS Dryad in Portsmouth and at one of them gave the previously gnawed-on Will his first kiss. Soon her attractiveness, vibrancy and wit made her irresistible and in her late teeens she became one of the gang. In those days though there was no 'pairing off'. As Annie later put it, we enjoyed 'rushing around in a heap' too much.

Annie apparently fully clothed on a li-lo in the pool at Stocks. Mervyn Archdall on the side

I remember driving around with Annie sitting on straw bales in the back of one of the farm vans, probably with Richard Courtauld (who Annie was rather keen on) and on other occasions, following her car though the lanes in my Mini with my lights off so that I could surprise her at the other end. We held dinner parties at Stocks that on one famous occasion began with carefully disguised vodka consommé (frozen so that the vodka was effectively tasteless) that degenerated more quickly than usual into games and helpless laughter. It might have been on that occasion that Nick Duke attempted a barrel roll out of the drawing room window and smashed it. And it was at Annie's wedding in 1969 that I first drank anything stronger than Coke and was found laughing helplessly and had to be taken home.

Annie married a submariner, Lt Stuart Thorpe, and moved  to Bishops Waltham, next to the Knollys' (Cmdr. Hugh and Curly and parents of Willow). Curly was an artist and became a close friend, while Hugh's attentions were less welcome.  The house became a magnet for parties while her artistic talents came to the fore and she painted and made things and wrote interesting plays. There were no children so Annie and Stu adopted Toby and Barney but soon divorced and Annie moved to Wales in 1979.

Annie painting children at Fuff's farm, Castell Howell in 1980

Annie met Geoff in 1978 and became a couple in 1981. In 1986 Annie decided to go to university and later graduated with a degree in classics, which became her passion (after Geoff, who was the love of her life!). Annie married Geoff in 1990 and in the same year became Grannie Annie for the first time when Laura (Geoff's daughter) had her first son. In 1991 Annie and Geoff moved to Panteg Farm, which was owned by the writer Hammond Innes. Here they started to breed Pedigree Highland Cattle and Welsh Mountain Sheep. Whilst enjoying a very hands on role at the farm Annie also taught Classics at the University in Lampeter. Her teaching brought her into contact with many mature students. Several declared that Annie's positive approach and clarity of presentation had changed their lives.  Over the next few years The May Fold of Highland Cattle developed and Annie loved showing the cattle at local shows and had much success. The height of her success in the show ring was winning Champion Male and Reserve Overall Champion with a home breed heifer 'Dora Mina 3rd of the May'.

In 1998 Ralph Hammond Innes died and left Annie and Geoff the farm ‘for all their kindness and in admiration of the achievements at Panteg'. Later that year they bought Gilfachwen which became the home that Annie loved. She was a fabulous cook and adored entertaining in the house which was often full of laughter – created by the quantities of food, drink and company!She even wrote a cook-book, 'Take a Sharp Knife'. 

Annie used to come to London a least once a year and gave lunches for her friends at at her club, the University Womens' Club in Mayfair, usually accompanied by her very well-behaved collie, Pansy. 

In 2009, she and Geoff came to a party in Droxford which I organised for my family (she was my son Edward's godmother) following a Christmas and New Year spent in Ireland and as always lit up the room.  

Such was her energy and love of teaching that she started a young person's drama club - the Lampeter Youth Theatre (LYTss), that became enormously popular and successful.

Annie became ill in March 2014 and in July was diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer. Annie decided that she would enjoy her 70th birthday at home as already planned. The party was on a glorious warm weekend at the end of August with 30 of her best and oldest friends and despite being uncomfortable she was on marvelous form.  The photograph of her at the end of this piece was taken by Belin Martin at that time. She also decided to go ahead with the holiday she and Geoff had planned on a widebeam on the  Kennet and Avon canal with her much loved dogs, before embarking on her treatment in September. Sadly Annie lost her  battle in December only three months into her treatment. Never once did she make any fuss or want any sympathy, she was brave and strong to the end.

A couple of her posts from Facebook capture her true farming spirit and love of nature: 

'That was very lucky! Had quite a chase through the snow to get the cattle into the box. Total white-out as we left grazing ground. The weight of the cattle box made steering very difficult. No shopping, of course, but home for tea and hot buttered toast absolutely, triumphantly, exhausted!'

'Been on the road feeding stock since after breakfast. It's heavenly out there! You can see the Brecon Beacons from the Mountain as if they we across the road not 40 miles away! And the air's like wine! Just footling on FB while I wait to change for dinner!'

Annie was interested in everybody and everything and looked for the best in everyone. She was also a wonderful listener. Consequently she always hugely interesting to talk to. Laura - who Annie loved dearly as the daughter she never had - spoke movingly at her funeral - said that she could always talk to her about anything. She was full of generosity and fun and there was always laughter wherever she was. Her death has left Geoff , Laura and her family and many friends deeply saddened but also with an inextinguishable memory of a bright and beautiful light. 

For more photos of Annie, click here


Friday, 9 January 2015

Magna Carta 800th Anniversary 2015

King John signing Magna Carta at Runnymede 15th June 2015
I have been enjoying Melvyn Bragg's discussions about Magna Carta, which was signed 800 years ago this year. Although most of its 63 clauses in Latin are irrelevant today, its key provision served to put the everyone in the land, including the monarch, under the law. Article 39 read:

'No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised [dispossessed] of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right'.

At Runnymede, at Runnymede,
Your rights were won at Runnymede!
No freeman shall be fined or bound,
Or dispossessed of freehold ground,
Except by lawful judgment found
And passed upon him by his peers.
Forget not, after all these years,
The Charter Signed at Runnymede.

And still when Mob or Monarch lays
Too rude a hand on English ways,
The whisper wakes, the shudder plays,
Across the reeds at Runnymede.
And Thames, that knows the moods of kings,
And crowds and priests and suchlike things,
Rolls deep and dreadful as he brings
Their warning down from Runnymede!

Rudyard Kipling - 'The Reeds of Runnymede'

“Magna Carta is the greatest constitutional document of all times—the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.” - Lord Denning

Monday, 5 January 2015

Favourite Poetry - The North Ship

I saw three ships go sailing by,
Over the sea, the lifting sea,
And the wind rose in the morning sky,
And one was rigged for a long journey.

The first ship turned towards the west,
Over the sea, the running sea,
And by the wind was all possessed
And carried to a rich country.

The second ship turned towards the east,
Over the sea, the quaking sea,
And the wind hunted it like a beast
To anchor in captivity.

The third ship drove towards the north,
Over the sea, the darkening sea,
But no breath of wind came forth,
And the decks shone frostily.

The northern sky rose high and black
Over the proud unfruitful sea,
East and west the ships came back
Happily or unhappily:

But the third went wide and far
Into an unforgiving sea
Under a fire-spilling star,
And it was rigged for a long journey.

Philip Larkin