Soil Constituents and Structure May 05 2015

Soil is a largely unrecognised wonder of the natural world. When dried it normally comprises about 70% minerals and 30% plant litter, humus, fungi and a variety of other animal life forms. To determine the mineral content of oven dried soil the organics are burnt off to form ash and the remaining mineral content is weighed.

Over billions of years the bare rocks of the earth were transformed to create an intricate microscopic landscape. Soil provides plants with accessible nutrients necessary for life by enabling the conversion of constantly replenished plant material.

The top horizon of a soil profile comprises coarse decomposing plant litter which becomes progressively finer with depth until invisible to the eye. This decomposition is started by various fungi which can release nutrients to the soil. Fungi release enzymes capable of breaking down even coarse organic material, like wood, to exude nutrient in the form of humus for the nourishment of both plant and animal life forms. 70-90% of land plants will form a partnership with fungi for nutrient exchange. Water and minerals are exchanged for photosynthesised sugars. Oyster mushrooms which are deficient in nitrogen are now being used effectively to remedy soils contaminated with petrochemicals in the USA.

Microorganisms such as:




Tardigrades (water bears/moss piglets)


Rotifers create the fertility of the soil.

The animal with the greatest impact is the earthworm – the eco-system engineer, which burrows into the earth to create a ventilation system. They forage above ground by night and eat and digest the dead vegetation underground supporting the work of the fungi. The material, which is digested by bacterial action in the earthworm’s gut, produces soil which is rich in nutrient.

So to keep nutrients flowing from dead plants to live plants we need to interpose the action of fungi, bacteria, animals and microorganisms to create a cycle of life.

The minerals need to eventually be arranged to create an open scaffold to enable the process to continue efficiently with the availability of air and water to supply the processes and to provide accessible routes and drainage for the various roots mycelium and microorganisms.

F1 boffin’s turbine is a thing of beauty – whatever the weather! May 05 2015

David Derbyshire – The Sunday Times (30/3/14)

A decade ago Michael Blaize was devising ways to make gas-guzzling Formula One cars go faster. Now the engineer is the brains behind a slimline wind turbine that could usher in a new era of low-carbon public transport.

His invention, an elegant structure in curved carbon fibre that resembles the double helix of DNA (see image below), is billed as the most advanced vertical axis turbine in the world. Revolutionary – excuse the pun!

the double helix design turbine

“The design is smaller, quieter and easier to maintain and less offensive to the eye than traditional wind turbines” Blaize claims.

A full-sized prototype is being put into production soon and within two years five test turbines should be up and running. If all goes to plan then thousands of them could be installed alongside railways in an attempt to generate 70% of the network’s electricity needs!

Vertical-axis turbines, in contrast to regular conventional wind turbines, can spin no matter which way the wind blows making them ideal in places that wind is changeable. With a much smaller footprint they can be installed more densely and their simpler design makes repair and maintenance much cheaper.

It has two spiral blades, arranged in a double helix, and can generate electricity for 13 homes. It is 19 metres tall and sits on a 30 metre mast, making it as high as an electricity pylon. It spins at up to 60 revolutions a minute, starts with wind speeds of 8mph and stops at 56mph. Blaize’s prototype – XW-80, was created to bridge the gap between small-scale vertical axis turbines generating 10kW or so and the giant horizontal axis 10MW machines used in commercial wind farms. Tests on a smaller 6kW model installed on the Isle of Wight last year showed it performed comparably to traditional horizontal axis turbines but at lower wind speeds and closer to the ground.

Blaize claims that “The design could help to get around some of the objections of the anti-turbine lobby. It provides clean energy but with a much lower visual impact and its smaller scale is more appealing to look at.” This, along with it being quieter and easier to maintain makes it ideal for sites with restricted access or limited space.

His long term goal is to have 12,000 turbines installed along Britain’s railways. Network Rail are very interested in getting involved in the two year project to develop these turbines. An initial investment of £1.5bn could save them around £3.8bn in energy over 30 years. He is targeting the end of March 2015 as the date by which two turbines should be in operation.

Britain is in the middle of an extraordinary boom. During the month of February, wind farms generated a record 11% of the country’s electricity, 2.7GW - which is enough to power 6.5m homes. Concerns over the gas supply from Russia have focused our attentions on the instability of imports. We need a stable domestic energy sector. David Milborrow, technical adviser to Renewable UK and a wind-power expert stated “X-Wind Power have clearly solved some of the problems that have hampered previous designs and if they point to performance results from its 6kW turbine, it will be in a strong position.”

Note: Another company capatalising on Formula 1 technology, namely the scientists from the team that invented the Blown Diffuser on the Brawn Formula 1 car (now the Mercedes team) have also established a new technology company which claims to be able to generate increased output at low wind speeds - see Anakata Wind Power Resources for details.

Hydraulic Fracturing March 05 2015

Well Design March 05 2015

Fracking explained: opportunity or danger? March 05 2015

Informative Links March 05 2015

Conserv Lime Mortar Suppliers & Stone Restoration Specialists

St Astier Natural Hydraulic Limes

Quikpoint Mortar Pointing Gun

The Myth in the mix - the 1:3 ratio of lime to sand

Wikipedia - Lime Mortar

Lime Stuff - Pointing with Lime Mortar

A Conservation Engineer's view on Lime Mortar

The use of Lime and Cement in Traditional Buildings

Roundtower - Mortar Mixing of Natural Hydraulic Lime

Dumfries & Galloway Council - Traditional Lime Mortar

Yahoo - Forum to promote and support Selfbuild

Design Suggestions using Compressed Tyre Bales March 05 2015

Aggregates' innovation: friend or foe? February 27 2015

Extracted from Aggregates Business Magazine : September/October 2014

“The aggregates’ industry typically has branded any crushed product that is less than 4 mesh (4.75mm) as ‘manufactured sand’. This of course is not the case. Manufactured sand should be a product that you have intentionally produced, not merely the waste fraction of a process that is targeting larger aggregate sizes.” 1

The produce sands from crushed rock, whether to replace ever-dwindling supplies of naturally occurring sands, or simply to reduce the huge amounts of unsaleable crushed rock fines generated in many quarries, there are several key characteristics with which we should be concerned. Those related to the suitability of the source rock, perhaps best loosely described as chemical properties, may be addressed by using admixtures in the concrete-making process, but, apart from the elimination of certain specific size ranges in which deleterious material may be concentrated, there is little the crushing and sizing process can do. Other factors, however, are well within the influence of existing process technology, and chief among these are particle size distribution, shape and surface texture.

The particle size distribution of manufactured sand is controlled by screening or sometimes by other methods of classification, the latter usually involving water, which brings its own problems. Until recently, this grading was usually governed to a great extent by the output of the crusher(s), and the breaking characteristics of the rock, but in the last few years, more interest has been shown in means of modifying the natural pattern of breakage, in particular to increase the sub-1mm particle population at the expense of coarser sizes, in order to improve packing density in concrete mixes.

The classification process has no effect upon either particle shape (or indeed on surface texture, as this is a property of the parent rock), so it is necessary to impose improvement with the use of suitable processing. Traditional rock crushers, whether compression (cone) type, or impact (blow-bar or hammer) type, can be made to produce adequate shape in coarse aggregates, but typically product below about 6mm (¼ inch) contains a high proportion of flaky or elongated particles, resulting in many of the problems inherent in using such material as a sand substitute. Grain shape is a function of the crushing process (and, of course, the natural cleavage and fracture characteristics of the parent rock). Suitable shape is generally described, unhelpfully, as cubical, the ultimate expression of which would be a shape enclosed by six identical square faces. In contrast, we should try to produce a shape that has good volume to surface area ratio, and an easily-packed form, to minimise the amount of binder we need to stick it together in the form of concrete. Given these attributes, it will automatically tend to assist workability, unlike our cube! The ideal form can perhaps be described as equally dimensional, and without sharp corners or edges.

Manufactured sand need not mimic the natural product: in fact manufactured sand can have some advantageous properties entirely due to its dissimilarity to natural sands. For instance, natural sands must have nearly all of the microfines removed, because they might contain deleterious material, whereas crushed rock from a uniform homogeneous deposit without incursions may generally retain its microfines without detriment. Much successful research has been carried out on the inclusion of high levels of microfines in manufactured sand.


1 Hudson B P. “Crushers affect Product Quality”, Quarry magazine, April 1999

Emergency Tax Cut Needed to Rescue North Sea Oil January 14 2015

Based on an article by Danny Forston: The Sunday Times – 11/01/15

The oil price collapse in December 2014 has led to a sharp drop in North Sea drilling and a flurry of job and pay cuts.  The industry employs 375,000 people and is one of the biggest contributors to the exchequer - remember the Independence for Scotland debate?

Production last year averaged just 1.2m barrels a day - a 75% drop from the 1999 high.  Companies say one of the biggest challenges facing small or depleted oil fields is the tax take, which can still run to 80% for old fields. The basic levy is 60%.  Further, the cost base for exploration and production has soared out of control.  After decades of production, only small and, at these prices, barely economic fields are left.

A supplementary corporation tax charge was introduced in 2002 by Gordon Brown.  Osborne lopped 2% from the basic rate in the autumn statement but the industry says this is not enough.  The proposals under discussion include removing the supplementary tax altogether for new developments, and creating a simpler regime to replace the jumble of allowances and tax breaks that govern North Sea work.

Burgate, a little oil company run by a trained geophysicist Tim Boycott-Brown, was among the 60 or so companies the government chose, in November 2014, to receive exploration and development permits in the North Sea.  It came at a critical juncture.  North Sea production had fallen to a low of 1.2m barrels a day, down more than three-quarters on its 1999 high.  Exploration has slowed to levels not seen since the industry's founding.  The exchequer's take was at a 10 year low, and that was before the oil price collapsed.  Its drop from $114 a barrel in July 2014 to $49 in January 2015 has thrown the industry into chaos.

Big Oil has largely abandoned the North Sea.  Most of the companies handed new licences in the recent round do not have the expertise, money or even the intention to develop their acreages.  That is because most of them were handed "promote" licences.  These were introduced in 2003 to open up the industry to smaller players which lack the financial clout to develop a prospect, but are willing to expend the effort to find those geological gems that Big Oil has missed.

Of the 130 or so publicly traded oil companies, 55 have no reserves on their books.  Their bosses are just like Boycott-Brown: big plans but no cash to back them up and the future of the North Sea lies in the hands of companies such as these.

Big Oil has steadily sold out in recent years as its focus shifts to new basins that offer bigger returns and larger reservoirs, from east Africa to offshore Brazil.

The huge rise in government tax-take has whittled away profits.  Gordon Brown introduced the supplementary corporation tax on the North Sea in 2002.  It was increased twice thereafter before Osborne introduced a 2% reduction last year, taking the basic rate back to 60% - still three times that levied on other industries.  The chancellor said this week that the budget in March "may well involve further reducing the burden of tax on investment in the North Sea."  That will only help so much.

Even though oil has more than halved in price, average earnings estimates have fallen by 25%, cashflow estimates have fallen 12% and the stocks have fallen 20% on average.  If today's crude prices persist, these numbers will trend towards 50%, 22% and 50% respectively.

It has been years since any North Sea explorer found a big new field.  Anthony Lobo, head of oil and gas at KPMG, said: "The question is whether they take their losses and sell out now, or wait and hope for an increase in the oil price or improved exploration success - neither seem likely in the short term".

Could this be the time that the gloomsters are finally right? Probably not.  There are possibly still billions of barrels to be recovered, money to be made, tax to be collected.  And oil represents one of the last bastions of Britain's shrinking industrial base, one that fosters skills which are exportable around the world.  However, to squeeze out those last drops will require the Treasury to do some painful tax gymnastics, and sub-contractors to lower their charges.

'The price of crude will stay in the doldrums for the forseeable future' January 08 2015

Articles from The Sunday Times - 28/12/14 & 01/03/15

Last week Ali al-Naimi, Saudi Arabia's oil minister, gave the strongest indication yet that the price of crude will stay in the doldrums for the forseeable future.  Speaking on behalf of Opec, the cartel of oil-producing nations that accounts for a third of the world's output, he said: "It is not in the interest of Opec producers to cut their production, whatever the price is.  Whether it goes down to $20, $40, $50, $60, it is irrelevant". 

The fall is the result of a confluence of factors.  One is the slowing down in China.  For the past decade the world's most populous country was the main source of demand growth.  It's economy has finally started to cool.  At the same time the shale revolution in America has brought new supplies on a scale few foresaw. 

For the first time in years, supply is outstripping demand.  American production has accounted for virtually all of the increase (outside of Opec) over the past four years.

Saudi Arabia's strategy appears to be to choke off the newcomers by letting the price stay low.  Riyadh is estimated to need oil at $95 to balance its national budget but has enough cash reserves to see it through for a while.  And on a per-barrel basis, nobody can compete.

By virtue of the sheer size of its reservoirs and the fact that they are on land, Saudi crude costs as little as $2 a barrel to pump out of the ground.  Some of America's frackers, on the other hand, need crude near $70 to break even.  Nearly all of them struggle to make money at $50.

That's because fracking, the process of blasting underground rock formations with high pressure water, chemicals and sand to free the fuel locked inside, is expensive.  To maintain production, new wells need to be sunk constantly because the formations drain quickly once they have been tapped.

Of the world's 3,000 drilling rigs, nearly half - 1,450, according to research from Canaccord Genuity - are operating in America.  However, hundreds have already been pulled out of action.  About two thirds of the oil rigs in Texas are expected to be shut in 2015 according to forecasts from the oil companies themselves.  There is still oil and gas being produced but the exploration has stopped until the oil price recovers.

As of 7th January 2015:

Brent Crude - USD50 per barrel
US Oil Price - USD50 per barrel
(West Texas Intermediate)

This is the lowest price since April 2009.

Fast Track Frack Licences November 12 2014

Tim Shipman: The Sunday Times – 27/7/14

The new Tory Energy Minister, Matthew Hancock, has revealed that fracking for shale gas is to be fast-tracked because it will give Britain greater energy security and protect it from Russian aggression.   He went on to say that the Government would make it ‘much quicker’ for companies to get approval to drill for shale gas.

At present firms that want to frack have to wait about six months for permission through a 15-stage process. Hancock hopes to slash that in half.

He said “Shale gas has the opportunity to increase our energy security, potentially to cut costs and also to reduce carbon emissions by reducing the amount of coal that we burn. Those three are the holy grail for energy policy. With what we’ve seen in Russia over recent weeks [the shooting-down of flight MH17], the importance of an indigenous energy supply can’t be overestimated.

He went on to say “Payments to villages and towns of £100,000 a well [described by some as bribes] have to come from the industry rather than the government”.

Hancock, a keen countryman, campaigned against windfarms in his West Suffolk constituency, saying “Climate change is an important consideration but so is local beauty… putting up windfarms in beautiful landscapes against the strong opposition of local people is not right”.

A fateful reminder... September 09 2014

...of why enforcement and oversight of a transparent design and operating system must be agreed to put fracking on the same safety footing as our Nuclear Power Industry?

Extracted and adapted from Sunday Times article by Danny Fortson – 7/9/14

One hundred feet, it turns out, made all the difference.

It was April 9, 2010. Drilling on the Macondo reservoir, 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana, was already 54 days behind schedule and $60m over budget. Each day BP spent trying to finish the troublesome well, some 18,000ft beneath the deck of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, lost it another $1m.

The walls at the bottom of the 2.5-mile well had failed just a few days before. BP had to stop drilling and pump in millions of gallons of drilling “mud” to prop it open. The “margin” – the measure of the pressure between the oil, the well bottom, and the drilling fluid being pumped in to keep it from spewing up uncontrollably – was virtually zero.

Yet the drill bit had, at long last, reached the first of two targeted reservoirs. BP would be able to plug the “well from hell” and move on.

All it needed was another 100ft to punch through the bottom of the reservoir, which would be vital to test how productive it could be. Having already pushed its luck, BP decided to push it 100ft more.

Alan Huffman, an expert witness of the US government, called the decision “one of the most dangerous things he had ever seen in his 20 years’ experience”. Eleven days later, a geyser of crude burst forth. The Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank. Eleven workers died; their bodies were never recovered. Crude spewed into the Gulf of Mexico for nearly three months.

BP has been struggling to rehabilitate itself ever since. Last week the FTSE 100 giant was hit with the worst possible outcome. An American court ruled that BP was “grossly negligent”, a legally extreme finding that opens up BP to $15bn (£9.2bn) in fines on top of the $43bn it had already paid to clean up beaches, settle lawsuits and pay for funerals.

In a damning 153-page decision, Carl Barbier, the 70 year old New Orleans judge overseeing the case, discarded BP’s argument that the tragedy was the result of multiple mistakes by multiple parties. He apportioned 67% of the blame – and eventual damages payments – to the company. Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon, and Halliburton, the company contracted to cement the well, were liable for 30% and 3%, respectively.

Both were negligent, in Barbier’s view, but only BP was deemed to have met the harsher standard of gross negligence and wilful misconduct. Analysts at Investec said: “This, we understand, is effectively a moral division.”

From the beginning BP was the villain in the public eye. Last week’s verdict means it now is legally too. Barbier accused it of “reckless” conduct. The decision to drill the final 100ft “was the initial link in a chain that concluded with the blowout, explosion and oil spill”.

Brian Gilvary, BP’s finance director, said the company “strongly disagreed” with the judge’s “erroneous” ruling. BP pledged to appeal, a process that will probably drag on for years.

From the earliest days of the crisis, when the underwater “spill-cam” of inky crude billowing into the sea was on an endless loop on America’s cable news channels, BP was adamant. The company would not, it claimed, be found grossly negligent. That would be a bridge too far.

Indeed, the term itself was a subject of great debate at the trial. Barbier devoted eight pages of his judgement to the duelling interpretations put forth by BP and the American government before siding with the latter. It classified gross negligence as “an extreme departure from the care required under the circumstances or a failure to exercise even slight care”.

BP claimed prosecutors would have had to prove intent; that BP proceeded “with conscious indifference to the rights, safety, or well being of others”.

Barbier’s dismissal of that argument was crucial. It made finding the company guilty that much easier, and in turn opened the door to much heavier fines. Under the Clean Water Act, BP is liable for $1,100 for every barrel spilt. The gross negligence ruling means that BP could be forced to pay up to $4,300 a barrel. The company has set aside $3.5bn for such penalties. If it loses the appeal that figure could rise to nearly $18bn.

The legal wrangling is far from over. Barbier must still hand down his ruling on the second phase of the trial, which was held to determine how much oil was spilled. The government claims 4.2m barrels were released. BP reckons just over half that figure (2.5m barrels) escaped. The final sum is critical, as it too will affect the amount of damages.

The final stage of the trail, set to determine an over damages sum, to be split among BP and its co-defendants, will not start until January. The judge is expected to take eight factors into account, including BP’s response to the spill, which could mitigate the severity of the penalty.

In the judgement, Barbier methodically catalogued the chain of errors and “profit-driven decisions” that led to the catastrophe. The well was drilled with fewer safety back-up measures than expected for such high-temperature, high-pressure wells.

Warning signs mounted. There were unexpected gas “kicks” – sharp releases of hydrocarbons into the well bore. At one point all the drilling mud BP had pumped underground disappeared, indicating a big breach – or several – in what was supposed to be a sealed hole. This took five days to repair.

Weeks behind schedule and millions over budget, the crew were under huge pressure to finish the job.

On the fateful night of April 20, Don Vidrine, the senior BP manager on the rig at the time, misread a key pressure test that should have raised alarm bells. Mark Hafle, an engineer who was monitoring the data in Houston, “told Vidrine essentially that the test could not be considered a success given the inconsistent pressure readings”, Barbier wrote.

Vidrine didn’t run another test. Hafle didn’t insist on one. Thirty six minutes later, the Deepwater Horizon exploded. There is little argument over the facts. BP’s best hope is that the appeal court will decide to evaluate them in a more favourable light.

AMAZING Liebherr Excavator Climbs To The Top September 02 2014

Check this out...

Fracking puts insurance cover on shaky ground August 20 2014

Based on an article in The Sunday Times - 3/8/14 ~ by Ian Cowie

Some American Insurers are excluding claims for fracking damage from household cover and, some British Insurers are considering followings suit. It’s a fact that dozens of local authorities in America have banned fracking, and litigation is under way between some of them and a few energy companies.

Martin Milliner, of the insurers LV, stated “Fracking is alleged to have caused earth tremors in Lancashire and environmental damage in America, where financial loss, suffered as a result of this risk, has been excluded from some insurers’ standard household cover. With an estimated 30% of the UK potentially suitable for fracking, insurers will have to debate their appetite for related risks. As with flooding, in the extreme case where a house becomes uninsurable, it could also become unmortgageable and unsellable.”

Nationwide, an American Insurer unrelated to the British Building Society of the same name, has apparently excluded fracking damage from a wide range of policies, after Texan drillers paid compensation to householders for methane gas found in their tap water.

Bricks and mortar are many Britons’ most valuable asset. Household insurance is meant to protect us from unlikely mishaps. Fracking risks must be properly assessed and evaluated.

Shale Gas in Europe; the balance between technology, policy and public support July 31 2014

Extracted from

Helge Lund of Statoil believes that the lack of public and political support for shale gas, coupled with the population density in Europe, will hamper [development] efforts in the near future. And with BP ruling itself out of shale gas drilling in the UK (in February 2014), the Swede is in good company. In the Netherlands (which has traditionally been a big producer of natural gas), the government won't even decide whether or not to allow drilling until 2015. The gas pipeline network in the EU is a long way off being complete - in many cases the infrastructure between countries is almost non-existent.

Marcus Pepperell from Shale Gas Europe, a platform run by FTI Consulting is cautiously optimistic that things are not as bleak as Helge Lund and others may think. He states, "The European Commission estimates that Europe could see the start of commercial drilling as early as 2015 in member states where trials are most advanced. Exact reserves are unknown and further exploration needs to take place. However, current activity is well ahead in the UK, Poland and Romania. In many other parts of Europe, such as the Netherlands and Denmark, the authorities are undertaking extensive studies to estimate shale gas potential."

Indeed, the UK and Poland have gone so far as to join forces in this arena, declaring themselves 'natural allies' and agreeing to produce joint research to detail how "the potential of shale gas can be realised." (France, however, have a ban on hydraulic fracturing).

Pepperell does believe there is a compelling business case evident already. He explains: “Industry is an important part of the European economy but Europe has higher energy prices than in other parts of the world. The recent Commission study on energy costs shows that European gas prices are much higher than in Latin America or continental Asia and more than three times higher than in the USA. This has an impact on the competitiveness of European industry, especially for high-intensive energy industries such as the chemical, paper or metal sectors. It means European business is at a disadvantage when competing in the global market.”

Pepperell goes on to say “In Germany, for example, the phasing out of nuclear energy and support for renewables, energy taxation and carbon licenses, has led to much higher energy costs than elsewhere in Europe. Other member states, such as Poland and Bulgaria, are very dependent on a single external energy supplier that imposes high costs. Industry in these countries is therefore at a disadvantage. The development of new potential domestic energy sources, for example shale gas in the UK, is also dependent on the creation of a reliable regulatory and enforcement process to achieve policy support.”

Political clout

It's the politicians that could prove key to improving the situation with regard to energy costs. Pepperell and his colleagues at Shale Gas Europe recently issued a press release calling for political leaders to step up and address the future competitiveness of energy-intensive industries. Pepperell says simply: "Politicians are an important part of the policy-making process and energy policy has a direct impact on energy costs."

"A survey by FTI Consulting conducted in April 2014 shows that in the UK, 47% agree that in light of the crisis in Ukraine, the need for the UK to consider fracking for its own gas supplies increases, while only 21% disagree."

A big-name player that concurs with this is Cuadrilla Resources, which has recently gone one step further and put a - hesitant - starting date on it. The company has stated that by the end of 2015 it is hoping to fuel British homes with shale gas. They said, "For example, local communities will receive £100,000 for every exploration well site that is hydraulically fractured in addition to 1% of revenues from future shale gas production. This could equate to over £1 billion over a 20 to 30 year production timescale in Cuadrilla's Bowland Basin licence area alone."

Cuadrilla announced their intention to apply for planning permission to drill, hydraulically fracture and test the flow of gas from up to four exploration wells on two sites - one at Preston New Road and the other at Roseacre Wood.

UK's biggest shale gas explorer created

In May 2014 IGas acquired its rival Dart Energy to create the UK's largest shale gas explorer. The deal was worth almost £120m and the combined portfolio covers 1 million acres of potential fracking land.

IGas produces around 3,000 barrels of oil and gas a day from 110 sites in the UK while Dart holds licences to produce gas from coal seams in Scotland.

The new business will also harness the power of two joint venture partners in Total and GDF of France. The overall venture will be far larger than Cuadrilla Resources, which has been the most well-known name in the UK market thus far.

Go Ahead, Vladimir. We can’t use shale gas as a weapon! July 28 2014

Based on an article in The Sunday Times – 30 March 2014

Oil prices are still set in world markets. Fracking oil is too light and too sweet (low in sulphur) for use in American refineries. So America continues to be a big importer of heavier crude oil, dependent on unstable regimes for steady supplies at tolerable prices. Natural gas will not become a geopolitical tool until substantial political barriers to its export can be hurdled.

In America the current administration regards oil and natural gas, along with coal, as responsible for climate change, and to be phased out as the transition to renewables is completed. For them natural gas is at best a “bridge fuel” to take us to the day when the world relies completely on solar, wind and other non-fossil fuels to operate highly energy-efficient cars, factories and homes.

Just 6 of 37 applications to build the terminals needed to liquefy natural gas for export (at an estimated cost of $30bn each) have climbed the first step on the ladder to approval, and only one is under construction. Environmental groups fear the impact on areas in which these terminals would be built. America’s Energy Advantage, a lobby group led by Dow and Alcoa, want to keep these resources for domestic use at low prices; and the law requires special government review of any natural gas exports to nations with which the US does not have a free-trade agreement.

Add to all of this a 40-year-old statute that makes it virtually impossible for American companies to export crude oil, and it will be a long while before America becomes what it might become – the world’s largest exporter of crude oil.

LPG Fracturing July 23 2014

Extracted from the Letters Page of the Catholic Universe dated 08/09/2013 (unconfirmed claims)

LPG fracturing is a rare breakthrough in the oil and gas industry that can deliver both economic and environmental benefits.

Almost 80% of the water used to frack stays in the well.  The flowback water is potentially a radioactive waste, requiring treatment, due to occasional contamination by natural uranium present in the formation.

Using LPG allows operators to use abundant hydrocarbons already being produced to extract more hydrocarbons whilst eliminating the need for the addition of biocides to the fracking fluid.  LPG can be stored at ambient temperatures, and reduces the need to flare after production.

LPG provides a consistent viscosity, does not require the addition of CO2 or N2, nor does it require any special cool down or venting of equipment.

Propane LPG liquid is half the Specific Gravity of water reducing the haulage costs to site until it can be produced at the wellhead when trucking ceases.  Trucking can be reduced by 90% overall.  The yield of each well is improved by about 30%.

Sand Sculpture Festival July 19 2014

Based on an article by BBC News Somerset Online - 18 April 2014

About 5,000 tonnes of beach sand was scooped up and compacted for the Weston-super-Mare's annual sand sculpture festival.

2014's sculptures, created by 20 international artists, were on the theme 'Once Upon a Time' and included works from The Hunger Games and The Hobbit.

Co-organiser Nicola Wood said: "In just nine years, we have grown from 30 tonnes of sand to 5,000 [tonnes]"

Among the "maze of sand sculptures" was Max from children's book Where the Wild Things Are, Paddington Bear and the "tallest sand sculpture the festival has ever made", according to organisers.

"They're actually surprisingly robust: rain does affect them to a degree but we have sculptors on site all the time that help to repair them and tweak them and tidy them up when necessary."

Rachel Stubbs, who has created a work based on one of Aesop's Fables, The Lion and the Mouse, said the sand at Weston was "fantastic".

"As a sand sculptor you must work with all sorts of different types of sand," she said.

"Weston sand is the perfect shape, consistency and it is fine enough to make intricate details."

One of the largest sculptures on show is by Radovan Zivny, from the Czech Republic, who has created Gulliver from Swift's classic novel Gulliver's Travels.

"I've been working here for eight days," Mr Zivny said.

"Sand is one of the few materials I work with, and I like that it is ephemeral and the sand sculpture disappears."

If you would like to create sand art then click here for lots of step by step instructions.

Sand Dance July 18 2014

We highly recommended our Top Dressing Sand for this leisure pursuit...

This one can be done sitting down for the less energetic...

Invasion of the Killer Weed July 15 2014

by Matt Rudd - The Sunday Times Magazine : 13 July 2014

It's eating our gardens, destroying our houses and ruining our lives. Can anything free us from the insidious grip of Japanese knotweed?

An estimated 220,000 homes now have it and that figure is growing exponentially.  In a single Tuesday morning at the headquarters of Environet, a firm specialising in the eradication of Japanese knotweed, the phone rings 20 times.  The calls come in varying stages of hysteria.  "Our first job is to calm them down and do an identification," says Environet's Mark Thompson.  "If it is knotweed, we put a plan of action in place."

In 2011, a Hertfordshire couple came close to demolishing their £300,000 new-build home after knotweed from adjoining derelict land started coming up through their floorboards and in 2004, the plight of Boscastle residents (already struggling after half their village was swept away in floods) was exacerbated by a plague of knotweed washed downstream from an allotment.

The explorer, the man who would cost Europe hundreds of millions doing battle with knotweed, was Phillip von Siebold.  Appointed expedition doctor to the Dutch trading settlement in Japan, he had full access to the then closed country and used this privilege to harvest hundreds of exotic plants for sale in Holland.  On 9 August 1850, knotweed crossed the Channel.  The post room at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, received a specimen of the plant from Siebold, they added it to their collection.  That was it.  The triffid had arrived.

The British Nurseries of that time began selling it with enthusiasm, and the gardeners of the day advocated its use.  None of them had worked out that it was uncontainable.  It is tall and rapid spreading.  In early Summer, it will be growing 10 centimetres per day, and if you watch it closely enough, you can actually see it grow.  "This will spread several feet in every direction each year" says Mark Thompson.  Around its edges, tendrils are throttling native nettle and bramble.

This series of maps shows how knotweed has taken root in Britain over the past century:

When the 2014 map is compiled, apart from a couple of patches in the very remotest parts of Scotland, it will be a solid block of colour.  Even the Shetlands are infested.  Experts agree that, as of 2014, it is now... everywhere.  It is the year of the Triffids.

Remarkably, knotweed has never spread by pollination in Britain.  Every single plant in the country shares the same DNA as that first plant Siebold bottled.  It spreads purely by regeneration, from small pieces growing into whole new plants.  Every time a gardener attempts to dig it up and dump it, or strim it, or Flymo it, or compost it, or take it down to the dump, it spreads.  It relishes disturbance.

To make matters worse, knotweed is very hard to kill.  This is, after all, a monster that prospered where no other plant could, in the inhospitable lava fields of Japan.  You can't just use Weedol.  You can't just dig it out with a spade.  The root system is three metres deep.

The trick is to poison it slowly, subtly, so it won't notice.  The process can take up to five years.  Knotweed costs the country £165m a year, should we not have a more unified approach?  There is a plan.  An attempt to fight fire with fire, or more specifically, weed with a bug.  At the Centre of Agricultural Bioscience International (Cabi), Dr Richards Shaw is standing in a greenhouse surrounded by knotweed plants.  Each plant is covered in a white shroud.  There are 186 species of insect which feed on Japanese knotweed in Japan.  There are zero here.  Over the past decade, Dr Shaw and his colleagues have been whittling the 186 knotweed-eating bugs down to one that might work as an effective biocontrol here in Britain.  The winner is a psyllid which, to the point of starvation, only eats knotweed.

So here we have this one super-specialist bug that eats nothing else and is eaten by nothing else.  Four years ago, after extensive tests in quarantine, it was released at eight top secret sites around the country.  Next year is the final year of this field trial, after which Dr Shaw must make his case for a wider release.  Can he be certain there will be no unintended consequences?  "We are introducing an organism that wasn't present before and there will be some interaction," he says, "but you've got to look at the do-nothing option.  If we do nothing, the knotweed will continue to do what it's doing, which is displacing everything and reducing biodiversity.  Doing nothing is not a safe option."

Will it be successful? "It's too soon to say.  It took six years to establish the grey squirrel.  It took 10 for a rust that controlled black myrtle in South Africa to have any effect.  This sort of thing is a long-term project."

With knotweed, the early intervention option has long gone.  Outright elimination is not financially viable either.  If the psyllid works, Fallopia Japonica will finally have a natural control, as it does in Japan.  If it doesn't work, we're back to square one.

RHS Advice says:

Control Options for Japanese Knotweed -

  1. Digging out Rhisomes is possible, but not recommended due to the depth they can penetrate, and the fact that even tiny fragments can regenerate. Digging out also creates disposal problems: Japanese Knotweed is classed as 'controlled waste' under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, so must be disposed of at licensed landfill sites (an alternative is to allow it to dry on site before burning every scrap).
  2. By far the simplest control option for householders is to treat stems with glyphosate-based weedkiller such as Roundup Tree Stump & Root Killer. In late Summer cut all stems to 20cm (8in). Rupture the central stem tissue with a screwdriver and apply the herbicide according to the label instructions. Repeat the treatment in subsequent years as necessary.
  3. You can also apply glyphosate-based herbicide to the foliage, ideally when the plant is in flower in Summer. Or allow stems to grow to 1m (39in) and spray in May, retreating later as needed. Repeat-spray until the plant is eradicated. Glyphosate-treated knotweed has small-leaved, bushy regrowth unlike the normal plant: it is essential this is also sprayed for good control.

Cuadrilla’s Allan Campbell – How he believes shale gas from fracking could transform Britain July 09 2014

Interview by Danny Fortson (The Sunday Times 08/12/13)

Allan Campbell’s company, Cuadrilla Resources, discovered the reservoir under northwest England.

A video on Cuadrilla's Fracking Procedure:

“This is the North Sea all over again”, Campbell says. “In America they are playing with 300ft of gas-bearing rock layers, we have 6,000ft, this is a game changer!”

Campbell claims the Bowland basin, an underground formation that stretches from the Isle of Man across northwest England and down to the Midlands, could do for Britain what shale has done for America, where a critical gas shortage has transformed to more than a century of supply thanks to ‘fracking’.

Campbell continues “At the moment there is a vacuum of information that is being filled with hyperbole with no foundation in facts”. His idea is to launch a “big conversation” in the form of 40 town hall meetings across Britain, ideally in partnership with non-governmental organisations that do not share Cuadrilla’s vested interest in shale. Cuadrilla has, like other drillers, agreed to hand 1% of revenues from each well to locals – two-thirds to parishes, the rest to councils.

In 1995, Allan Campbell took over a tiny engineering company called A J Lucas, which got into the booming business of tapping coal seams for gas. Following huge success in this area, he hired two experts to scout Western Europe. They homed in on the Bowland basin after studying publicly available geological data, including details from four wells drilled by British Gas in the 1980s.

In February 2008, Cuadrilla Resources, a 100%-owned subsidiary of A J Lucas, applied for licences to explore 450 square miles of Lancashire. Cuadrilla claims that the Bowland shale holds 200 trillion cubic feet of gas, enough to supply Britain for 57 years. However, the British Geological Survey estimated the Bowland could hold six times as much.

Campbell hugely underestimated the political aspect of the project and states that he regrets not relocating to Britain from the offset, but he did manage to bring on board Lord Browne, the former BP chief executive. His private equity firm, Riverstone, bought a 45% stake in Cuadrilla which is the same stake as A J Lucas holds with the staff sharing the remaining 10%.

This summer, British Gas bought a stake in the company’s acreage and agreed to cover some of the drilling costs. Campbell himself owns 20% of A J Lucas, which has kept a quarter stake in Bowland for itself – Cuadrilla owns the rest. Between the two companies, Campbell holds just under 9% of the Lancashire bounty.

Here is a video on Cuadrilla's well design:

Another company who are keen to extract gas responsibly are IGas. To read more click this link.

CSG Co would be happy to receive views on this subject for incorporation into a future article. We see the advantages of a national secure supply of gas/power whilst our complex Energy Policy is politically agreed and implemented with adequate safeguards. The quarry industry has, just like everybody else, experienced large increases in the cost of energy and fuel over the past decade. It has had a significant impact on our costs at a time of decreased demand for our products. Reduced or stabilised energy costs would be warmly welcomed. We recognise that having shale beds twenty times deeper than those being commercially exploited in America means that drilling pads in the UK can extract 20 times the volume of their American counterparts all things being geologically equal. This would offer the opportunities to do far more processing on site and to reprocess drilling fluids etc, to reduce traffic movements. Our gas mains infrastructure is also available to transport processed shale gas. Our chemical industries would welcome the availability of long-chain petrocarbons which can comprise up to 50% of the outputs by value from each well. Mothballed and abandoned quarry sites, collieries and industrial sites in the UK are abundant and are generally available for redevelopment as drilling pads and process areas.

Planning law and Environmental Oversight and Monitoring in the UK are already more stringent in their applicability to Oil and Gas than in the USA and can be developed further to impose strict conditions on Operators. Just as the Nuclear Industry is expected to design to safeguard against low probability occurrences so too can fracking licenses be subject to operational risk/hazard conditions to protect our aquifers and environment.

In order to distinguish between earthquakes and tremors the following table may assist:-

Richter Scale Chart

How to Calculate Geotextile Quantities July 03 2014

First, the easy way...

Table of cover with 1.2m overlap for 4.5m wide Geotextile:-

This works out the number of strips that you need.
Multiply the number of strips by the length of each strip to calculate the amount required!

If you want to work it out the hard way... here's the algebra!

W = 3.3 n + P


W = Width of Arena to be covered

L = Length of Arena to be covered

n = Number of strips of Geotextile required

P = Overlap specified

w = Width of Geotextile Roll

l = Length of Geotextile Roll

3.3 is derived from 4.5m (w) – 1.2m (P)

Example (for a 40m Length x 20m Width arena):

          20 = 3.3n + 1.2

and    3.3n = 20 – 1.2

          n = (20 – 1.2) / 3.3 = 5.7 strips (use 6 no)


l = (L + 0.5)6       (because we need length + 0.5m to dress up kicker)

l = (40 + 0.5)6     = 243m

or let 20m = L and 40m = W (laying the other way round)

n = (40-1.2)3.3    = 11.75 strips (use 12 no)

l = (20+0.5)12      = 246m

The rolls are 100m long so 3 rolls are required to complete the job.

Geotextile Joints June 23 2014

The geotextile should be laid such that any traffic on the site travels on the drainage stone layer not the fabric. Assuming a 20m x 40m Arena with the entrance gate in the 20m section the fabric, which is normally 4.5m wide, should be cut to a length of 20.5 metres. This should be laid at the furthest point from the entrance and stapled or glued or battened to the kicker rail along three sides to envelope the sand layer and provide a few centimetres of free board.

The next sheet to be laid will have an overlap of 1.2m (4 feet), so concertina the first sheet back this distance and reverse the lorry to its edge to top onto the sheet. Spread the sand to the required depth.

Lay the next sheet lapping under the first by 1.2m and using silicone sealer to gun a zig-zag seal down the middle of the join. The seal should be approximately 200mm (8”) from zig to zag and also 200mm (8”) from zig to zig.

Fix the edges of the sheet to the kicker board, concertina the end and proceed again as above.

As long as the system of a 1.2m overlap and a sealed joint is used the geotextile can, as required, be laid in any convenient direction. Similarly a join can be constructed when two lengths of geotextile are needed to incorporate a new roll.

Grangemouth boss proposes to offer 6% of gross revenues from fracked wells to landowners and the local communities May 20 2014

Extracted from Dominic O'Connell (17/5/14) and Danny Fortson (28/9/14) - The Sunday Times

Jim Ratcliffe, of Ineos, will import 1.6bn tonnes of cheap American shale gas per year for ten years from terminals on America’s Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico. The gas will be sent to a facility in Norway owned by Ineos, Ratcliffe’s giant chemicals company, and to Grangemouth in Scotland.

The imported gas will be used to make ethylene, a vital chemical in the manufacture of plastic. About half the gas will come from the Marcus Hook terminal in Pennsylvania, and the rest from Houston Bay in Texas. A huge surge in gas production in America – almost all of which comes from the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of underground shale – has pushed down prices to between one third and one half of European levels.

In North America, 55 shale gas wells are currently drilled every day.  The cheaper energy produced has given the American manufacturing and chemicals industries a boost, with thousands of jobs being created in new factories and refineries. In contrast, the pace in Britain has been sluggish: just one well has been partially drilled since the first license was granted in 2008. The government, prudently invoking the precautionary principle, issued an eighteen month fracking ban in 2011 after drilling caused tremors, apparently equivalent to those typically created by a bus or lorry passing by the front door of an urban terraced house, to be recorded near Blackpool.

Ineos has said it will now also consider pursuing shale gas exploration licenses in Britain.  In October the Government closes the bidding for hundreds of six mile (ten kilometer) by six mile exploration blocks, and the auction winners will be revealed by June - after the General Election.  Each block might comprise ten pads each with a (stacked) cluster of twenty wells which are scheduled to produce over a twenty year life.  To this end Ratcliffe has hired the team credited with starting the shale gas revolution at Texas explorer Mitchell Energy. Drilling expert Nick Steinsberger, and geologists Kent Bowker and Dan Steward, have signed up to five year contracts with Ineos.

The Coalition Government is now attempting to stimulate shale drilling by changing the laws of trespass on underground exploration and by promising windfalls for locals. The proposal seems to exempt access at more than 300m (1000ft) below a property from the law of trespass.  The Government is very positive about shale, but they need more positive feedback from people in the UK to go out and really push it.

Cardigan Sand would like to add: Some business tax on shale gas will be allocated to the Local Authority and some explorers, notably Cuadrilla, are also offering to remit 1% of revenues specifically to fund Community or Environmental projects local to the exploration sites.  We understand that the Minerals (Oil, Petrochemical and Gas in this case) are owned by the Crown Estates who remit the majority of its income to the State coffers, and there is therefore little incentive for locals to allow fracking.  Jim Ratcliffe has offered to up this to 2% from UK wells developed by his company and give an additional 4% to the landowners.  The Lancastrian hopes this "game-changer" will spark the industry into life.  By his reckoning each 100 square kilometre block will generate 20 million pounds per annum for twenty years for the community,  all paid for by the six percent allocation of revenues suggested.   Most of the Shale in the UK is in the old industrial heartland, which is still largely depressed.  Shale gas, he contends, has the potential to re-vitalise manufacturing in these areas.