Capital projects and safe fracking

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Best practise for fracking to ensure gas can be harvested safely come under focus this week, along with engineering in London and the EEF’s National Conference 

Tomorrow sees IMechE host UK shale gas: The engineers’ summit, an event where experts will share best practise on the methods and processes used to ensure integrity of shale gas operations.

The issues surrounding shale gas activity and the event itself were previewed last Thursday by IMechE’s Dr Tim Fox, which can be reviewed here.

For those you with less time on your hands, Dr Fox points out in his piece that:

·      It is absolutely imperative for our future energy needs that drilling companies are allowed to move forward with exploration.

·      Shale gas will not be a silver bullet, and government should not promote it as such

·      Shale gas is unlikely to greatly impact on energy prices in the UK, but it could present a useful additional option to help avoid dependence on imported gas

·      Engineers need to demonstrate how they’re making fracking technologies safe to use, and why many public fears are misguided

·      Shale gas exploration can be done without undue environmental or health risks, but this information is not getting through. Robust technical evidence needs to prioritised over scaremongering and conjecture

·      Given the almost total dependence of the UK on gas for heating, it is a matter of some urgency to find ways to be less reliant on overseas gas markets and plan for energy secure heat provision

Dr Fox, IMechE’s head of energy and environment, opens tomorrow’s summit, which includes Ken Cronin, CEO, UKOOG; Tony Grayling, director Sustainable Business and Development, Environment Agency; and Eric Vaughan, Well Services director, Cuadrilla Resources among the speakers.

In October last year thee BBC reported on how a company called London Local Energy had applied for permission to carry out fracking operations in three blocks of land in the capital.

London isn’t likely to become the epicentre of Britain’s burgeoning fracking industry but it is home to an engineering sector that is growing nearly five times faster than the rest of the UK, a situation buoyed by major infrastructure projects taking place in the city.

This is the conclusion of Nixon Williams, an accountancy firm that is a specialist in the contractor market. They’ve analysed data obtained from the Office of National Statistics, which revealed that between 2013 and 2014 the number of engineering businesses in London jumped by 16.8 per cent, from 1,700 to 1,985.

This compares to a 3.6 per cent increase in engineering businesses across the UK as a whole, from 19,765 to 20,485 enterprises.

In the North East and North West there has been growth of 9.2 per cent and 7.7 per cent respectively between 2013 and 2014.

Percentage change in number of engineering enterprises by UK region, 2013-14
Percentage change in number of engineering enterprises by UK region, 2013-14

These encouraging signs are tempered by the statistic that shows Britain 15 per cent below its 2009 peak when there were 24,220 engineering businesses.

In a statement, Martin Brennan, practice manager of Nixon Williams, said: ‘The [engineering] sector as a whole is recovering nationally, but that growth is very unevenly spread, and with more investment earmarked for London, it is conceivable that the gap could widen still further.

‘London has benefitted from significant public investment in major infrastructure projects, such as the Olympic Games and Crossrail, which has fuelled engineering start-ups in the capital.

‘The majority of the UK’s mega-projects over the last 10 years – and Crossrail dwarfs all others – have been in London and the South East, and that trend looks set to continue.’

‘With more London mega-projects, such as the Thames Tideway Scheme and the Bank-Monument Station upgrade, potentially getting underway, the capitals skills shortage could significantly push up pay, with a knock-on effect on the cost of delivering projects within budget.’

IMechE wraps up its Summit with a panel discussion titled: How will the UK retain and support the transference of engineering skill sets required to support shale gas development?

Brennan voices similar concerns about the engineering sector maintaining its momentum, particularly in London and the South East where concerns persist, particularly in areas such as rail engineering and tunnelling.

‘The number of students starting engineering apprenticeships is falling, and a cohort of senior engineers is reaching retirement age, which is why it so important to redouble efforts to encourage more women into engineering,’ concludes Brennan.

Finally, this Thursday sees EEF hold its National Conference with Labour leader Ed Miliband and Matthew Hancock, minister for business, enterprise and energy delivering keynotes to delegates who will be able to participate in panel sessions looking at current manufacturing excellence, and the manufacturing landscape over the next 20 years.

Ahead of the conference EEF has published a report on the 4th Industrial Revolution, the details of which can be found on MWP-Advanced Manufacturing, a sister publication to The Engineer.