Mixed messages for the security of UK’s gas supplies – a mere two weeks of gas in store if demand suddenly peaks or our foreign gas supplies are sold elsewhere or get cut off.
The blight of HS2 strikes not only homes but a major industrial development of national importance for energy security. Since January 2013 the high speed rail HS2 has put on hold an underground gas storage project near Northwich in Cheshire by King Street Energy Ltd.
This strategic gas store has direct economic benefit to Cheshire and the UK, brings much needed jobs to the area but the project has ground to a halt before it even started.
In December 2009 King Street Energy’s gas storage project in giant underground salt caverns was granted planning permission on appeal by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. The grounds were national need and the site’s location in one of the limited places in the UK where gas could be stored.
That was 6 years ago and in spite of the national need nothing has happened.
But now it looks as while Cheshire loses out that Lancashire could be a winner.
One of the jewels in the Northern Powerhouse Investment Pitchbook offered to the Chinese in George Osborne’s mission to China in September 2015 was underground gas storage in Lancashire at Preesall. Obviously the Cheshire project was not on offer as HS2, another of jewel in the Northern Powerhouse‘s crown, has wiped it out.
The UK’s national needs for secure gas storage are still not being met.
We are still very vulnerable to a hiccup in our gas supply if demand suddenly peaks or our expected foreign gas supplies are sold elsewhere or get cut off.
Almost a year ago a former Energy Minister Charles Hendry said we have ‘just over two weeks’ supply for the UK’.
On 4th January 2015 Charles Hendry told the Daily Telegraph: ‘The UK is already a net importer of gas, mostly from Norway or Qatar, through a network of pipelines and LNG terminals. They have served us well, but as we become increasingly import dependent ….… In four of the last nine winters, Britain’s gas storage volumes have been disturbingly low’
Now as we approach the next winter in 2015 have things changed?
In August 2015 Clive Moffat on the Conservative Home web site wrote that the UK’s ‘level of gas storage relative to demand (5bcm of operational capacity) is one of the lowest – less than 15 days based on average winter demand.
And at this year’s Conservative Party Conference Charles Hendry was still stating ‘….we have 13 to 14 days’ gas storage capacity.
Gas demand in the UK is likely to increase dramatically according to the present Energy Secretary Amber Rudd’s policy announcement of 18th November 2015. She is pledging to close all coal fired power stations by 2025 and stating ‘Gas is central to our energy secure future’. That is so as long as we have security of gas supply and more than a mere 2 weeks gas in storage.
Let’s hope then that the high speed rail route HS2 doesn’t sterilize the gas storage potential in Cheshire – one of the limited places in the UK where gas could be stored due to its particular geology.
The underground gas storage potential is not the only industrial development in the path of HS2 in Cheshire.
The HS2 proposed route of Crewe may appear to be going through the green fields of leafy Cheshire but in fact it strikes right at the heart of the wealth creators of Cheshire, major extractive industries and chemical industries based on vast reserves of halite – rock salt, under the line of HS2.
HS2 traverses the brine fields Northwich and Middlewich supplying the feed stock to the chemical industries of Cheshire and Merseyside.
HS2 rattles over the only rock salt mine on mainland UK in Winsford, also used a secure document store.
HS2 skims by an ever growing number of active and proposed enormous underground salt cavities. These are full or filling up with gas, helping extend the couple weeks of secure gas supplies for the UK to meet our nation’s growing energy demands.
And not to forget the engineering and safety challenges HS2 Ltd faces. HS2 are planning to build a high speed rail line with a 5mm tolerance on ground movement on a 21 mile route across known and unknown, former and active salt mines, brine wells, and ground subsidence.
Since the last Ice Age salt has been dissolving naturally in ground water. Since Roman times salt has been mined and pumped from brine wells accompanied by the formation of underground brine runs, ground collapse, sink holes, subsidence flashes, canal collapses – continuing today. Ask the locals. They’ll show you a wide variety of subsidence hollows of all shapes and sizes including those on the HS2 route currently subsiding at a rate of up to 1000mm a year.
Between Winsford and Middlewich the HS2 proposed route is located along the centre line of 4 active linear subsidence hollows.
And what’s the alternative to HS2?
What about improving local and regional rail?
Not just in Cheshire – all over the UK folk are commuting by rail to their regional commercial centres. Very slowly. In many cases not even at the top speed of Stephenson’s Rocket – 29mph.
Typical of the UK’s regional snail rail is the Mid Cheshire Rail Line – a pacer (bus chassis) train with two carriages providing a once an hour service to Manchester. From Northwich it takes just over an hour to travel 24 miles. Compare that to 1 hour 8 mins for a 106 mile journey proposed for the HS2 Manchester to London line.
So much for 21st century high speed rail travel for all the UK. Our regional train journeys are still slower than 19th century rail travel. UK regional rail travel has not even reached the 20th Century yet.
Rosalind Todhunter Mid Cheshire Against HS2 www.mid-cheshire-against-hs2.co.uk
19th November 2015