Email unsubscribe workflows

Here are what many email unsubscribe workflows look like:

  • Click ‘unsubscribe’ link in footer of email, be taken to page pleading with you to stay. You have to enter your email address then be taken to a page where you have to confirm, yet again, that you wish to unsubscribe.
  • Click ‘unsubscribe’ link in footer of email, be taken to login page. You have to log in with username or email address (it’s often not clear which they expect) or, worse, some arcane account number you have to dredge up from a previous email, and enter your password (which inevitably needs reset) before you can confirm you wish to unsubscribe.
  • Click ‘unsubscribe’ link in footer of email, be taken to a page with a number of radio buttons and checkboxes for different kinds of newsletters and alerts you never remember being an option when you created the account. Spend 20 seconds reading them them realise that the actual ‘unsubscribe from all communications’ link is actually on another page. Click through to that, click ‘yes I’m sure’ to unsubscribe.

Some workflows incorporate elements from all of the above. Government Gateway sites, I’m looking at you…

What an email unsubscribe workflow should be:

  • Click ‘unsubscribe’ link in footer of email, be taken to page confirming your opt-out will be actioned. Button to cancel if you clicked ‘unsubscribe’ by mistake.

One click, motherfuckers. It’s not hard.

We Didn’t Start The Fire

Move aside, Tim Rice.

Simon Cowell, Dr Fox, Reddit, Meme, Gogglebox
One Direction, Nigel Farage, #susanalbumparty
Abu Hamza, Katie Hopkins, Ricky Gervais, Chucklevision
North Korea, South Korea, Emeli Sandé

Jägerbombs, Paxman, MailOnline, Cameron
BoJo, McIntyre, and the NHS on fire
Boko Haram, TOWIE, England’s got the same Queen
Margaret Thatcher, Ian Paisley, Michael Jackson goodbye

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Jimmy Savile, Max Clifford, Glitter and big Cyril Smith
Michael Winner, Peter Andre, Northern Rock
Chemtrails, Donald Trump, 9/11, 4Chan
Cat bin lady, Botham shows his cock
iPhone, Steve Jobs, Man U’s got a losing team
Amy Winehouse, Kim Jong-un, Al-Megraghi, Disneyland
Mumsnet, Dapper Laughs, Brian Harvey, Chavez
Princess Di, Fifty Shades, Trouble in the Suez

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Brian Cox, Loose Women, Justin Bieber, Leveson
ATOS, G4S, Pistorius got five
Lebanon, Charlie Sheen, Hillsborough Enquiry
Bin Laden, Jony Ive, Fuck-all bees in the hive

#penisbeaker, Burka, Sepp Blatter, Ebola
Rainbow Loom, Serco, AV is a no-go
U2, BNP, BBC and ITV
Richard Dawkins, SEO, Kony in the Congo

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Mandela, Concorde, ISIS claim a lot of land
Gaza, Merkel, Say hello Higgs boson
Cumberbatch mania, Celeb Paedophilia
Ronnie Biggs, Tony Benn, Facebook worth billions

Jan Moir, Pope Francis, British Politician sex
David Kelly blown away, what else do I have to say?

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

Masterchef, Littlejohn, Berlusconi back again
Mooncup, Woolworths, Gamergate, The Rock
UKIP, Osborne, Palestine, No-one on the Air Line®
Twitter ban in Iran, Who’s not in Afghanistan?
Downton Abbey, HS2, Referendum, Doctor Who
Foreign debts, Quentin Letts, AIDS, Crack, Little Mix
Asylum seekers on the shore, Right-wing press dictate the law
Disney making more Star Wars, I can’t take it anymore

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
But when we are gone
It will still burn on and on and on and on
And on and on and on and on…

With obvious apologies to Billy Joel and all music fans everywhere.

The Pitfalls of Kickstarter

I admit it. I’m a sucker for crowdfunding.

Pebble. 3D printers. Meades. Bluetooth speakers. Mucho-cheapo Arduino Leonardo. Someone who just wanted a fancy new PC.

I’ve funded ‘em all. Over 20 projects now, but as usual the first one holds a special place in the heart; the ‘PID-Controlled Espresso Machine‘ which didn’t even have a proper name when I first backed it via Kickstarter in late 2011.

A ZPM Nocturn as seen on Kickstarter

A Nocturn, yesterday

What is it? Well, it’s an espresso machine with a CPU-controlled pressure/temperature feedback control which promises world-class coffee at a hitherto impossible price. I was taken by its timely arrival at the confluence of cheap Arduino-type control and an obsessive open-source enthusiasm.

It was subsequently christened the ZPM Nocturn and I was and remain super excited about it as a product, not least because I’m still waiting so see so much as a bolt, filter or button of it.

Yes, in a somewhat inevitable turn of events, this has turned out to be one of Kickstarter’s less successful projects.

For its time, the $369,569 it raised, over 18x the funding goal, meant this was one of the bigger early “success” stories on Kickstarter. In fact, it was so successful that the makers had to reassess their plan of casting the heating block themselves (Yes, really. How quaint!) and move to an altogether more commercial-scale approach to manufacturing.

Strange thing is, if they had stuck to their original plan after maybe only attracting 2-3x the funding goal, I might be looking at one in my kitchen right now. As it is, the updates were frenetic as the Kickstarter moved towards its end and new features and options were being proposed on an almost daily basis as the kitty swelled. The purchase of an industrial laser was mentioned. A frickin’ laser…

It’s fair to say the whole thing had gone right to their heads.

So, here we are nearly three years since the funding period started. Why write now? Well, although I’m a ridiculous optimist about most things, over the last few months I’ve grudgingly accepted that I may now never see my new coffee machine. It’s sad to say, but the complete lack of communication for about a year shows that the people behind ZPM have no real idea what they are doing (lasers, remember?) and have:

a) run out of funding,
b) designed a product that doesn’t work,
c) designed a product that can’t possibly be sold for anywhere near the Kickstarter price, or
d) some combination of the above.

I’ve seen project that have been run like clockwork with almost hourly comms despite a huge level of additional funding (see the Arduino project linked to at the top of this article for a prime example), but in the last year or so the ZPM project has basically stalled into a “We’re waiting on UL certification” and “The Kickstarter page or our forums(!) is not the place to discuss production plans and hold-ups, please send us an email(!!) and we’ll respond to you directly”.

Now, to me that just screams bullshit. The internet being the internet means we can see them hawking for funding elsewhere (pretty much confirming reason a, above) and the secretive and hyper-defensive tone of their communications suggests real problems with delivery, going far beyond the bureaucratic hoops that UL may or not be presenting.

For the benefit of the wider public and any backers who can’t be bothered emailing them, this is what they said to me:

Hi Gordon,

I wanted to reply to your recent comment in more detail.

We fully understand the frustrations around updates and communication. Our preference has always been to be as detailed as we can when discussing the production process with backers – that’s part of what’s interesting for everyone. This has caused us problems in the past, and partnered companies have mentioned updates and backer comments as cause for concern/complication. For example, UL has mentioned discussion of open sourcing the code, and interest from backers, as cause to initiate extra rounds of review to ensure that appropriate failsafes are in place for this type of machine.

This doesn’t reflect an absence of internal updates and progress reports. In several cases our attempts to be detailed in our communication with backers has been at odds with the goal of actually getting machines out. At this point, we have to prioritize working with the companies who are helping us get this project done. We know this is a departure from everyone’s immediate preference, but we hope you’ll understand.

Currently the gating item is still UL, but we haven’t encountered any show-stopping issues – just a continuation of the review process. We’re using the extra time to improve code stability, confirm back-up suppliers, and make preparations for product support so that we’re able to provide long-term services once the machines to start shipping out.

Happy to answer any other questions you have! Thanks very much for your support and patience!


I may be daft, but to me that just says sweet fuck all about anything. I’ve written enough bullshit justifications in my time to know one when I see one.

The thing is, you should never underestimate the goodwill and patience of folk like me, folk that tend to do shit like Kickstarter, because it doesn’t take much to keep us happy. Just some honesty and detail about what you’re doing with our money is enough to sate us for a stupidly long time.

Don’t get me wrong, I really, really want them to pull this rabbit out of the hat and prove me wrong, but I’m pretty much resigned to losing my cash on it now.

I should say that I don’t believe there was ever an intent to have things work out this way. In the early days it really seemed like they were just getting to grips with things and, while a little bit ragged, were doing their best. However, as time went on it became more and more obvious that they were either out of their depth and/or had been shafted along the way themselves and were (are?) desperately trying to salvage the project.

So, chalk one up to experience. It’s only a couple of hundred bucks after all and at least I got a blog post out of it, right? Also, it’s not as if I haven’t done well out of almost every other project, from doubling my money on the (disappointing) Pebble by flogging it to some other mug a discerning tech-head within hours of receiving one of the first units in the UK, to some lovely personalised books (thanks, Phil Kay).

"I still want fucking paying"

“I still want fucking paying”

I still use crowdfunding sites – I’m waiting for my Modern Toss coffee table opus and M3D printer (who wants a 3D-printed boaby?) to arrive in the next few weeks and months – and remain under no illusion that there is a risk attached to such things, but while my ZPM interest remains unrequited let’s just say I’m not the evangelist I perhaps once was.

Mocking comments accepted :)

Indyref – The Final Mile

So, we’re nearly at the end of the indyref campaign period, and as folk queue outside polling stations these are the big things I’ve taken from the campaign:

  • Politics without politicians – despite the No campaign’s desperate efforts to characterise the debate as ‘The SNP vs. everyone’, the most encouraging thing about Yes is that is has garnered support from a remarkably wide section of society.

    It’s been said better a thousand times elsewhere, but this is A New Thing® for most people and is not going to go away, whatever the result of the referendum. It’s what happens when people feel they can actually make a difference. Contrast with the meagre and declining turnouts for general, local and – especially – European elections.

  • Is this what democracy looks like? All three (four?!) Westminster parties singing from the same hymnsheet, telling us what’s best for us? We should strive for an end to detached, prescriptive governance, designed to ensure compliance and suppress free will and political diversity.

    That politicians are seen to “jet in” to tell people how to vote before buggering off again says volumes. And they wonder why people are disengaged from politics? (but are oh so happy for them to continue being so)

  • Rash promises made without consultation or due process – playing sections of society off against each other, provoking those who would seek to pitch benevolent, generous English against ungrateful, sponging Scots.

    The frantic appeasement offered in the dying days of the campaign is an insult to the people of the UK (for all would be affected) and democracy in general.

  • Heart vs. head – The fact that the conventional wisdom that Yes would be led by the heart, appealing to base nationalistic instincts, all Braveheart and shortbread, with No the rational option, backed up with facts and figures, was completely turned on its head.

    While both campaigns put up various figures and illustrations to support their view, it was the No side that found theirs wanting on more occasions than not, and indeed the Yes argument was pretty robust for any willing to look beyond the accepted narrative as given by the media and establishment anyway.

    No also managed to contradict themselves in spectacular fashion, with Ian Wood’s much-trumpeted oil reserve figure of 16BBOE being a complete change from the UK Treasury’s standing assessment of 24BBOE, and indeed Mr Wood’s previously quoted figure of the same.

    Similarly, the No campaign would vigourously try to claim that an independent Scotland would be forced to use the Euro and/or join Schengen, whilst simultaneously claiming that entry to the EU would be impossible or take decades. Which is it? Again, anyone seriously looking into this would quickly see though the nonsense, but it seems a lot of people are happy accepting this level of BS, and our loyal media were not exactly falling over themselves to analyse and dismantle such nonsense.

    In the end it was No that resorted to the desperate, emotional appeals to ephemeral notions of ‘a family of nations’ and ‘best of both worlds’ as their main weapons in the days leading up to the 18th, while Yes were reduced to tirelessly restating the same rebuffs to the many falsehoods and half-truths that had been floating around for months, hoping that the media would actually pick up on them for once. Whodathunkit, eh?

And, in a nutshell, the three things I see as the most important to arise from a Yes vote:

Representation – the best chance of the people of Scotland receiving representative governance, built on the already fairer part-PR model of the Scottish Parliament, but to extend much further with constitutional rights and obligations enshrined in law.

Equality – the best chance of reversing the recent trend of concentrating wealth amongst the already wealthy, eradicating extreme poverty and bringing an end to the demonisation of the less fortunate. A big ask? Well, you can’t shoot for the moon if you’re sitting chained in the basement.

Nuclear proliferation – removal of the useless, wasteful hypocrisy that is Trident from Scottish territory (and potentially from the rUK), freeing up £billions and showing the world that responsibility and resolve need not mean the perpetual empty threat of the use of weapons of mass destruction.

All the rest (currency, EU, NATO etc.) are just procedural and technical issues.

Some recoil in horror at such statements and I’ve discussed as much with no voters who take the “How can you possibly be so flippant, these are important issues!” but the point of government and politics is to sort that kind of shit out, it’s not a job for a referendum. I assure you, as someone who had plenty time to consume everything and all about the referendum (read: I was unemployed for large stretches of the campaign!), I didn’t come to these conclusions lightly.

Nothing in these areas should scare sovereign nations with experienced and talented statemen and women, collaborating with other states as equals, and it’s all but inevitable that a great deal of uncertainty will fade away in the days and weeks following a Yes vote as rational thought and self-interest replace campaign rhetoric and political posturing.

Independence is a start, not the end. Here’s to the future.

Drink Peroni Nastro Azzurro? Read this.

Supermarket beer, particularly anything bottom-fermented that can be bought in volume for less than the price of a mid-sized BMW, is a pretty grim state of affairs. You’ve got the usual roster of Fosters, Carling, Beck’s, Budweiser, Kronenbourg, Stella, Carlsberg, Peroni, San Miguel and maybe stuff like Coors Light or Heineken. In Scotland you can add Tennents to that list. Whoopy-doo.

Now, although I like my beers I’m not such a snob that I’ll avoid fizzy piss as a keep-in session-type option. I actually prefer it to many ‘real’ ales which often don’t translate well to bottling. Besides, beer drank at home is often a refreshener after a long day, or a barbeque lubricator, so a nicely chilled pilsner is really what I’m after in those circumstances.

What I do have a problem with is spending my hard-earned on stuff that tastes like something you’ve just cooked rice in *looks at Budweiser*.

Discounting the obvious piss-from-an-over-hydrated-jakey stuff like Coors Light and Budweiser (Why? Why do people keep buying these?!), there are a few beers in that list that can be passable for the intended purpose. Most are brewed in industrial estates in Burton mind, but that’s not the point.

Added to this is the issue that some beers seem to cause my rosacea to flare up, a side-effect that took many, many months of careful experimentation to prove (or at least that’s how I justified excessive alcohol consumption to my GP). Lots of the mega-volume stuff was pretty bad in this regard actually and is studiously avoided for that reason.

So, many years ago now, the beer that I settled on as my ‘standard’ house lager was Peroni Nastro Azzurro. Blue Riband. Classy, eh?
4 x 330ml Peroni
By a weird coincidence this happens not only to be the most expensive option, but is also one of the few volume lagers that is actually imported from its homeland, and that generally doesn’t give a serious hangover. Strange, that…

I have since drank many, many bottles of this stuff (my recycling bin is a noisy embarrassment) and over time noted that its quality would vary from ‘excellent’ to ‘pretty poor indeed’. When it’s good it’s excellent, when it’s bad it’s a complete rip-off considering the inflated price.

In time, and with superhuman dedication to the cause, I started to notice a correlation between the beer’s quaffability and its point of origin. This was possible because Birra Peroni are kind enough to stamp each bottle with its source brewery, and I identified a distinct heirarchy amongst them.

From best to worst, it goes like this:

Padova/Napoli (the latter relatively rare in the UK currently it seems)

The taste gap between them is actually surprisingly large and also very consistent. If Nastro Azzurro from Padova or Napoli is a 1 then stuff from Bari would be a 3 or 4 and a Roma bottle a 6 or 7. If I plotted other supermarket lagers on the same scale I’d put Beck’s at about 4 and Budweiser at 10, so that gives you some idea of the spread of quality.

The bulk of the stuff you can buy in the off-trade nowadays seems to be Padova or Roma so there is merit in being fussy here. Bari is relatively common but Napoli stuff is only seen on occasion in my experience.

It’s gotten to the point that I will actually pass on Roma stuff nowadays, preferring to get something else entirely. Now this is easy of you’re buying the 4x330ml or 3x660ml packs as you can check the back label on one of the bottles, but what about the 12 or 18 cases?

Well, although I’m sure this wasn’t always the case, it turns out that the code on these now gives a source location too. It’s not as explicit as on the bottle, but there will be a three character code on the dot matrix print on the top of the box that tells you the producing site. This will be:

PL1 – Padova
NL1? – Napoli (to be confirmed, I’ve not seen one in the wild)
BL1? – Bari (also rare I think, can’t recall seeing one since I spotted this nomenclature)
RL1 – Roma

Quite often the same store will have Peroni from two or more sites, depending on the SKU, so IMHO it’s worth seeking out the Padova or Napoli stuff and paying the slight premium for the 4 packs if need be, or just getting something else.

So, the next time you’re drinking a Peroni and think “Hey, this is pretty good” or “WTF? This tastes like Carling” then check the label and see if my assessment stands, and do yourself a favour and seek out the good stuff where you can.

p.s. None of this applies to the draught Nastro Azzurro found in pubs which is, without exception, overpriced pish. Buy a real ale instead.

Indyref – An Apology

Sorry if I’ve been wittering on about the Scottish independence referendum too much. I appreciate it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, may be boring you by now or you just prefer not to be bombarded with snarky/pious/tiresome/preachy indyref information.

It is important to everyone in the UK though, and even though there are less that three weeks to the Big Day, I’m astounded by the apathy shown by some to what will be a momentous day in this island’s history.

That’s true particularly down here in the Home Counties where for many it continues to be viewed with an odd kind of detachment mixed in with varying amounts of amusement and/or annoyance, as if this is something those Scots should jolly well hurry up and get done with.

Speaking to such people, I really get the impression that, even now, many probably don’t grasp the enormity of the situation, regardless of whether the vote goes for Yes or No. As Jin said, “Everything’s going to change“.

Jin from Lost

To anyone who shares this view, don’t worry; it’ll be over soon and in the meantime if tweets about it annoy you I always try to squeeze in the #indyref hashtag which can easily be muted on most decent Twitter clients. Or mute/unfollow me, it’s all good.

Until 19 September then.

Modified indyref logos for Yes Scotland and Better Together

Hope or fear – Scotland’s choice

Adventures in gambling, part deux

In my previous post about betting on the outcome of the Scottish independence referendum showed my naiveté about gambling, let me now demonstrate the full force of my ignorance and pecuniary recklessness.

I’m hopefully in a “can’t lose” scenario here.

Although the odds are coming in and I should’ve taken my own advice and punted earlier, William Hill were (maybe still are) offering 7/2 on a Yes vote and a generous £22 cashback via Quidco for a new account with at least one £10 bet placed within a month. £22 placed at 7/2 returns £99, which isn’t too shabby.

Other bookies may offer better odds, but none were offering as large a cashback inducement.

So, in the event of a Yes I get my £99 winnings, plus the £22 cashback. Tidy.

Oh, and a brighter future for Scotland.

And a good laugh at this chap.

If it’s a No then I lose my £22 stake, but the cashback will cover that.

At least I’ll be no worse off, apart from a) knowing there’s some numpty in Surrey braying to his City pals about his “massive” win, and b) having to come to terms with the squandering of a wonderful opportunity for Scotland…for now, anyway.

And before you question the whole cashback thing, well yes, it’s not guaranteed, but a glance at my Quidco account stats should tell you why I’m fairly confident about getting it.

Table showing cashback

All the lovely lucre I’ve ever gotten from Quidco

Less than 3% declined, and most of that was from shysters like Marshall Ward or LaRedoute who I avoid nowadays since they are notoriously bad at everything, not just paying out cashback.

Plus I’ve already had this from them, showing it has tracked.

Cashback tracked

That was fast

Well then? What have you got to lose?

Self-fulfilling punting – Betting on the future?

Is there, I wonder, another way to work towards victory in the referendum?

There exists a section of society who place a great deal of trust in the ability of bookmakers to suss out the truth in a contest, to discern from afar the eventual victor. The kind of betting soul who understands the vernacular of accumulators, each-way and yankees and who will always trumpet the infrequent large wins whilst quietly ignoring the frequent small losses.

A great many more are probably swayed by this prescience, after all, bookies pretty much always make money so why not assume they have the inside track?

Ignoring the uniqueness of the Scottish independence referendum in such a crass, commercial context (there is no form, no history, no bloodlines to analyse, no cheats to throw things, no way to really get at what is going to happen on 18 September), many probably still look to the bookies as some kind of bellwether for predicting the outcome.

This is precisely what some on the No side are doing, pointing out the shorter odds on a No vote as proof that they simply must be on the winning side.

But what if we were to use this to our advantage? I may be entering choppy waters here as my knowledge of the mechanics of the betting industry might not stand up to scrutiny…

Currently, the bookies’ best guess is probably that the polls show a No vote as most likely so they’re going with that, although we know that there may well be issues with methodology there, it’s not as if the pollsters have gotten things hugely wrong in the past, is it?

However, odds change as bets are placed. What if there were a sufficient number of Yes bets placed in the next few weeks so as to bring the odds in a good bit? To match or even beat the No odds?

What would this do?

1) It would scare large parts of the No camp who for so long have pointed to the odds as gospel for what will happen on September 18.

2) It may make undecideds fed on MSM ‘facts’ believe that public opinion is shifting markedly towards a Yes vote, nudging them into following suit if they think, as many do, that others must know something they don’t

3) It would provide some good pro-Yes publicity, hard to spin

4) In the event of a Yes vote, we all stand to make a bit of cash!

Now the caveats. I’m not sure what the real effect thousands of small bets would make to the odds, or if the bookies’ own machinations/bias would simply cancel it out or negate it. Also, unless done in huge numbers, I guess any efforts would have to be focussed on a single bookmaker to be effective. What if a large chunk of Wings Over Scotland‘s readers could be persuaded to chuck a few quid at it though?

I’m pretty sure all bookies monitor each others’ odds to protect themselves so even focussing on one or two would probably still have an industry-wide effect, even if only a couple are doing most of the initial movement.

Any gambling industry experts able to tear this theory to shreds? As I said, all this may be nothing more than idle rambling.

Still, might be worth a shot? If you do, I would suggest a bookie that uses social media effectively, Paddypower or Betfair perhaps. Both are offering 9/2 at the moment. Stick a tenner on and you’ll be £45 up come September the 19th and may just help the campaign in other ways too.

Indyref – Beating me with experience

A few weeks ago I was with some of the other dads in the pub and the topic turned to Scottish independence. I’m getting used to that now and have my indyref cheat-sheet tattooed on the inside of my eyelids.

There followed a long discussion with people from around the world (only about 50% were English, the rest Scottish (me), Indian, South African, American and German) about the pros and cons of a Yes vote and in the main it was conducted from a position of curiosity and in good spirits. I admit I probably rabbited on a bit after the third or fourth IPA though…

There was however one chap though whose attitude puzzled me. An Englishman and a nice enough bloke, he was staunchly against independence but not for any real reason that would affect him, from what I could see. His argument basically went “You would be stupid to leave as Scotland can’t possibly survive on its own.”

And that was it, repeated ad nauseum with a teensy bit of discrimination and Salmond hatred mixed in from time to time.

Now, if he was well enough informed about the debate – even by the standards of the mainstream media – so as to be able to argue his point, then fair enough. As it was though he spent upwards of two hours talking about a ‘Yes’ vote to stay in the union and a ‘No’ vote to leave.


Yet, despite having failed to understand even the most fundamental parts of the referendum debate (I got fed up reminding him that Scotland wasn’t choosing government on 18 September, and nor was it a commitment to a single government in perpetuity), he felt informed enough to lecture in a very condescending manner about Scotland basically imploding under a Nazi Salmond presidency without the financial and administrative support of England.

His political leanings became clear during the course of the conversation, and by the end it was obvious I was probably dealing with a specimen of Ukippus faragula and I had to beat a hasty retreat for the sake of my own sanity. Trying to explain it was about self-determination and the possibility of a fairer society was just burning calories, just not as quickly as I was consuming them, unfortunately.

A similar, albeit slightly more open minded conversation was had in the pub last weekend, but from these and other discussions it’s become clear that while people in Scotland may be being forced a diet of indyref fabrication and obfuscation from their TVs and papers, at least they’re getting something. Those with only a passing interest south of the border aren’t even getting that, it seems.

With only 80 days until the biggest constitutional decision taken on these isles in generations, it’s a curious position to be in where the bulk of 57 million people are effectively disengaged from the conversation. What does this perhaps tell us about the whole debate?

What has fracking ever done for us?


Seems to bring out strong emotions in people, doesn’t it? The word also lends itself to lazy punnage so is a favourite of tabloids and swivel-eyed pamphleteers alike, amplifying its use and ensuring the word is never far from the headlines.

Trouble is, most are comically uninformed about gas extraction techniques yet are prepared, eager even, to waffle on loudly and with authority about fracking and the problems it will cause.

Now observe as I waffle on loudly and with authority about fracking…

I’m no petroleum geology expert but even my 5 or 6 years in the offshore industry puts me at an immediate advantage to 99% of the population in terms of exposure to the concepts and realities of exploration and production drilling. I know that horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are not radical new things, that fracking has been carried out for decades – even onshore in the UK – and that many of the doom-laden prophecies are simply nonsense.

The geology of the UK simply doesn’t enable the kind of apocalyptic earthquakes that some predict will inevitably follow. Methane is already in groundwater at varying levels, and the physical distance between gas reservoirs and the aquifers and the geology involved (hint: if the caprock were permeable then the gas wouldn’t still be there – duh) means there is almost no chance of them being affected.

Yes, effective regulation and oversight is required to stop the excesses and abuse that rampant capitalism is wont to pursue, but fundamentally fracking is not a problem where the geology is suitable. Our trusty media seems a bit reticent about telling us this though, perhaps fearing the loss of the word from their punning arsenal?

So, as part of a balanced transitional energy supply mix, I’m happy with fracking.

Where I do have a problem though is with the exploitation rights. When a well is sunk halfway between Aberdeen and Stavanger no-one has any personal claim to the rights to the resources held below. This isn’t the case in the Home Counties though, or anywhere else onshore.

Bear with me here because my legal knowledge will never trouble Rumpole of the Bailey, but I’m aware that the definition what rights a freehold owner has to any resources below ground is somewhat fuzzy, with the traditional definition of solum extending to the Earth’s core nowadays being restricted to some definition of the Earth’s crust alone.

Not that this has any real influence in the fracking debate as the depths we’re talking about are wholly within the continental crust, human drilling technology currently being unable to get anywhere near the mantle. So, as a freehold owner I have rights to the mineral resources and any other treasure beneath my property. I don’t think that is in any doubt.

So when I hear that the Government is keen to reduce the red tape involved in getting onshore shale gas production going by streamlining the permissions required to drill beneath our homes I get a little worried. I’m still trying to get hold of authoritative information about this (more details are due to be released today), but it would seem to have good intentions in clearing the worst of the Nimbyist objections and potential legal trespass blockades out of the way, but as always the devil is in the detail.

Basically, assuming my home is to sit above or near some kind of fracking activity I’d be happy with the following:

  • Test well passes beneath my property – Notification and nominal one-off payment related to size of property with a minimum of, say, £100?
  • My property lies directly above a producing reservoir – Notification and you pay me a percentage of the money from the produced gas
  • Production well passes beneath my property – Notification and you pay me a (smaller) percentage of the money from the produced gas
  • Surface activity related to drilling near my property – Subject to normal planning and compensation legislation

Note that the payments and percentages involved might not be huge.

For a test well it might only be a few hundred pounds per property at most, meaning that even under built-up areas the compensation payments to landowners might only total ten or twenty thousand pounds.

For the production payments it would seem only fair to reserve a percentage of the production revenue for the people who, in effect, own the gas. Maybe 5 or 10% distributed across all affected landowners would be fair? Transit payments for wells passing beneath my shed would of course be much lower. There is precedent in the siting of wind turbines that have only been permitted with some community benefit being factored into the costs.

Note that production payments would need to be tied into gas production not profits, because even though we all know big corporations would never dream of setting up their tax and reporting regime to offset or obfuscate profit in one business unit to minimise their liabilities elsewhere, it’s probably best not to tempt them, eh?

Let’s not feel too sorry for the companies involved here. For test wells its unlikely to change the economics of their operations by any significant amount, but it might just make them think a bit more about sinking wells indiscriminately. For production it should simply be viewed as just compensation for exploitation of resources that we already own. Yes, the risk is with the energy company, but they will not be crying into their Frosties even after having to lose a little bit of their profits to pay us for our gas.

What about you?

Are you happy with the proposals?

Should we be forcing a fairer distribution of the wealth that will surely arise from the shale boom?

Should not we be asserting our rights more strongly?