“Can you smell gas?” a phrase often heard in houses across the UK. But now thanks to a new source of shale gas extraction commonly known as “fracking” you could be hearing it increasingly often. Actually if the UK goes the same way as America you won’t just be smelling gas, if you are unfortunate enough, like thousands have been in America, you could be drinking gas. If the mood strikes, you may even have the opportunity to set your drinking water on fire thanks to the dangerously high levels found in some cases.
So what is fracking?
Sebastian Doggart summed up Fracking in his recent article for the Telegraph as, “Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves blasting huge amounts of water, mixed with sand and often toxic chemicals, to break up shale formations thousands of feet under the earth, to release natural gas”.
Last year American filmmaker Josh Fox released the highly acclaimed film GasLand highlighting the effects of shale gas extraction on communities across America. What he revealed was truly shocking. The impact of fracking has been far reaching and includes gas and other toxic chemicals in the drinking water supply in such large quantities that the water is highly flammable. Residents of the areas affected by fracking have been getting serious diseases both from drinking contaminated water and the horrific air quality created as a byproduct of fracking. As Fox highlights, residents in affected areas have become seriously ill and have even brain damage from their contaminated water supply. If this wasn’t bad enough fracking has also been known to cause earthquakes and produce the kind of toxic air that even makes our law breaking air quality in London look great.
You may be thinking, well this is America how does it affect us in the UK? Well the bad news is fracking has arrived in the UK and there has already been enough suspicious behind-closed-doors dealings and worrying environmental activity to set alarm bells ringing.
In America former US Vice President Dick Cheney, coincidentally the ex CEO and Chairman of major player in fracking company Halliburton, championed the US Energy Policy Act that exempts fracking wells from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Act. This has become known in the US as the “Halliburton loophole”. A worrying parallel with the America situation is when Americian gas company Cuadrilla Resources struck a deal with the Tory led coalition government earlier this year to explore and extract shale gas until 2015 without publicly disclosing the results of their operations. Yet again this is an example of secrecy and positioning of private business interests ahead of those of the public. Despite numerous public declarations of being the most transparent government ever, this is an example of dodgy behind-the-scenes deals, disregarding the potential impact on residents of areas affected by fracking and the potential horrendous environmental consequences.
When granting permission for fracking to commence in the UK, Tim Yeo Conservative MP who chaired the Energy and Climate Change Committee responded to safety concerns by saying:
“There has been a lot of hot air recently about the dangers of shale gas drilling, but our inquiry found no evidence to support the main concern – that UK water supplies would be put at risk.
There appears to be nothing inherently dangerous about the process of ‘fracking’ itself and as long as the integrity of the well is maintained shale gas extraction should be safe.
The Government’s regulatory agencies must of course be vigilant and monitor drilling closely to ensure that air and water quality is not being affected.”
In response to this, I am sorry, get real Mr Yeo, there is clear evidence of water being set on fire, plastics in water, dead animals, horrific air quality, the facts are staring you in the face. Mr Yeo a self proclaimed environmentalist may need to re-examine his personal biography and green credentials. An early day motion put forward in parliament last week saw the Green MP Caroline Lucas tell the meeting that fracking was widespread in the US and posed “a very real threat” in the UK, with four drilling sites already approved in Lancashire.
She said there was mounting evidence that the extraction process was environmentally damaging: “The only green thing about it is the money that comes with it.” This sentiment was echoed by Labour MP Meacher, Minister of State for the Environment in 1997-2003, told the meeting that fracking “is the latest wheeze to keep fossil fuels going at full throttle.”
On March 1, a parliamentary select committee summoned Mark Miller, Cuadrilla’s chief executive, to a hearing on shale gas and asked him what would happen to the waste products from fracking. Miller said that the waste would be sent to a “landfill in a permitted disposal area”.
When pressed by MPs, Miller admitted that leakages similar to those that have led to inflammable tap water cannot be ruled out. “You never have control,” Miller stated. “Fractures are always going to go along the path of least resistance.” As if this wasn’t enough to set alarm bells ringing, during June shale gas extraction commenced in the area surrounding Blackpool and was quickly followed by two earthquakes which have been a known side effect of fracking in the US. This has led to Cuardilla temporarily suspending operations but with instability in the Middle East and dwindling North Sea oil and gas supplies, the pressure to search for domestic energy sources has never been higher.
Which begs the question, why are the government not looking seriously at renewable energy sources? Britain has the perfect environment for wide scale hydro and wind power production. Wind Power unfortunately has run into opposition from middle England who believe that the natural beauty of the countryside and the coast will be harmed. I would suggest that these campaigners research the effects of fracking and ask themselves the question, what is worse? Some big windmills or poisoned water, which leads to dead animals, deforestation, awful air quality and ugly gas extraction rigs?
Luckily for us activists surrounding Blackpool are organising “Camp Frack” to try and resist the fracking attempts in the area. I would urge everyone to visit 38 degrees and lobby them to take up the petition to stop fracking. This is a crucial time for the green movement. We must organise and not let carbon heavy energy production methods slip in through the backdoor under a veil of secrecy, like they did in America. The deregulation and secrecy has led to environmentally devastating consequences in the US and billions of pounds of profits being generated for large oil and gas companies. The choice is ours: we can be apathetic towards this issue or take action.
A light note to end on, recently I saw the musical the Million Dollar Quartet featuring an musician playing a young Jerry Lee Lewis. One phrase from one of his biggest hits jumps out at me and fits well with the potential consequences of fracking, “ Goodness gracious great balls of fire”.