Fracking could be happening anywhere within areas that cover 60% of the country. Yet most of us barely know what it is.
In this article we cover some of the key questions about fracking, and the key claims made by those who support rolling it out in the UK.
It is important to note that the detail of this area is huge and cannot be adequately covered by us in one article, so please check the links – and if you feel like being involved in the government consultation that is ongoing now please check the links at the bottom.
What is fracking?
Fracking is currently being used as a blanket term for a lot of extreme energy extraction like coal bed methane – and underground coal gasification in some quarters, but we are going to refer to the new process called hydraulic fracturing.
It is important to make clear at this point that despite claims to the contrary this is not the same process that has been going on since 1974 in the UK.
In fact this process has only been done once in the UK – in Blackpool, where it caused a memorable earthquake.
What are the environmental concerns?
80% of the fossil fuels we know exist should remain in the ground if we can hope to stop catastrophic climate change. We should not be trying to find more and coming up with new ways to get it out of the ground.
When the survival of the planet is at stake that should be all we need to know, but as there has been false bias given to the climate change deniers within the media, it is common for many people to be sceptical of climate change science.
Image: ASAP Science
Below, then, we look at the other potential effects of fracking.
What will be the local environmental effects?
It is likely there will be earthquakes caused by the Fracking drills as occurred in Blackpool. Though engineers say these will be relatively minor (3-4 on the richter scale), it is enough to be concerned about.
In this context it is worth noting that the UK has 400 times the number of fault lines than the US where fracking has been done on an industrial scale. The UK is also far more densely populated.
There will be a massive increase in trucks and lorries in rural (and even urban) areas, numbering from 50 a day for each drill site. The noise of that combined with the noise of the gas compressors – used on site to make the gas useable – can be deafeningly disruptive, to people and wildlife.
The compressor sound levels are equivalent to the constant sound of jumbo jets taking off, non-stop.
Lord Howell (George Osbourne’s father in law, of ‘desolate north’ fame believes fracking should only happen in the north – where no one votes Tory anyway – because of this.
“Spending time and money trying to bribe and cajole rural communities is a complete waste, as well as putting backs up and losing rural votes on a major scale. Villages and their environs where homes are worth a million will be unimpressed by £100k offers, and by assurances that ‘only’ two years of heavy truck traffic will disturb them. Those who have visited sites in America will also know that even after installation, the thump of compressors can be sensed up to two miles away, as well as the whiff of diesel from the compressor pump engines.”
MedAct, an organisation of doctors, have expressed their concerns over the impacts of fracking on the health of communities. In Pennsylvania, health professionals have recently been asked to not record people with having fracking related illnesses to hide the true numbers.
However records like the list of the 6000 harmed verified cases of fracking related illnesses have shown there are negative health impacts associated with fracking.
Water, Costs and Health
There will be considerable water loss locally. Each drill uses 2-10 million litres of water, 30% is untreatable/poisoned and shipped off site. Water is a precious resource and may be one to become scarce, even in the UK, in the future – the ramifications of which we will discuss later on.
Fracking companies in the US have been losing large amounts of money, and as it is a very expensive method of obtaining energy (we are going to need £33bn of investment to do it). Also, we know that 5% of well casings (for the drill to go into the ground) fail immediately, and 50% fail over time.
How does this all affect health?
Disposal of poisoned water onto fields and into rivers has occurred surreptitiously and illegally to save money in the US. Because of cheap and shoddy health and safety precautions, water has accidentally also leaked out of trucks and containers into the local environment.
The other place the water is disposed of is into empty drill wells. Although it has been claimed (in treasonous but entirely typical act of lying to Parliament) that because the wells go 3000 metres down there is no contamination to ground water, this is false. There are documented cases of this contamination occurring.
This contamination of the water supply has lead to clusters of unexpected illness that may be related to fracking, most recently in the case of Terry Greenwood’s death.
Regulating Fracking – Protecting Fracking
We are supposed to have a ‘gold standard’ of regulation in this country that will stop these things from happening.
However we were supposed to have a gold standard of regulation for the banks – and we all got robbed. We were supposed to have a gold standard of food regulation – and we all ate horses. I assume the BBC and the NHS thought they had a gold standard regulation against paedophilia – and we got Jimmy Saville.
We have just changed regulation to ignore EU safety law and have decreased the Environment Agency budget by 10%. These are not signs of gold standard regulation.
But if even if we are serious about regulation, accidents will happen. Engineers thought Fukushima was impenetrable until a typhoon that no one could predict came their way.
This idea should be quickly dismissed. Lord Browne (the head of Cuadrilla a fracking company) has clearly stated that fracking will not reduce energy bills, and Lord Sterne has dismissed it as baseless economics.
So why do we still hear this myth repeated?
Image: Climate Revolution
Fracking and our liberties
The fracking industry has an interesting relationship to our government and that is affecting our rights in unexpected ways.
Lord Brown (de-facto perjurer), former head of BP implicated in the gulf oil spill disaster (renowned for his ‘cut, cut, cut’ philosophy) is the non executive advisor for energy for the government.
He is also the chief executive for Cuadrilla, the fracking company leading the charge for UK shale gas.
We are about to sell off 60% of the mineral rights of the UK in licensing at the same time as we change laws to allow drilling under your house to go on without your permission.
The policing at Barton Moss protests was an exceptional example of police repression, not least because despite many hundreds of arrests being thrown out of court and daily videos of police brutality being posted, the police continued their tactics for months – suggesting influence from the top.
Jobs and costs
The cost for all of this brutal policing has been passed on to the taxpayer. As will regulation and environmental protection. As will the clean ups when they have to occur.
But this is all supposed to provide jobs, and lot of them. A lot of us could live with all of the above for jobs.
According to the government’s AMEC report, there will 5,000 to 32,000 jobs created by fracking. This will be over two decades, with a two year peak in about ten years. The jobs will be for skilled foreigners, some local truckers and security guards.
The work is temporary because once the drill is set up there is not much more work to be done.
Potential job losses include agriculture (from loss of water), brewery work (from increased expense of water), tourism (rural England and Blackpool will suffer heavily from noise and air pollution) and small business (businesses secured against houses will suffer). Unfortunately we cannot put figures on these because no empirical research has been done – the governement has not included it in any reports. It is plausible to assume though, that a lot a more jobs could be destroyed than created.
Houses prices may drop by around 25% near fracking sites, and houses may be hard to insure anywhere near a fracking site. In the US insurers have walked away from insuring any houses within a two mile radius of a fracking site.
Boom Town Problems
Boom towns tend to see massive decreases in earnings in the long term (and average of $7,000 in the US). We know this from the fact that Lancashire, South Wales and other places are scarred with the decline of a previous fossil fuel boom – Coal.
We haven’t recovered from that, but the fracking boom will last barely 2 years in a bad case scenario. Coal lasted well over 100 years.
The net loss to the economy hasn’t been calculated yet, because the government doesn’t want to know. They even misrepresent their own figures to make them seem better.
Studies from Duke University suggest that the net loss will be considerably more than the very limited gains economically.
What about energy security?
It has been suggested that we don’t want to be relying on Russia for our gas. Which is a fair point, we don’t.
At the moment we don’t rely on them for gas. Our gas comes from Norway and Qatar.
It must be said though that we don’t want to rely on anyone for gas really – especially as the gas market is interdependent. Which is fine. Because if we stick to our climate targets we can reduce our dependence on foreign gas and oil by 62% by 2020.
By 2020 fracking will still be in it’s exploratory phase.
Is there enough gas to give us energy security?
According to Prof Robert Gatliff of the British Geological Society, the Weald Basin could be a ‘difficult play’ and at best only 10% of the gas found would be able to be fracked. However that is unlikely. A more likely scenario would be 1% of it according to Professor Andrew Aplin – Durham Universities head of petroleum studies.
This would produce enough energy for the UK’s entire consumption for 2 months. In a best case scenario we will produce enough for 20 months.
The best case scenario is unlikely because of the ponzi scheme nature of fracking hype. To get investors the companies massively oversell what is available. They have had to reduce the estimate in California by 96%, and after 4 years in Poland they are about to stop production after having to reduce estimates by 90%.
Which makes it a pretty insecure investment and an insecure method for securing our energy future.
The most insecure aspect of fracking is that it is part of the government’s dash for gas. This will commit us to a gas future. If the UK is locked into gas for the next 30 years because of fracking then we will also be locked into a monopoly of the big 6 energy companies.
These are the energy companies that have heightened prices (sometimes by as much as 20%) year on year. If we don’t take energy provision out of their hands we will constantly be subject to their profiteering whims.
So what can we do?
In a general sense we can embrace the idea of the push for ‘A million climate jobs’. Retrofitting houses, energy efficiency and producing renewables could save the planet, save cash and create long term sustainable jobs for everyone in the UK.
Paul Mobbs, like many environmentalists, suggest we are going to have to accept and create an economy that doesn’t grow, that in fact degrows, and we will have to work towards that.
Locally, groups have started creating their own energy cooperatives – putting power literally into the hands of communities, who save money and control their own energy future.
To stop fracking happening you can engage with this consultation, and you should most definitely write to your MP and local councillors. They are often as clueless as the rest of us about fracking, and unaware it could be on their doorstep and out of their control very soon.
Also contact your local union branch and the TUC, and check out Frack Free and Frack Off for more information.
Also try and find out if you have a local group and if a fracking site is planned near you, your family or old friends. You might be surprised.