Have you ever heard of fracking? If you have, then are you’re probably aware that fracking is a method for natural gas extraction that is already widespread across America, with rigs set up across 32 states . Perhaps you also know that permission has been granted for fracking in parts of Europe and Africa. So are you aware that we may soon see the go-ahead for fracking in England too…?
A few miles inland [from Blackpool Tower] a gawky newcomer in the flat landscape makes a rival gesture towards the skies. It’s a drill rig attempting to usher in an era of its own; an era of cheap and plentiful gas to set the UK’s energy policy alight.
The firm involved, Cuadrilla, promise that their fracking technique is safe. Their CEO, Mark Miller is a veteran gas man from the US. He admits that careless fracking in his homeland has caused problems, but says: “People compare us to the worst operators in North America. Things are different over here because we use practices that are foolproof. We make a bullet-proof well where you can’t get any leakages. It’s called Industry Best Practice. We don’t take any short cuts over here.”
Cuadrilla currently have permission to do test drilling and the Environment Agency confirm that they will need to apply for a full licence if and when the time comes for full scale production.
Environmentalists want a delay in fracking until a major review of the practice by the US Environmental Protection Agency has been carried out — maybe sometime next year. The government believes its own safety regulations are strict enough.
So far, the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) appears to be cautiously welcoming the advent of shale gas in the UK.
I met Philip Mitchell, chairman of Blackpool Green Party by the banks of the picturesque River Wyre in this little-visited corner of rural England. “I’m worried about the risks,” he told me.
“Risks to human health; to ground water and drinking water; and to the environment due to the huge amounts of waste this produces and the huge amount of water it consumes. Also I think the impact of drilling rigs on the countryside will be totally unacceptable to the British people. I think this is something we’ll live to regret.”1
Click here to read full article from BBC News.
Fracking, or Hydraulic fracturing, is a method for extracting natural gas from shale. A borehole is drilled and then a cocktail of highly toxic and volatile chemicals, including benzene, toluene and formaldehyde, are added to huge quantities of freshwater, and pumped into the ground.2 Thanks to the “Halliburton Loophole”, the precise make-up of the cocktail used is allowed to be kept as a trade secret:
The industry lobbied the Bush Administration and Congress with its claims that the “fracking fluid” should be considered “proprietary” and exempt from disclosure under federal drinking water protection laws.3 Led by Halliburton and aided by the former CEO of Halliburton, then-Vice President Dick Cheney, the industry obtained this exception in the law along with favorable treatment by political appointees and regulators in the “Environmental Protection Agency.” As a result of the “Halliburton loophole” to the law, drilling companies have not been required to divulge the cocktail of chemicals that are in the fracking fluids used at each of the proposed or continuing drill sites across the country.
Taken from sourcewatch.
So should we be worried? Here are some extracts from a recent article published in The Engineer :
Scientists are warning that plans to use a new method of gas drilling in the UK could contaminate water supplies.
A report released today [17 Jan 2011] from Manchester University’s Tyndall Centre calls for a moratorium on shale gas drilling until further research is done.
Mining company Cuadrilla Resources is preparing to carry out drilling that could involve ‘fracking’ – fracturing rock with water and chemicals to release gas trapped inside – following initial tests at a site near Blackpool, Lancashire.
The Tyndall report warns that horizontal fracking carries risks of contaminating groundwater and surface water with the fracturing chemicals and with methane, as well as putting pressure on water and land resources in the UK.
It adds that there is little publicly available information on these risks or the chemicals used in fracking, but notes that substances stockpiled in the US for the process include toxins and carcinogens such as naphthalene and benzene.4
With fracking rigs now operating across huge stretches of land, there is also the ever-increasing danger of contamination due to blowouts. Here’s a report of an accident that happened only last month:
Chesapeake Energy suspended the use of a controversial natural-gas production technique in Pennsylvania on Thursday as it worked to contain a well blowout that spilled toxic fluid into a local waterway”.
President Barack Obama has made natural gas the cornerstone of his energy policy, in part thanks to the huge reserves unlocked by the use of fracking. Shale gas now accounts 23 percent of U.S. natural gas production, rising from a negligible amount in 2004.
But environmentalists and residents complain that fracking can pollute water supplies, raising calls for increased regulation on natural gas production.
“This is the kind of incident that is likely to shine a spotlight, again, on the fact that despite repeated assurances from industry and regulators in Pennsylvania, things there keep somehow going wrong,” said Kate Sinding, senior attorney for the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council.5
But if you’ve never heard of fracking, then you may still be wondering how anything with such a pointedly stupid name could possibly be worth worrying about. Well, the bigger truth about fracking is so astonishing, so shocking and so absurd that you may need to see it in order to believe it – which is the reason I am recommending a documentary called Gasland. Here is a précis:
When filmmaker Josh Fox received an offer of $100,000 from a gas company to lease his land for drilling in May 2008, he decided to investigate. Setting off across America and speaking with other rural residents about their experiences of fracking, he was soon confronted by toxic streams, dying livestock, neurological diseases, and kitchen sinks that burst into flames.
Fox learns that the process of fracking requires huge fleets of tankers, with between 400 and 600 needed to supply the freshwater alone. He also discovers that the contaminated water returning to the surface, known in the trade as “produced water”, is simply dumped into “flowback pits” and allowed to evaporate, so that the volatile additives are thereby released into the atmosphere as well as the groundwater.
Click here to watch the full documentary Gasland
In the film, Fox also speaks to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) whistle-blower Weston Wilson, and environmental scientist Dr. Theo Colborn 6, who is one of the foremost experts on health and environmental effects of the toxic chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Colborn tells him:
“Every environmental law we wrote to protect public health is ignored.”
On April 14th 2010, Colborn also expressed her concerns about fracking on Democracy Now!
Fracking has already caused widespread, long-term and very serious environmental damage by polluting water systems throughout America, and yet many people have still never heard of it. Now, as permission is granted for operations to begin in other countries — including Britain — the devastation it brings is also spreading, poisoning more land and destroying more lives. Sad proof, if any were needed, that corporate irresponsibility knows no bounds when it comes to risking human health and the environment in the pursuit of profit.
1 From BBC News article entitled “UK shale plans target cheap gas” by Roger Harrabin published on April 1st, 2011. www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12922196
2 A breakdown of some of the additives is available from Department of Environmental Conservation for New York State report “Natural Gas Development Activities and High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing” www.dec.ny.gov/docs/materials_minerals_pdf/ogdsgeischap5.pdf
3 “Central to that development is the use of fracking fluids. Largely unregulated, they’ve been employed by the energy industry for decades and, with the exception of diesel, can be made up of nearly any set of chemicals. Also, propriety trade laws don’t require energy companies to disclose their ingredients. “It is much like asking Coca-Cola to disclose the formula of Coke,” says Ron Heyden, a Halliburton executive, in recent testimony before the COGCC. Despite its widespread use and somewhat mysterious mix, fracturing fluid was deemed in 2004 by the Environmental Protection Agency as safe for the environment and groundwater.” from “A Toxic Spew? – Officials worry about the impact of ‘fracking’ of oil and gas” published in Newsweek on August 20th 2008. www.newsweek.com/2008/08/19/a-toxic-spew.html
4 Extracts from an article entitled “Evidence from the US prompts calls to stop fracking” by Stephen Harris published in The Engineer on January 17th 2011. www.theengineer.co.uk/news/evidence-from-the-us-prompts-calls-to-stop-fracking/1006915.article
5 Extracts from an article entitled “Driller halts Pennsylvania fracking after blowout” by Edward McAllister for Reuters on Thursday April 21st 2011. uk.reuters.com/article/2011/04/21/us-chesapeake-blowout-idUKTRE73K5OH20110421
6 Theo Colborn is Professor Emeritus of Zoology at the University of Florida. She is also the President of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange.
Her awards include the: Chatham College Rachel Carson Award, Norwegian International Rachel Carson Prize, United Nations Environment Program Women Leadership for the Environment Award, International Blue Planet Prize, Society of Toxicology and Environmental Chemistry Rachel Carson Award, Center for Science in the Public Interest Rachel Carson Award, Beyond Pesticides Dragonfly Award, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Council for Science and the Environment.