Tag Archives: Cuadrilla

‘No Fracking Way’, 30–31 Jan 2016: join this weekend’s nationwide protests against “unconventional gas”

Official facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/481532218695758

Locally: Sheffield and the surrounding areas

When the UK government granted licences to begin oil and gas exploration in 27 new locations last August, most of the sites were in the north of England:

Large swathes of South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire are being opened up to fracking companies for exploration.

Areas being explored in the region are to the east of Sheffield – stretching from Killamarsh and Dinnington up past Rotherham towards Bolton-upon-Dearne.

A total of 27 new licences, mostly in the North of England, have been awarded to companies to explore for oil and gas as the Government looks to push forward with a shale industry in the UK.

And a further 132 areas – many in the region to the west and south of Sheffield – will also be awarded subject to further environmental assessments.1 

If the final go-ahead is now given, my home city Sheffield, the 5th largest city in Britain with a population of more than half a million (1.5 million in the metropolitan district) 2, will soon be encircled by many hundreds of rigs each injecting multiple millions of gallons of water laced with poisonous chemicals that will potentially leach into the groundwater:

The sheer volume of water brought to and from the fracking site means a glut of tanker trucks through your town. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation estimates each well, per frack, will require 2.4 to 7.8 million gallons of water. This translates into roughly 400 to 600 tanker truckloads of liquids to the well, and 200 to 300 tanker truckloads of liquid waste from the well. […]

Further, the one-well model is not an accurate representation of fracking operations, which can consist of 20 wells per “pad” and dozens of pads. Overall, 38,400 to 172,800 tanker truck trips are possible over a well pad life. [from FAQs on “Gasland” website] 3

Given the widely accepted precautionary principle, the very serious and undeniable hazard of long-term contamination of water supplies ought to serve as sufficient reason to ban this dangerous industry. Additionally, however, fracking is known to be responsible for the release of airborne pollutants and has been a direct cause of earthquakes. It is unconscionable for our government to risk irreversible environmental damage and to endanger human life in this way.

Local action:

NO FRACKING WAY – South Yorkshire Day of Action

A series of events to raise awareness about fracking will be held across South Yorkshire on Saturday 30 January, in Barnsley, Wath-upon-Dearne, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham.

Frack Free Dearne Valley
Saturday 30 January, 10am-12Noon
Wath-upon-Dearne (near the Market)

No Fracking in Barnsley
Saturday 30 January, 11am
May Day Green, Barnsley (near Thorntons)

No Fracking in Barnsley
Sunday 31 January
Tweetathon
Join us on Twitter using the hashtag #NoFrackingWay in support of fracking awareness events taking place around the country.

https://nofrackingbarnsley.wordpress.com/2016/01/23/south-yorkshire-events-no-fracking-way/ 

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Nationally:

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Among those companies which have won the 27 licences is Cuadrilla, which is appealing against two refused applications to frack for shale gas in Lancashire.

It has secured a licence for a new area between Barnsley and Doncaster and another for an area between York and Bridlington. 4

The pale green areas show the 27 blocks where new licences have been awarded [Credit: Oil and Gas Authority]

Soon afterwards, in mid-December, parliament voted to permit fracking beneath our national parks. Seizing this opportunity, the government quickly sold off a further 93 onshore licences:

The 93 licences to explore 159 blocks of land could pave the way for more controversial hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking.

Large parts of North East and the North West of England have been opened up for exploration.

There are also licence blocks in the Midlands, the South of England and Wales.

Around 75% of the exploration licences relate to shale oil and gas, which typically requires fracking.

The Oil & Gas Authority said a total of 95 applications for licences were received from 47 companies, covering 295 Ordnance Survey Blocks

Among the biggest winners were Ineos, with 21 licences, Cuadrilla, IGas and Southwestern Energy. 5

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For more information:

Links to find more info about ‘No Fracking Way’ protests across the country:

https://www.facebook.com/events/481532218695758/ 
http://frack-off.org.uk/local-group-specific-pages/local-groups-news/ 

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1 From an article entitled “Campaigners and companies ready for battle over South Yorkshire ‘fracking blitz’” written by Chris Burn, published in the Sheffield Star on August 19, 2015. http://www.thestar.co.uk/news/campaigners-and-companies-ready-for-battle-over-south-yorkshire-fracking-blitz-1-7416446

2 The population of the City of Sheffield is a little more than 500,000, but the metropolitan population of South Yorkshire exceeds 1,500,000. It is the 5th largest city by population after London 7.2 million, Birmingham 1 million, Leeds 700,000 and Glasgow 560,000. http://www.ukcities.co.uk/populations/ 

3 From Fracking FAQs published by Gaslandthe movie.com

http://www.gaslandthemovie.com/whats-fracking/faq/water-used

4 From an article entitled “27 more sites could face fracking as oil and gas licenses awarded” published by ITV news on August 18, 2015. http://www.itv.com/news/2015-08-18/27-more-sites-could-face-fracking-as-oil-and-gas-licenses-awarded/ 

5 From an article entitled “New licences for UK shale gas exploration” published by BBC news on December 17, 2015. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-35121390

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the frack stops here (again)! join the rally in Preston on Tues 23rd June

Back in January, Lancashire County Council’s planning officers recommended that Cuadrilla’s plans for two of the largest fracking tests ever contemplated in the UK (at Rosecare Wood and Little Plumpton) should be refused. This was a very significant decision, but further action is still needed to resist Cuadrilla.

Lancashire County Council’s Recommendation report can be downloaded here (please note the report takes a long time to download).

The fight resumes in a week on Tuesday 23rd, when Lancashire County Council will be deciding on whether or not to give Cuadrilla final approval. If permission is granted then each site will eventually have four horizontal wells, producing tens of millions of gallons of radioactive and toxic waste, and opening the door to thousands more wells to be drilled across Lancashire (and the rest of the country). So if Cuadrilla can be stopped in Lancashire, this will represent a major campaign victory — as well as an enormous boost for anti-fracking groups across the country (and beyond).

Frack Free Lancashire are calling on concerned people from across the country to gather outside County Hall, Preston, and join what will hopefully be the biggest anti-fracking rally so far seen in the UK.

Details of the event along with useful links are listed below:

Event: The Frack Stops Here 2!

Location: County Hall, Preston, Lancashire

Dates: Tues 23rd — Fri 26th June 2015 Time: 9-5pm

+ Google Map

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/833975066650397/

COACHES FROM ACROSS THE UK!

Book your seat now:

Nottingham – FB Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1399444333702271/
Manchester – Book: reclaimthepowermcr@gmail.com (FB Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/900388780028117/)
Wrexham/Chester/Ellesmere Port – Book: frackfreedee@homtmail.com (FB Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/702718396506976/)
Brighton/Lewes/Balcombe – Book: southeast@frackstop.org.uk (FB Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/437564719757195/)
London – Book: london@frackstop.org.uk (FB Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/425209194325124/)
Guildford – Book: frackfreesurrey@gmail.com
Portsmouth – Book: portsmouth@frackstop.org.uk
Doncaster/Misson/Sheffield – Book: jay_ffsy@live.com (FB Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/481312245355114/)

Contact coaches@frackstop.org.uk if you can organise transport from your region.

If You Can’t Attend!

If you can’t make it don’t worry – this is a nation-wide day of solidarity and resistance – do something where you live and send MESSAGES OF SOLIDARITY!:

Send photos of your message to solidarity@frackstop.org.uk

Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/833975066650397/
Read all about these two planning applications here: http://frack-off.org.uk/new-lancashire-threat-cuadrillas-fracking-plans/
Know Your Rights: http://greenandblackcross.org/legal/keyadvice
More about Threat to North West: http://frack-off.org.uk/fracking-threat-in-the-north-west/
New UK fracking licenses confirmed: http://frack-off.org.uk/new-uk-fracking-licenses-conf

Please try and wear YELLOW!

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the frack stops here! join the rally in Preston on Weds 28th

If you watched Channel 4 News earlier, then you will be aware that Lancashire County Council’s planning officers today recommended that Cuadrilla’s plans for two of the largest fracking tests ever contemplated in the UK (at Rosecare Wood and Little Plumpton) should be refused. This was a very significant decision, but further action is still needed to resist Cuadrilla.

Lancashire County Council’s Recommendation report can be downloaded here (please note the report takes a long time to download).

The fight resumes next Wednesday 28th, when Lancashire County Council will be deciding on whether or not to give Cuadrilla final approval. If permission is granted then each site will eventually have four horizontal wells, producing tens of millions of gallons of radioactive and toxic waste, and opening the door to thousands more wells to be drilled across Lancashire (and the rest of the country). So if Cuadrilla can be stopped in Lancashire, this will represent a major campaign victory — as well as an enormous boost for anti-fracking groups across the country (and beyond).

In light of the release of today’s report, the local protection group, Residents Action on Fylde Fracking (RAFF), issued the following statement:

“We are absolutely delighted of course. It feels like a huge victory. But we are very pragmatic about it. We are still planning our mass demonstration next week.

“Noise and traffic are very relevant objections but our feeling is that the main objections should have been public health. Cuadrilla are not going to go away. They are going to throw everything at it. So the fight goes on.”

“Already Cuadrilla, their associated companies and some of the media are talking about the lights going out and the UK’s need to import gas. This is scaremongering. The people of Lancashire are sending a challenge to the energy sector to forget about fossil fuels and to look to the future by finding solutions in renewable and sustainable energy sources”

Frack Free Lancashire are calling on concerned people from across the country to gather outside County Hall, Preston, and join what will hopefully be the biggest anti-fracking rally so far seen in the UK. Details of the event along with useful links are listed below:

Event: The Frack Stops Here!

Location: County Hall, Preston, Lancashire

Dates: Weds 28th & Thurs 29th January 2015 Time: 9-5pm

Facebook: www.facebook.com/events/1524388561165172

Contact coaches@frackstop.org.uk if you want to help organise transport from your region.

Please try and wear YELLOW!

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Filed under Britain, campaigns & events, fracking (shale & coal seam gas)

fracking is just one symptom of our diseased democracies: how do we find a cure?

Of all the many troubles we face, from the huge repercussions of giving free rein to a criminal and insolvent financial services ‘industry’, to the rapid installment of a super-Orwellian grid for mass surveillance thanks to the NSA and GCHQ (and it’s hard to draw a clear division between the two agencies since evidently they share so much of our data and metadata), there is one that fills me with a more imminent sense of foreboding. That singular issue, fracking, my personal bugbear (at least for the present), somehow encapsulating everything that is so diabolically wrong with our democracies.

A branch-line of arguably the most ruthless and disreputable of all corporate sectors – takes some doing, but the hydrocarbon industry would at the very least be nominated for such an award, and that’s to say nothing of fracking pioneers Halliburton – first puts out its totally ludicrous lie that fracking has never caused any significant damage either to the environment or to human health. Notwithstanding such scandalous denials, the spokesmen of this same industry then lie again in efforts to allay our fears, making contradictory assertions that fracking in the UK will be completely, absolutely, and categorically different to more lax fracking practices carried out in other places. Perhaps even more flabbergasting, however, is that anyone outside of the industry gives credence to any of these corporate refutations and guarantees, yet predictably, it seems, some do… which amply illustrates the efficacy of a deviously clever and exceedingly well-funded public relations campaign.

Nevertheless, as trial drilling began in Britain, protesters gathered in huge numbers – just as anti-fracking protesters have gathered in huge numbers throughout the world. They came out to remind our contemptible Con-Dem government that this is not simply an environmental issue (as vitally important as this is), but that without proper consultation with local communities, any permission granted to frack under our neighbourhoods means yet another stab into the heart of (what we laughably still call) our democracy.

So back in early July, shortly after government plans for widespread fracking in Britain had been revealed, I decided to contact local constituency Labour MP Paul Blomfield in order to express my alarm. At the time I didn’t know if Blomfield felt similarly concerned about fracking nor the Labour Party’s official position. But I dashed off a quick email as follows:

Dear Paul,

The most pressing environmental issue facing this area of the world right now is fracking. Please stand up and challenge these plans to begin destroying our beautiful countryside and poisoning the precious ground water.

Best wishes,

James Boswell

Not the best email I’ve ever written, and after a month without reply I imagined it had found its contents emptied into Paul Blomfield’s recycle bin. But no, come mid August [14th] and to my surprise, Blomfield had put together an extended reply that was waiting in my own inbox:

Dear James

Thank you for your e-mail concerning fracking.

It must be a top priority to decarbonise our power supply as a matter of urgency if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. This is why the Labour party has said this will be in our manifesto at the General Election. Indeed I challenged David Cameron on a decarbonisation target for the power sector at Prime Minister’s Questions in February and pressed the issue with the Energy Secretary Ed Davey in June. I feel strongly about these issues, am a member of Sheffield Renewables and recently, working with Green Alliance UK, organised a city-wide conference on the potential of community energy schemes.

However I would not completely rule out any role for shale gas within the UK’s energy mix, if it is accompanied by an expansion of renewable energy capacity and investment in carbon capture and storage. But it makes no sense at all for the Government to announce tax breaks and industry incentives before we know how much shale gas is actually recoverable, or before anyone even has a licence to extract it. This money should instead have been used to kick-start a major national retrofit scheme, which would reduce carbon emissions and bills and create thousands green-collar jobs. The UK has among the best renewable resources / technology in the world and we should be seizing this great opportunity, including research in to carbon capture and storage.

Finally, it is vital that we fully address the wider environmental concerns associated with fracking. It is therefore crucial that Parliament is able to properly scrutinise the Government’s proposals and to ensure that key environmental safeguards are met and that there is robust regulation and comprehensive monitoring in place.

The Labour Party has consistently called for a new regulatory regime for fracking, recognising that the current system is outdated and unworkable. We haven’t jumped on the “dash-for-gas” bandwagon and have instead set out six conditions that need to be met before fracking should be allowed:

1. Mandated disclosure of chemicals used in fracking and assessment by regulator of their potential environmental impact and only non-hazardous chemicals to be used in fracking mix.

2. Must be a full assessment of the well integrity to ensure casing and borehole not susceptible to leaking; this must meet current industry standards for other types of drilling.

3. Micro-seismic monitoring of the area prior to any drilling to determine what the potential impact would be on local area.

4. Full assessment of impact of water use on local community, including assessment of how much of the water will be reused or recycled.

5. An assessment of groundwater methane levels prior to fracking.

6. There should be at least a full year’s monitoring of all of the above before any drilling can proceed.

Labour’s Shadow Minister for energy has set out more on our position here: http://centrallobby.politicshome.com/latestnews/article-detail/newsarticle/tom-greatrex-osborne-should-listen-to-obama-on-shale/

Thank you once again for writing to me and sharing your views.

Best wishes,

Paul

Grateful for receiving a genuine response, I was also dismayed. Apparently the Labour Party too – our only major party not in government! – also has big plans for natural gas fracking. Picking between the lines I read “The Labour Party has consistently called for a new regulatory regime for fracking” with Blomfield’s personal position being “I would not completely rule out any role for shale gas within the UK’s energy mix”. In other words, we’ll do fracking too although we’ll be careful to avoid any of that nasty old Tory fracking. New Labour – new fracking! I suppose I shouldn’t have expected anything different, but it was depressing nonetheless. I wrote back forthwith:

Dear Paul,

I am grateful to you for replying to my letter but feel that I must disagree with you on a number of important points. To keep this simple, I will try to respond with reference to the points as enumerated.

1. I fail to see how fracking can be done at all without the use of hazardous chemicals. Can you provide examples of fracking carried out anywhere else in the world that uses an environmentally benign mixture of chemicals?

When selling the scheme in Poland the industry also claimed that only non-hazardous chemicals would be used but this turned out to be an outright and deliberate lie.

2. Well casings fail time and time again, I forget the exact percentage but any claim that well casings can be made absolutely secure from leaking is simply another industry lie.

4. Fracking requires enormous quantities of fresh water which will put an immediate strain on our reserves in areas where it is carried out. Much of this water never returns to the surface, which is surely worrying enough, the rest is then polluted not only with the chemicals added but also with any heavy metals and radioactive isotopes dissolved from the shale. Since this contaminated water is costly to dispose of the industry has been caught many times simply spreading it on roads or fields or wherever else happens to be convenient.

5. An assessment of methane levels prior to fracking is better than nothing but it only serves to help in the case of claims for compensation after the damage is done and when people discover their property has become uninhabitable. This has again happened over and over again but the industry regularly uses bribes, threats and non-disclosure agreements to cover up the fact.

6. One year’s monitoring is nothing. Why the big rush? If fracking offers such a potential boon then surely any government should first convince a concerned public by having a proper public debate on the issue.

Additionally, I cannot understand how dislodging large amounts of methane from shale can in anyway help to decarbonise the country. Methane itself is a far more effective greenhouse gas than CO2 and when it is burned again it simply produces CO2.

I am a physicist by training and in truth I am dismayed by the complete lack of imagination and investment when it comes to finding and developing alternative sources of energy. At the beginning of the twenty-first century surely we must find better and cleaner solutions for securing our long term energy needs. We live on a small island surrounded by ocean, so whatever happened to plans for wave and tidal power for instance? Fracking is a short-sighted, short term solution that pollutes land and water and endangers human populations. It is being promoted by the same people who brought us Deep Water Horizon (quite literally in the case of Lord Browne who is the man behind Cuadrilla) and yet for some reason we are now being asked to trust them.

Finally, I would like to draw your attention to the case of Jessica Ernst who is a Canadian environmental scientist in the process of suing the energy company Encana for the damage done by fracking in Alberta. She points out that although Canada has the highest environmental standards and tightest regulations in the world, when it came to fracking the industry managed to run roughshod over all of that. Here is a link where you can access the relevant documents: http://www.ernstversusencana.ca/

Thanks again for replying to my previous letter. Hopefully, I have now more clearly outlined my objections to plans for widespread fracking of our beautiful island. I look forward to hearing from you.

James

Three months (to the day) have since passed and I am yet to receive any further reply from Paul Blomfield.

More recently I came across yet another documentary investigating environmental and health issues associated with fracking, this time focussing attention on the rush for gas in Britain and, in particular, plans for extensive drilling throughout the Mendips as well as the immediate effects of the test drilling already carried out in Lancashire.

The Truth Behind the Dash For Gas takes a detailed look at the contamination of land and drinking water, seismic effects, as well as other less immediately toxic or hazardous strains that fracking puts on local communities. It starts out, however, by simply making the more straightforward assertion that the UK government has been deeply infiltrated by industry insiders. As evidence for this, it offers a summarised breakdown of appointments to government courtesy of Lord Browne of Cuadrilla (formerly of BP), who had himself been appointed as the government’s “lead non-executive director” in 2010:

He will be the government’s “lead non-executive director”, working with cabinet ministers to appoint people to improve efficiency in each department.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said Lord Browne’s experience would be of “real benefit”.

The appointment comes as Whitehall is being asked to make spending cuts averaging 25% over five years.

Lord Browne will sit on the Cabinet Office board, chaired by Mr Maude. This will look to take on non-executive directors for all government departments.1

Click here to read the full BBC news report.

Another article published more recently in July of this year by The Independent going on to point out that:

There are more than 60 “non-executives” (Neds) who sit across Whitehall departments, largely drawn from Britain’s most impressive corporate talent. Their job is to help ministries be run in a more business-like manner, and Lord Browne is the overall lead for this group.

Lord Browne sits within the Cabinet Office. The Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude’s constituency includes Balcombe in West Sussex, another area where Cuadrilla is drilling. On his website, Mr Maude acknowledges that fracking “understandably rang alarm bells” after the tremors in Lancashire, but argues that “shale gas could help significantly by contributing both to improving our security and independence and to keeping prices down”.

Mr Laidlaw has been the lead non-executive at the Department for Transport. Centrica, which owns British Gas, recently bought a one-quarter stake in Cuadrilla’s most promising licence, which is the one in Lancashire.

Baroness Hogg sits in the Treasury, but she is also a non-executive director at BG Group, which has extensive shale gas interests in the US.2

Incidentally, you can find a list of these non-executive directors in Whitehall departments here.

So if it wasn’t bad enough that our politicians are quite openly bought off by lobbyists, the appointments of non-executive directors means that corporations are now also granted an unelected but direct foothold throughout government. As the bloated corporatocracy becomes ever more bloated, our remaining elected representatives presumably wondering who they more profitably serve. They say they work for us, but aside from the website theyworkforyou.com where’s the evidence? Returning to the issue at hand, are the electorate jumping up and down and demanding to be fracked? I certainly don’t hear them. The corporate ‘Neds’ on the other hand…!

George Monbiot expounds the same point in his latest Guardian article entitled “It’s business that really rules us now” and captioned “Lobbying is the least of it: corporate interests have captured the entire democratic process.” His article begins:

It’s the reason for the collapse of democratic choice. It’s the source of our growing disillusionment with politics. It’s the great unmentionable. Corporate power. The media will scarcely whisper its name. It is howlingly absent from parliamentary debates. Until we name it and confront it, politics is a waste of time.

The political role of business corporations is generally interpreted as that of lobbyists, seeking to influence government policy. In reality they belong on the inside. They are part of the nexus of power that creates policy. They face no significant resistance, from either government or opposition, as their interests have now been woven into the fabric of all three main political parties in Britain.

After supplying a range of pertinent examples, Monbiot continues:

The role of the self-hating state is to deliver itself to big business. In doing so it creates a tollbooth economy: a system of corporate turnpikes, operated by companies with effective monopolies.

It’s hardly surprising that the lobbying bill – now stalled by the House of Lords – offered almost no checks on the power of corporate lobbyists, while hog-tying the charities who criticise them. But it’s not just that ministers are not discouraged from hobnobbing with corporate executives: they are now obliged to do so.

Thanks to an initiative by Lord Green, large companies have ministerial “buddies”, who have to meet them when the companies request it. There were 698 of these meetings during the first 18 months of the scheme, called by corporations these ministers are supposed be regulating. Lord Green, by the way, is currently a government trade minister. Before that he was chairman of HSBC, presiding over the bank while it laundered vast amounts of money stashed by Mexican drugs barons. Ministers, lobbyists – can you tell them apart?3

Click here to read the complete article published in the Guardian.

But unfortunately, it’s even worse than that. The corporatocracy already transcending national boundaries and thanks to behind closed-doors “free trade agreements”, quickly reaching a point where corporations will not merely be embedded with governments but enjoying equal status with nation states:

The United States and European Union (EU) are in closed-door negotiations to establish a Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) that would elevate individual corporations to equal status with nation states. Seriously.

The pact is slated to include a foreign investor privileges scheme that would empower foreign corporations to bypass domestic laws and courts and demand taxpayer compensation for government actions or policies to safeguard clean air, safe food and stable banks.

This “investor-state” enforcement system would grant foreign firms the power to drag the U.S. and EU governments before extrajudicial tribunals — comprised of three private attorneys — that would be authorized to order unlimited taxpayer compensation for domestic health, financial, environmental and other public interest policies the corporations claim undermine their “expected future profits.” And, there would be no outside appeal.4

So writes Lori Wallach , someone who has testified on NAFTA, WTO, and other globalisation issues before thirty U.S. congressional committees and is currently Director of Public Citizen‘s Global Trade Watch.

Click here to read Lori Wallach’s complete article on Huffington Post.

Around the time that negotiations started on this US-EU free trade deal back in July, claims that it would lead to “an economic bonanza” also came under close scrutiny in the Guardian. Dean Baker, who is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (not to be confused with the unrelated Centre for Economic Policy Research in the UK) , pointing out that:

As growth policy, this trade deal doesn’t pass the laugh test, but that doesn’t mean that it may not be very important to a number of special interests and, for this reason, bad news for most of the public. Since conventional barriers to trade between the US and EU are already very low, the focus of the deal will be on non-conventional barriers, meaning various regulatory practices.

Each industry group has a list of regulations that it finds troublesome, which it has been unable to eliminate or weaken at the national or sub-national level. An EU-US trade agreement provides these industry groups with an opportunity to do an end-run around such regulation.

For example, several countries in Europe and many state and county governments in the United States impose restrictions that make fracking difficult or impossible. In their dream agreement, the oil and gas industries will have a set of minimal restrictions on fracking. The deal will then define anything more stringent as a restraint on trade subject to penalties.

Yes, it’s a deal that once again helps to open the way to that old devil called fracking, but not just fracking… it will loosen regulations for big agra, big pharma, and the financial services ‘industry’. It may even permit tightening of controls that limit the freedom of the internet and without any need for bills like PIPA and SOPA to be passed into law:

There are likely to be similar effects on food regulation. Europe has far more restrictions on genetically modified foods and crops than the United States. Since it is not possible, given current European politics, for the industry to get these restrictions eliminated, it will be looking to include provisions in a trade deal that define limits on genetically modified foods and crops as trade barriers.

Millions of people took part in the efforts last year to defeat Sopa and Pipa, two bills that would require individuals and internet intermediaries to proactively work to stop the transmission of unauthorized reproductions of copyrighted material. The entertainment industry would very much like to include comparable provisions in a trade agreement, so that it can avoid having to have another fight over this issue in Congress.

The financial industry will also be at the table trying to include language that limits the ability of governments to impose regulations. It is likely that it will try to include wording that would make it impossible to enforce a financial transactions tax like the one now being considered by the European Union. Although the industry may not be able to sway enough votes in European parliaments to prevent them from supporting a tax, they can use an EU-US trade deal to make that fact irrelevant.5

Click here to read Dean Baker’s complete Guardian article

Monbiot says “I don’t blame people for giving up on politics” by which he means, I suppose, giving up on our current party political system. However, there are myriad alternative ways in which people remain very actively engaged in politics, and arguably, there have been few times in history when more people have been politically engaged (or perhaps I better mean enraged!) than during recent years.

With our governments already captured by special interests, it is just two years since many hundreds of thousands took to the streets to camp out in protest. Los Indignados leading the way, followed by Occupy Wall Street and then the wider Occupy movement. Those millions failed, but since their dissent was representative of even greater numbers who stayed at home, their valiant stand remains as a political marker. And since Occupy packed up their tents and retreated, the numbers of disaffected have only continued to rise, even if our cries of distress and anger are that much harder to hear. Irrefutably there is indeed a burgeoning interest in politics and a growing desire for a new political direction.

In the long run, protests will only get any movement so far, in any case, and so serious engagement with the democratic remnants of the extant political system is actually the only practical and realistic way forward. Credible and detailed programmes for real change, a basic requirement. Our new policies in turn requiring electable representatives to carry them forward. To take our democracies back we simply have to make use of the ballot box.

In the shorter term, however, protests do indeed help to bring about important, if generally, more local victories. And for once, the documentary I have featured above actually ends on a positive note. Since in spite of the Australian government’s keenness to give fracking the go-ahead, public hostility and the resulting anti-fracking campaign known as Lock the Gate has quickly gathered momentum to become an immense obstacle to further drilling. The campaigners driving the industry away from region after region, and real grassroots democracy for once beating back corporate greed.

The lesson, if we needed it, is that direct action really works – so (and certainly when it comes to fracking) why not follow Australia’s fine example? Meanwhile, letters to your MP cost nothing, and at the very least may help to sow a few seeds of doubt in the minds of our supposed representatives. To reap fuller rewards, however, we need first to retake ownership of territory other than the immediate landscape outside our doors, as vital as that is. We must aim instead to recapture the political heartland itself. Occupying not the streets outside Whitehall, but the corridors of power within. Following this, we may finally be able to start the lengthy treatment needed to cure the main disease, which is corporatocracy – the worst of its symptoms, such as fracking, will then, in turn, abate.

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Update:

Yesterday [Nov 13th] wikileaks released a 95-page draft of a chapter relating to a different behind closed doors ‘free trade’ agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The agreement, which is being negotiated between the United States and twelve Pacific Rim nations, could also have wide-reaching implications for internet freedom, civil liberties, publishing rights and medicine accessibility with changes to laws on intellectual property rights, product safety and environmental regulations. Today’s Democracy Now! hosted a debate between Bill Watson, who is an analyst at the Cato Institute, and Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch:

 

Here is a brief overview of the debate:

LORI WALLACH: Well, free trade is a pretty theory, but as yesterday’s WikiLeaks showed, the TPP has very little to do with free trade. So, only five of the 29 chapters of the agreement even have to do with trade at all. What’s in that intellectual property chapter? What the Cato Institute would call rent seeking—governments being lobbied by special interests to set up special rules that give them monopolies to charge higher prices. What does that mean for you and me? In that agreement, we now can see the United States is pushing for longer monopoly patents for medicines that would increase the prices here. They’re looking for patenting things like surgical procedures, making even higher medical costs. They’re looking to patent life forms and seeds. And with respect to copyright, the U.S. positions are actually even undermining U.S. law. So, for Internet freedom, if you didn’t like SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, the domestic law that Congress and amazing citizen activism killed last year when it was attempted to be pushed here domestically, huge chunks of SOPA are pushed through the backdoor of this intellectual property chapter.

Now, what the heck is that doing in a free trade agreement? I would imagine the Cato Institute is also wondering: Are Adam Smith and David Ricardo, the free trade philosophers, rolling in their graves? Because that is protectionism. This is patent monopolies. This is copyright extensions. This is actually exactly what Bill just talked about, which is powerful special interests—Big Pharma, Disney and the other big-content guys—undermining us as consumers—our access to the Internet, our access to affordable medicine—and they’re using their power to put that into an agreement that they’ve got misbranded as “free trade.”

BILL WATSON: This is a rare occasion where I do agree with Lori Wallach. I agree that what’s going on in the IP chapter is a special-interest free-for-all, a grab bag, that U.S. companies are pushing to get what they want in these agreements. And the problem, really, with that is that intellectual property is not a trade issue, and it shouldn’t be in the agreement. Originally, adding intellectual property into the agreement was a way to bring on more political support, to be able to bring in U.S. companies to counter other U.S. companies that would oppose the agreement. At this point, I think we’ve gotten to where the intellectual property chapters are so expansive that what you’re seeing is a domestic constituency, people concerned about copyright and patent reform, who are opposing the TPP, not because of anything having to do with trade, but just because it’s going to reform U.S. copyright and patent laws. […]

You know, I’m certainly glad that WikiLeaks published this report. Personally, I like to be able to read it. It’s very interesting. I wish that they would publish the rest of it, to show us the rest of the draft text. I don’t think that it would be, at this point, particularly harmful to the agreement to let us know something about the countries’ negotiating positions.

But I really—I really disagree that the TPP negotiations are especially secret. There’s a lot that goes on in Congress that the public doesn’t know about. When Congress writes a law, we don’t know in advance what it’s going to be before it gets proposed. So, they’re still trying to figure out what the contents of the agreement will be. They don’t know yet; they’re working on it.

LORI WALLACH: Well, first of all, this is extraordinarily secret. I’ve followed these negotiations since 1991 with NAFTA. And during NAFTA, any member of Congress could see any text. In fact, the whole agreement between negotiating rounds was put in the Capitol, accessible for them to look at. In 2001, the Bush administration published the entire Free Trade Area of the Americas text, when it was even in an earlier stage than TPP is right now, on government websites. They’ve even excluded members of Congress from observing the negotiations. I mean, this is extraordinary. […]

I mean, these agreements, once they’re implemented, you can’t change a comma unless all the other countries agree. It locks into place, super-glues, cements into place one vision of law that, as we’ve seen, has very little to do with trade. It’s about domestic food safety. Do we have to import food that doesn’t meet U.S. safety standards? It’s about setting up international tribunals—can’t imagine the Cato Institute likes that, global governance and all—where U.S. government could be sued and our Treasury raided by foreign corporations, who are rent seeking, compensation for not having to meet our own laws that our domestic companies have to meet. […]

The bottom line of all of this is we need a new procedure to replace fast track that gives the public the role and Congress the role to make sure what will be binding, permanent, global laws do not undermine either our democratic process of making policies at home—that we need—or that lock us into retrograde policies that the current 600 corporate trade advisers are writing to impose on us. So, we need a new way to make trade agreements to get different kinds of agreements. And the bottom line with TPP, as this WikiLeak just showed, it’s very dangerous. It’s not about trade. You’ve got to find out about it. And you’ve got to make sure your member of Congress maintains their constitutional authority. Democracy is messy. But I, myself, more trust the American public, the press and this Congress rather than 600 corporate advisers. We need to make sure what’s in that trade agreement suits us, and you all are going to be the difference in doing that.

Click here to read the full transcript or watch the debate on the Democracy Now! website.

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1 From an article entitled “Ex-BP boss Lord Browne to lead Whitehall reform” published by BBC news on June 30, 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10467532

2 From an article entitled “Revealed: Fracking industry bosses at heart of coalition” published by The Independent on July 14, 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/revealed-fracking-industry-bosses-at-heart-of-coalition-8707589.html

3 From an article entitled “It’s business that really rules us now” written by George Monbiot, published in the Guardian on November 11, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/11/business-rules-lobbying-corporate-interests

4 From an article entitled “’Trade’ Deal Would elevate Corporations to Equal Status With Nation States” written by Lori Wallach (Director, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch) published by Huffington Post on October 22, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lori-wallach/trade-deal-would-elevate_b_4143626.html

5 From an article entitled “The US-EU trade deal: don’t buy the hype” written by Dean Baker, published in the Guardian on July 15, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jul/15/us-trade-deal-with-europe-hype

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notes from a small island… about to be fracked

Saying that the British constantly talk (most often complaining) about the weather is a cliché but then clichés are often clichés because they happen to be true. And this one is true principally because Britain is a peculiarly weathery place. Rarely extreme (in spite of the frequent and increasingly stern Met Office warnings of “flood alerts” and whopping “level 3 heatwaves”) and yet by virtue of being geographically perched in a temperate maritime climatic zone, cursed by weather that is highly unpredictable and uncommonly capricious. Sunny one minute, “tipping it down” the next – we run the gamut of weather from icy to baking (sometimes in the space of twenty-four hours) and always with insufficient lorry-loads of grit or hopelessly inadequate access to air conditioning. Unpreparedness for regular seasonal changes being almost a matter of national pride.

So cast your mind back to last spring… or perhaps you don’t remember it because it never properly happened. Instead, we simply skipped spring and launched ourselves barechested into a scorching summer. Nevertheless, as April approached the news was that Britain was quickly getting herself into a bit of a weather-related pickle. Another overheated drought of sorts…

This year an unseasonably cold March has seen a spike in gas demand – with forecasters predicting this weekend could be the coldest in March for half a century.

Temperatures could drop to -3C in parts of the country, and the Met Office has already issued several severe weather warnings.

“Severe weather warnings” were a hazard we might negotiate, but then there was far worse news riding on the back of our especially dreary couple of months of inclemency:

A study by Reuters claimed that if the current cold snap continues as forecast, Britain could run out of gas by April 8. 1

This absolutely gobsmacking claim that Britain had “the equivalent of less than two days’ consumption remaining” (as the same Yahoo News story reported) being echoed right across the news media. And yet as April skated into May and then May sledged into June somehow the lights stayed on and the hot water kept on flowing. But just what might have happened if the sun had never got his hat on, would Britain have eventually run out of gas altogether? I mean just how unprepared can any nation be…?

The subtext of these stark messages was also clear. That what our nation so very urgently requires (aside from a hefty dose of sunlight for our pallid hides) is a reliable and ‘alternative’ supply of energy. Preferably – especially given the precise nature of our deficit – huge gas reserves directly beneath our feet.

Thankfully BBC news were ready to present us with just such a viable and almost immediate rescue package:

“Gas, we cook with it, we heat our homes, we use it to drive turbines to make electricity. The thing is we don’t have huge amounts of it. In fact we’re a net importer of gas.

What if we were standing on a new supply of UK gas? We’d want to take a look wouldn’t we? That’s what fracking is…”

So begins a characteristically upbeat and rather nannying BBC report delivered by Giles Dilnot on March 25th – and so right on cue to save the day.

Dilnot’s ‘report’ for the Daily Politics show was then closely followed by a debate (of sorts) between Cuadrilla Resources chief executive Francis Egan praising the wonders of shale gas that his company is so determined to get its grubby mitts on, whilst opposed and supposedly balanced by environmental campaigner Tony Juniper who says he objects to plans for a future powered by shale gas principally on the grounds of climate change. A discussion (available on the same link above) that was as consistently sidetracked and irritatingly one-dimensional as it was brief, and at every turn hindered by misdirected questions from mediator Andrew Neil, very likely addled on Blue Nun. Inevitably, therefore, all of the most salient points were skipped past or overlooked entirely; points which I will return to later (even if I’ve hammered those same points nearly to death in previous posts).

Come late April, however, and the BBC was in any case reporting more cautiously on the prospects of our shale gas energy renaissance:

Shale gas in the UK could help secure domestic energy supplies but may not bring down prices, MPs report. […]

The MPs say the UK’s shale gas developers will face technological uncertainties with different geology.

And public opinion may also be more sceptical, they add.

The UK is a more densely populated landscape, and shale gas operations will be closer to settlements as a consequence.

Interestingly, those same MPs felt that any undue concerns of the general public might be overcome by recourse to “cash sweeteners” offered to the local communities most affected (“cash sweeteners” being a form of inducement that MPs seem to know a lot about these days). Unfortunately, of course, even such direct forms of bribery only get you so far (since not everyone is as venal as most of our parliamentarians), added to which, there were a few other awkward hurdles that needed jumping:

The MPs believe operators will have to overcome potentially tighter regulations.

What is more, the extent of recoverable resources in the UK is also unknown, so the report concludes that it is too soon to say whether shale gas will achieve US-style levels of success. 2

Incidentally, “US-style levels of success” is another thing I will need to come back to later, and even if it again leads me to issues I’ve already hammered long and hard on many previous occasions…

Meanwhile, as May defrosted into June, and as the British public waited and waited for the sun to come out more fully attired… lo, another (minor) miracle!

UK firm IGas says there may be up to 170 trillion cubic feet (4,810 cubic km) of gas in the areas it is licensed to explore in northern England. […]

The company’s licences cover an area of 300 sq miles across Cheshire.

It had previously said it had about nine trillion cubic feet of shale gas. It now estimates that the volume of “gas initially in place” could range from 15.1 trillion cubic feet to 172.3 trillion cubic feet, the higher figure being nearly 20 times higher than the previous estimate.

The UK’s annual gas consumption is currently about 3 trillion cubic feet. […]

“Our estimates for our area alone could mean that the UK would not have to import gas for a period of 10 to 15 years”. 3

Yes, little more than a month had passed, and suddenly (as if completely out of the blue) it turned out that Britain has nearly limitless bags of lovely gas just waiting patiently to be defracked – potentially trillions and trillions of billowing cubic feet of the stuff. Enough gas for every man jack amongst us. Enough gas to power all our homes and factories, enough to keep the telly on and Andrew Neil tepid, enough even to satisfy that most gassy of gas-expelling institutions, our houses of parliament.

The same BBC article also provided us with a handy map showing the considerable swathes of black shale deposits running though the country like thick veins of fat coursing across a rasher of streaky bacon. And in the midst of these, those areas where onshore licences are now being granted. Areas which happen to surround my own beloved city of Sheffield like, like, like…

… like day-old bruises… or like the mottled skin of a plague victim. Since this is how such a map appears if you are inclined to turn your nose up at the prospect of poisoned land and contaminated water supplies the colour of crude oil, reeking of turps and fizzing with methane…

Yes this, unfortunately (and to finally return to those other issues), is precisely what those “US-style levels of success” have actually meant for countless farmers and other residents penned in by the hundreds of thousands of drilling rigs so tightly arrayed across the Marcellus Shale in the Appalachian Basin and far beyond to distant horizons. And soon, with dubious credit going to President Obama and his unrestrained assent for the thorough-going expansion of the fracking industry, there will be quite literally millions of similar rigs operating day and night from coast to coast across the whole of the United States. All this fracking bringing to the folks who happen to live in the ever-encroaching vicinities of the drilling, not so much a blessing, as a most terrible blight:

My daughter looks up. Her rash is all over her face. She has a nosebleed. Bob has a nosebleed, burning throat, burning eyes. I had a rash. It covered my scalp. It went through my entire body, literally to the bottoms of my feet. My throat would start swelling. I started gasping for air. I started stuttering. I started stumbling. My face drew up on my left side like I had Bell palsy.

Here is part of the testimony of just one of many such victims speaking out on Josh Fox’s recently released Gasland Part II. Lisa Parr of Wise County, Texas, explaining how her family’s health deteriorated after shale gas drilling began around their home. [The documentary has since been released on Vimeo – it is embedded at the end of this article.]

And whilst the ordinary victims struggled on to make themselves heard, and besides the anticipated silence maintained by the greater part of the US corporate media, the fracking industry has nevertheless felt obliged to fight dirtier than ever before. Resorting to quite staggering and altogether outlandish strategies for reversing the battle they had been losing over hearts and minds:

Well, this is audio that was recorded by a blogger named Texas Sharon, working for Earthworks, who was at an oil and gas industry conference where they were discussing all the bad PR that they were getting and how to counter it. And what they go on to do is explain how they’re using former PSYOPs officers, psychological operations officers, who were newly coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, to write local laws, to develop techniques to divide local landowners. That’s Matt Pitzarella from Range Resources talking about that. Chesapeake then goes on to talk about people who are fighting the gas industry, like landowners, like you just saw, Jeremiah Gee, as insurgents. And one of the PR spokespeople for Anadarko, another huge petroleum company, says that what they should actually do is download the counterinsurgency manual, which is a 300-odd-page book about, you know, how to deal with an insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are terms of war, and it was very, very shocking to see that.

Those are the words of Josh Fox speaking on Democracy Now! [July 12th], addressing a question about his own discovery of industry’s use of military PSYOPs tactics. It’s a PR approach, he explains, that combines bogus science with more familiar methods of advertising:

But it goes hand in hand with a strategy that’s very overt in the media, which is to buy—you can’t turn on the TV, except for perhaps this show, where you’re not going to see ads from the natural gas industry. And we’re seeing also editorials and these kinds of things on blog posts seeded to do things to try to discredit the very clear science, and in most cases the science that the industry themselves did. This is following the tobacco industry’s playbook. The tobacco industry for decades sponsored bogus science, went out to try to create doubt in the media as to whether or not the cigarettes were harmful to people. And that strategy was developed by a PR firm called Hill & Knowlton. The America’s Natural Gas Alliance hired the same PR firm in 2009, and we’re seeing that same kind of strategy of creating doubt and of creating a false debate in the media over whether or not this drilling contaminates water.

Click here to read a full transcript or to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

Not that any of this is what the guys at Cuadrilla Resources have in mind for us apparently. Fracking in Britain will be entirely different the chief executive of Cuadrilla, Francis Egan, told Andrew Neil, offering his solemn pledge as a certain guarantee that our groundwater will very definitely never be contaminated, whilst insisting that in the eccentrically British variety of fracking only “one single chemical” is ever pumped into the ground.

It is worth noting, however, that when it came to fracking in Poland (which happens to be the European frontier for shale gas extraction), residents were also given clear reassurance from industry officials that the fluids injected into the earth would only include such harmless food additives as salt and lemon juice… lemon juice!!! Yes, sadly I’m not joking – it seems that these industry guys will tell the public absolutely anything just so long as it helps them to get their way. Indeed you can see these claims for yourself if you decide to watch an alternative investigative documentary made by Polish-American filmmaker Lech Kowalski and entitled Drill Baby Drill (the reason for the title becoming quickly apparent). A trailer for the film is available here:

Drill Baby Drill Trailer 1 by Lech Kowalski from revolt cinema on Vimeo.

And if our own rush to fracking truly represents such an unmitigated good for the people of Britain then precisely what’s all this about…

Local communities are set to lose control over key environmental decisions affecting whether fracking can go ahead within their midst, it is claimed.

Campaigners opposing the industrial-scale exploitation of shale gas reserves in the British countryside said the Government has removed key democratic controls in its dash to bring unconventional energy resources on stream.

Under planning guidelines published last week, councils will no longer be able to investigate issues such as seismic activity, flaring and venting as well as the potential impact on ground water supplies before granting planning permission for new wells.

Which is taken from an article published in Monday’s Independent. A report that goes on to add:

Whilst campaigners argue that there are still many environmental and economic questions yet to be answered over the impact of fracking, the Government is determined to go press ahead. Last week Chancellor George Osborne, whose own Tatton constituency is home to major reserves, announced that onshore shale gas producers will pay a 30 per cent tax rate compared to 62 per cent paid by on North Sea oil operations. 4

Special exemptions and deregulation plus the bonus of tax incentives all serving to underline how extremely keen our government now is to give fracking the go-ahead; bending over backwards to get the acres of rigs set up as soon as is humanly possible. And why such a mad dash in the first place? Is it really that our national gas stocks are set to run out next March (all over again)…?

Undoubtedly this is what they would have us believe. Though crying wolf over shortages appears to be merely the latest corporate-government ruse, and a trick that played rather well over in Poland, with many Poles easily blinded by offers of energy independence from their overbearing neighbour Russia and so quite happy to be fracked all over (and, as Lech Kowalski’s documentary reveals, in Poland tests alone were enough to contaminate some local water supplies).

But then this great urgency to get cracking with the fracking suits both the industry and governments for another reason of course, with speed being of the utmost essence whenever anyone is attempting to sell a pig in a poke. On top of which, when it comes to the instigation and operation of every kind of a filthy scheme, the schemers are certainly best advised to make significant and, if possible, irreversible headway before the real filth behind their scheme comes to major public attention… bankers being the real trailblazers when it comes to “pulling a fast one” on an unsuspecting public.

And the damage caused by fracking, as with the damage caused by smoking, is damage in the making and thus very conveniently delayed. So fast-forward some five to ten years and in the aftermath of this proposed policy of furious and widespread fracking, and with a vast proportion of our countryside potentially unfit for human habitation, the environmental devastation having become almost as inescapable as it is undeniable, well the industry will no doubt turn to their teams of lawyers to help them fight against every claim made for damages. They’ll be alright Jack just as the tobacco industry is quite alright: very much alive and well (unlike some of its most unlucky customers) and still highly profitable – just ask Ken Clarke.

With Britain already fracked to the eyeballs, there will be plenty of other as then less benighted corners of the world being made ready for a jolly good fracking (even if, rather curiously, Bulgaria is one place unlikely to join us in the queue – plucky little Bulgaria, eighteen months ago, becoming only the second European country after France to ban exploratory drilling for shale gas 5).

For those who prefer to trust the executives of the oil companies and the well-paid teams who work on public relations and advertising, I’m not quite sure what more can be said. Do please take a little time to read my earlier (informative and more restrained) posts on the subject. But far more importantly, watch Josh Fox’s excellent original Gasland documentary and his still finer Gasland II. Following which, and supposing that you still wish to see fracking drills burrowing under your neighbourhood like so many parasitic ticks, then I have to presume that you dismiss the many expert contributors as unreliable witnesses whilst disregarding the testimony of so many victims as deluded idiots or out and out liars. The gloopy water being just a theatrical prop and the incendiary taps clever special effects.

On the other hand, for those like myself who feel frankly outraged by the cavalier manner in which our government is behaving, so to eager to sell off our precious land and mineral rights to these nefarious energy giants, then my advice is simple – stop talking so much about the weather and begin talk about fracking instead.

We need to reclaim our land before its too late and if that means being a nimby* then here’s to it! Because when it comes to opposing fracking, which although a widespread menace is necessarily carried out on an extremely local scale, our best hope seems to be that nimbys of the world (and according to another cliché the British are exemplary nimbys) can somehow unite. I’m very much a fracking nimby – and please don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m hoping that you’re a fracking nimby too!

* nimby: not in my backyard (generally a pejorative and used to refer to persons or groups that oppose the introduction into their neighborhood of a new development they consider objectionable)

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Additional:

Gasland Part II was released on HBO on July 8th. It was premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last Sunday [July 21st]:

The film argues that the gas industry’s portrayal of natural gas as a clean and safe alternative to oil is a myth and that fracked wells inevitably leak over time, contaminating water and air, hurting families, and endangering the earth’s climate with the potent greenhouse gas, methane. In addition the film looks at how the powerful oil and gas industries are in Fox’s words “contaminating our democracy”.

You can watch the official trailer below:

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Update:

For anyone who missed it – here’s Lord Howell, Tory gasbag and father-in-law of Chancellor George Osborne, outlining to his ‘noble Lords’ how fracking might better be restricted, at least for the more immediate term, to “large and uninhabited desolate areas” of the North East.

Lord Howell of Guildford (which, incidentally, happens to be far away from the desolate North) arguing that:

“there’s plenty of room for fracking, well away from anybody’s residence, where it could be conducted without any kind of threat to the rural environment…”

And after all, the North doesn’t actually have rural environment in any case, but only back-to-back terraces, factories, chip shops, men with flat caps and whippets and all sorts of other frightful nastiness…

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Here is a full version of Gasland Part II from Vimeo:

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1 From an article entitled “As experts say ‘the lights could go out in Britain’, what has caused UK’s looming gas crisis?” written by Chris Parsons, published on Yahoo News on March 22, 2013. http://uk.news.yahoo.com/britain-gas-shortage–lights-going-out-energy-supplies-march-cold-snap-160212133.html#aadBz8x

2 From an article entitled “UK shale gas bonanza ‘not assured’” written by Roger Harrabin, published by BBC news on April 26, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22300050

3 From an article entitled “UK shale gas reserves may be ‘bigger than first thought’” written by John Moylan, published by BBC news on June 3, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-22748915

4 From an article entitled “Fracking controls ‘removed in dash for unconventional energy resources” written by Jonathan Brown, published in The Independent on July 22, 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/fracking-controls-removed-in-dash-for-unconventional-energy-resources-8726869.html

5 “Bulgaria has become the second European country after France to ban exploratory drilling for shale gas using the extraction method called “fracking”.

“Bulgarian MPs voted overwhelmingly for a ban on Wednesday, following big street protests by environmentalists.”

From a BBC news report entitled “Bulgaria bans shale gas drilling with ‘fracking method’” published on January 19, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16626580

 

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, fracking (shale & coal seam gas), Poland, USA

as the rush to ‘fracking’ quickens, could the message be any clearer?

It is “highly probable” that shale gas [fracking] test drilling triggered earth tremors in Lancashire, a study has found.

But the report, commissioned by energy firm Cuadrilla, also said the quakes were due to an “unusual combination of geology at the well site”.1

reads the BBC news update on plans to begin fracking in Lancashire.

In short, the British Geological Survey have recently determined that the epicentres of two earth tremors (in April and May) were located approximately half a kilometre from one of the fracking wells, which at least establishes the next to certain cause; although the same report, that was, remember, “commissioned by energy firm Cuadrilla”, then helpfully dismisses concerns from environmentalists on the basis that the combination of geological factors were rare, and that:

“If these factors were to combine again in the future local geology limits seismic events to around magnitude 3 on the Richter scale as a worst-case scenario.”

In response to which, The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) assures us:

“The implications of this report will be reviewed very carefully – in consultation with the British Geological Survey, independent experts, and the other key regulators, HSE and the Environment Agency – before any decision on the resumption of these hydraulic fracture operations is made.”

Although it’s not that a few earth tremors are really much of a problem in any case, but rather, minor symptoms of a deeper malaise. Fracking is itself the problem, and one that rather perfectly illustrates why so many things are wrong today.

In the future we will ask, “how did we come to this?” To the deliberate injection of billions of gallons of highly toxic fluids into our precious land, especially as we already know that these poisons are leached back into rivers, into the soil and, perhaps most worryingly, directly into our water supplies. Plainly, this is madness. But what’s crazier is that in our topsy-turvy world, such a hugely inefficient and polluting ‘new technology’ continues to be promoted and justified as a ‘green alternative’. And to get a clearer idea of what a disgustingly dirty and highly dangerous process fracking is, I point you to earlier posts here and here (which have relevant links throughout).

Meanwhile, in America, the birthplace of fracking, the government now seems intent to press ahead with 20,000 or more gas wells in the Delaware River Basin; a watershed which serves New York city.

Josh Fox, the film-maker who produced the acclaimed documentary Gasland, is leading the call for sanity:

The crucial decision to frack or not to frack the Delaware is in the hands of President Obama and the Governors of Delaware and New York. We need you to take charge and push them to do the right thing.

I have travelled all over this world, in over 30 states in the USA, to Africa, to Europe, Asia and Australia and one thing is clear: Fracking is not only one of the most destructive forms of extreme energy development, creating water contamination, horrific and hazardous air pollution and a health crisis, it is a world wide scourge that pushes us farther away from the renewable energy future that we need.

Now the fight comes back to my home, the Delaware River Basin, where it started for me. But this fight isn’t about me. It’s about the drinking water for 16 million people that the Delaware River provides.

Click here for the Save The Delaware campaign site.

As a single measure of just how sick our political and economic systems have become, you’d be doing well to find a better one than the rise and spread of fracking. It shows how money and influence can entirely trump all legal restriction and regulation. Of how our governments serve corporations first and last. Whilst the latest response from the UK government also reminds us of the sad truth that we (like the Greeks and the Italians) already live in a kind of ‘technocracy’ with decisions on whether or not to now proceed being left entirely in the hands of ‘experts’.

Clean water and breathable air are basic human rights, and in any civilised society, these, at very least, ought to be guaranteed. But increasingly they are not. Could the message be any clearer?

1 From a BBC news report entitled “Fracking tests near Blackpool ‘likely cause’ of tremors”, published on November 2, 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-15550458

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why we don’t need 400 holes in Blackpool Lancashire

I read the news today, oh boy…

An energy firm which has been test drilling for controversial “shale gas” in Lancashire has said it has found vast gas resources underground.

Cuadrilla Resources began testing for gas on the Fylde Coast in March, using a technique known as “fracking”. […]

Cuadrilla hopes to drill as many as 400 wells over the next nine years and up to 800 over 16 years if gas extraction is successful.1

Click here to read the full BBC article.

I have already posted an earlier article which details the process of fracking and the long-term environmental devastation it has already caused across America and beyond.

Basically, if you were ever looking to systematically pollute vast tracts of land, then you’d struggle to beat the process of fracking. It goes like this: take huge quantities of freshwater, mix in a secret and highly toxic cocktail of chemical ingredients, and then inject it into the ground under high pressure. The results are impressive, as this recent article in The New York Times shows:

With hydrofracking, a well can produce over a million gallons of wastewater that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground. Other carcinogenic materials can be added to the wastewater by the chemicals used in the hydrofracking itself.

While the existence of the toxic wastes has been reported, thousands of internal documents obtained by The New York Times from the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.

The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.

Other documents and interviews show that many E.P.A. scientists are alarmed, warning that the drilling waste is a threat to drinking water in Pennsylvania. Their concern is based partly on a 2009 study, never made public, written by an E.P.A. consultant who concluded that some sewage treatment plants were incapable of removing certain drilling waste contaminants and were probably violating the law.

The Times also found never-reported studies by the E.P.A. and a confidential study by the drilling industry that all concluded that radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways.2

Click here to read the full article.

And here is a short documentary film made by Earth Focus and UK’s Ecological Film Unit, who looked into the effects of natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale of the Appalachian Basin, North-East America:

A word of caution though, because if you feel angered or worried about any of this, then do be careful how you raise your objections. Some in America, who have expressed opposition, are now being treated as eco-terrorists:

As for Britain, exploratory drilling around Blackpool was suspended due to earthquakes, and an announcement is expected in the next thirty days as to whether permission will be granted for further fracking:

A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said it had to ensure any operations which went ahead were properly regulated.

“We welcome the news that Cuadrilla believe there to be good quantities of gas contained in the shale covered by their licence,” he said.

From the same BBC news report.

The DECC spokesman also told the BBC that “nothing will temper the government’s firm and unbending commitment to safety and environmental protection”. Nothing that is, except money and influence perhaps…

Cuadrilla Resources is owned by its management team and two substantial investors, AJ Lucas and Riverstone LLC. And the Managing Director of Riverstone is Lord John Browne of Madingley.

Prior to his appointment at Riverstone, Lord Browne, who was also a non-executive director of Goldman Sachs, had spent 41 years working for BP, having been appointed as Chief Executive in June 1995. Indeed, he was the immediate predecessor to the much reviled Tony Hayward, who assumed the position of CEO after Lord Browne’s forced resignation from BP in May 2007. So could Lord Browne have been culpable in any way for what was to occur just a few years later in the Gulf of Mexico?

In July 2010, just a few months after the devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Tom Bower wrote this about Lord Browne:

Last Monday, amid the elegant surroundings of Dartmouth House in London’s Mayfair, Lord Browne of Madingley, the dapper former chief executive of BP, gave a lecture about ‘inspiration and vision in business’.

At ease in front of 60 hand-picked guests, the ultra-smooth tycoon shrugged off all personal responsibility for the company’s unfolding catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.

He brushed aside critical questions about the poisoned legacy he bequeathed his beleaguered successor Tony Hayward.3

In his article, entitled “Return of Lord Oil Slick: Why has Cameron handed this Labour luvvie such a key job?”, Bower continues:

After his appointment as BP boss in 1998, Lord Browne swiftly transformed the firm from a dying oil corporation with just two fields – in Alaska and the North sea – into the world’s second largest behemoth.

By re-focusing on so-called ‘elephants’ (the big oil reservoirs) and ruthlessly cutting costs, his mastery of financial engineering used BP’s rising share price to launch audacious take-overs of failing oil companies, especially in America.

His success earned worldwide plaudits.

After re-branding BP as ‘Beyond Petroleum’ – the world’s most environmentally friendly oil company – he boasted during visits to Washington that BP was not only the largest producer of oil in America, but also the most successful explorer in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the most difficult places to extract oil. […]

Success depended on BP earning high profits, which could be used to set up a merger with Shell. Lord Browne went for broke by cutting costs.

His philosophy was ‘more for less’: operations would be completed at a cost that was 10 per cent cheaper than the previous time, and so on.

Taking his cue from New Labour, targets became the Holy Grail. In July 2000, he announced that production would annually grow over three years by 5.5 to 7 per cent, mostly in the Gulf of Mexico and Angola.

This optimism was hailed and BP’s share price soared. But, in fact, BP’s growth turned out to be only 2.9 per cent and BP could hit its targets only by more ruthless cost-cutting.

Hundreds of engineers were sacked. Budgets for safety and maintenance were slashed. Skilled oil men resigned in disgust.

Bower’s catalogue of criticisms and failures goes on and on. Click here to read more.

1 From an article entitled “Shale gas firm finds ‘vast’ gas resources in Lancashire” published by BBC News on September 21, 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-14990573

2 From an article entitled “Regulation Lax as Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers”, written by Ian Urbina, published in The New York Times on February 26, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/27/us/27gas.html?pagewanted=all

3 From an article entitled “Return of Lord Oil Slick: Why has Cameron handed this Labour luvvie such a key job?”, written by Tom Bower, published in the Daily Mail on July 3, 2010. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1291663/Return-Lord-Oil-Slick-Why-Cameron-handed-Lord-Browne-key-job.html

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Filed under Britain, fracking (shale & coal seam gas), Uncategorized, USA

fracking all over the world

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.

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Filed under Britain, did you see?, fracking (shale & coal seam gas), Uncategorized, USA