Tag Archives: “Gasland”

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)

*

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:

*

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…

*

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

*

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

lies, damned lies and outrageous fracking lies!

When filmmaker Josh Fox was asked to lease his land for hydraulic fracture drilling for natural gas (known as fracking), he set off instead on a journey in search of the truth about fracking. His award-winning film, Gasland, chronicles that investigation, uncovering the secrets and lies that the industry uses to protect itself, and documenting the real impact that two decades of fracking has already had on communities across America.

On Wednesday [1st Feb], Josh Fox attempted to film a congressional hearing, called after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that water contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming had been caused by fracking. Instead, he was handcuffed and arrested. On Thursday, Fox spoke on Democracy Now! about his arrest and also explained the importance hearing:

Well, basically, I was there to report on a story that I’ve been following very closely for three-and-a-half years… this was a crucial hearing for us to tape, because what was going on there was a clear and brazen attack on the EPA and on the meticulous three-and-a-half-year investigation that took place in the small town of Pavillion, Wyoming, to expose a link between fracking and groundwater contamination. And this is the first case in which EPA has come out and said, at least in this last 10 years, that the likely cause of groundwater contamination was fracking.

And what was apparent to us was that this was going to be an attack on science from within the science and technology committee, that they had a panel that was stuffed with gas industry lobbyists, that there was—this was actually a way of trying to dismantle this EPA report. We wanted to be there to show that that was what the agenda was. We wanted to report on what happened. I was not interested in disrupting that hearing. It was not a protest action. I was simply trying to do my job as a journalist and go in there and show to the American people what was transpiring in that hearing…

Fox was also asked his thoughts about President Obama’s recent State of the Union address. Obama stating that “my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy”, whilst claiming that the supply of natural gas from fracking could last America nearly 100 years. And that: “The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy.” Fox replies:

That was actually quite, I think, a very painful moment for a lot of people who have been focusing on gas fracking for the last several years. I think the President’s statements right there are wrong. I mean, it’s very clear that we do not have a hundred years’ worth of natural gas, and certainly not if we want to start using it in cars and trucks. And it has been—it’s very, very unclear, in the science, whether or not this fracking technique can be done safely. And in my research, it shows itself to be inherently contaminating. And there is no proof to think that we could be doing this gas extraction safely.

In the second part of the interview, Josh Fox, who is currently making the sequel Gasland 2 for HBO, was joined by John Fenton, a Wyoming farmer and chair of the group Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens, which is attempting to bring awareness of groundwater contamination by the local natural gas extraction industry. Here are extracts of what they each had to say:

JOHN FENTON: Within just 350 feet of our home, we have eight to 10 of them. On the whole farm, we have 24 gas wells. When industry first moved in here in the middle ’90s and started really filling this field in, we were assured over and over that these processes were safe, that we had nothing to worry about. And, you know, a lot of people around here, quite frankly, have a pro-industry view and wanted the gas to be extracted.

But things changed pretty rapidly. It didn’t take long to notice significant impacts to the water, the change to smell like diesel fuel. Methane was bubbling in the water. We had neighbors that actually had livestock die from drinking the water. […]

Drinking and cooking water comes in five-gallon office cooler-type water jugs now. So that’s what we do all of our drinking and cooking issues with. We’re still bathing in the contaminated water. We have not been able to prepare an alternative source yet. We’ve seen all sorts of impacts from that. We have people with really unexplainable health conditions, a lot of neurological problems, a neuropathy, seizures, people losing their sense of smell, sense of taste, you know, people with their arms and legs going numb. It’s very significant.

JOSH FOX: But what we’re seeing here is a rampant situation of water contamination, both with methane getting into aquifers, as you see the methane coming into the private water well, the natural gas, and actually being ignitable out of the tap—but what’s scarier, in a way, is the benzene and the carcinogenic chemicals, some of these things that have shown up in John Fenton’s well, that are associated with drilling fluids and drilling muds. In Pavillion, they showed that there was 50 times the safe level of benzene in their groundwater. Now there’s no real safe level of benzene at all in groundwater. Benzene is a carcinogen. […]

And when you witness the events of yesterday, not only kicking out journalism from the House of Representatives and kicking the First Amendment out, and out with that goes John Boehner’s pledge of transparency in Congress, but also kicking out science and saying, “Actually, we don’t care about science.” And what’s true here is that we’re living in an age which is not kind to objective information. And frankly, this kind of obstructionism of investigating the truth, reporting the truth, this is what we’ve seen over and over and over again. And I’m outraged at this approach, because when you see people like John Fenton, who have been dealing with this and who don’t have a political position coming into it, and they’re being attacked simply for reporting what’s happening to them, you witness that this is a phenomenon and a tactic and a strategy that happened when climate change was first reported. It goes all the way back to when they started to link tobacco with lung cancer. They mounted a PR campaign to try to dismantle that information. And this is not a democratic approach.

Click here to read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! Website.

To read earlier posts on fracking click here, here, and here.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Australia, campaigns & events, Canada, fracking (shale & coal seam gas), Uncategorized, 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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Filed under Britain, campaigns & events, fracking (shale & coal seam gas), 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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