Some home truths about the realities of fracking

Note: the following post is by our Co-ordinator, Andrew Durling, reflecting his own personal views, and is not to be taken as representing the official view of Eastbourne & District Friends of the Earth.

There was an important private meeting between local environmental campaigners and Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith on 15th May in Brighton, which I was priviledged to attend. Mariann, who is a Senior Advisor to the National Toxics Network in Australia, which provides technical advice and data to the anti-fracking groups there, gave us fascinating insights into the true horrors of fracking. What surprised her on her visit to the UK was how badly informed MPs are about the true nature of fracking. Also, she was struck by how environmental campaigners here are not emphasising enough the degree of air pollution that fracking causes, in addition to the water and soil contamination that often occurs. Even when fracking wells are flared to burn off surplus escaping methane, the flares themselves cause extremely toxic chemicals to be released that pose great risks to the health of humans and animals living nearby. Indeed, flaring will be banned in the US from Jan 1st 2015 precisely because of that. Yet UK regulators apparently have no concerns about flaring, whilst Caudrilla and IGas have openly stated that they will flare their exploratory wells. The website that Mariann and her colleagues maintains has a wealth of information and resources that should become very familiar to us all in the UK if we are to seriously take the fracking companies head-on. Another point Mariann made was that the only thing that stops the fracking industry is community resistance, which must not only be very strong, but must be firmly in place BEFORE the fracking companies get established in a particular area. Once the industry gets fully into production mode, the rapid growth of a gas field , with dozens of wells clustered within a small geographical area, then any resistance to the industry’s expansion is much harder to establish. Yes, the lobbying of politicians and regulators still needs to be done, but experience in Australia and elsewhere shows that organising community resistance to the extent that the community actually blocks or blockades the fracking companies, preventing them from physically starting their operations, is the only really effective technique. It works: Mariann talked about how fracking companies have pulled out plans to frack in several states in Australia because of determined community resistance, and have only really succeeded in establishing itself in part of Queensland. Indeed, the anti-fracking movement is now the fastest growing social movement in Australia, straddling all shades of political opinion and social background. Mariann mentioned that the United Nations Environment Programme issued a global alert about fracking, stating that even when the regulations on fracking are tight and best practice is followed, there can still be unacceptable risks and harm from fracking. Indeed, the conclusion of UNEP’s report on fracking says:

Hydrologic fracking may result in unavoidable environmental impacts even if UG [unconventional gas] is extracted properly, and more so if done inadequately (EU, 2011). Even if risk can be reduced theoretically (IEA, 2011), in practise many accidents from leaky or malfunctioning equipment as well as from bad practises are regularly occurring. This may be due to high pressure to lower the costs or to improper staff training, or to undetected leaks leading to contamination of the ground water (EU, 2011).

Fracking is coming to Sussex in a big way now that the UK government has given a green light to the industry and is doing its best to make life easy for it by designing financial sweeteners for communities that will be affected by fracking, and offering tax breaks for the fracking companies, as well as setting up a special government office that is designed to ensure that the red tape of regulations and permits will be smoothed out as quickly as possible. The fracking industry has ramped up its PR  offensive with report after report coming out making impossibilist claims of huge amounts of gas (even though the British Geological Society doesn’t know for sure how much shale gas there is in the UK) and huge numbers of jobs (up to 70,000, even though that figure is dwarfed by the numbers of green jobs that have been created, and will be created, by the renewables industries, which are rolling out at scale far faster than fracking can ever keep up with).  As for the claim that shale gas will bring gas prices down, every independent analyst says that is just not going to happen. We are already over-dependent on gas, which has led us into a bidding war for gas supplies with other large global players, such as India, China, and Japan, all hungry for gas themselves. No wonder our gas bills have been rising so fast over the last few years. In the free market we have in Europe, fracking companies in the UK will be allowed to sell their gas on the world markets, to the highest bidder, unlike in the US, where gas cannot be exported, by law.

But let Mariann have the last word: her sign-off was that fracking cannot be regulated into safety. Over the months to come we shall be bombarded by politicians and regulators saying UK regulations will be so strict that fracking will be done safely. The simple answer is: no, that is not possible, and experience in the US, Australia, and Canada demonstrates that.


One thought on “Some home truths about the realities of fracking

  1. Maybe the time has come to chain ourselves to the railings.. or similar actions.. because without drastic action and huge mass rebellion they will just frack us to kingdom come… I agree that we must say NO.. we must resist with every fiber of our being… to let it happen is the beginning of the end…

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