Fracking is the process of extracting gas or oil by fracturing rock with a pressurised liquid that typically consists of a mix of water, sand and chemicals. The sand holds open the shattered rock in order to make the gas or oil easier to extract. This process is being pushed by Energy Companies and Government against the will of local people who will be affected by drilling for shale gas and environmental activists are far from satisfied due to little guarantees as to the long term effects of fracking.
Energy giants found that ‘The UK could have significant shale gas reserves providing a secure supply of natural gas’ and thus shale gas is being touted as a transition fuel as we move to a low carbon economy, with energy security due to less reliance on imports. This line is being backed by Government with David Cameron saying that it would be a ‘big mistake’ to oppose fracking with local communities set to receive £1m of immediate investment as a result of accepting fracking into the community. The real figure is £100,000 as well as 1% of any future profit which is not enough to cover the risk to the environment.
A report for the European Commission found that fracking caused ‘unnecessary, unconventional and unwanted local problems, including groundwater contamination, surface water contamination, water resource use and air pollution’. Another report by the UN Environmental Program found that ‘Fracking may result in unavoidable environmental impacts even if unconventional gas is extracted properly, and more so if inadequately. Furthermore, increased extraction and use of unconventional gas is likely to be detrimental to curb climate change’. David Cameron must be aware of the findings and seems happy to not only go against every grain of good will included in the 2008 Climate Change Act, that promised to reduce emissions by 80% before 2050 but also to sell out the interests of local people against energy giants in their communities.
George Osbourne has announced that fracking companies will receive big tax breaks in order to kick start the ‘gas revolution’ and ensure ‘Britain is not left behind as gas prices tumble on the other side of the Atlantic’. The Treasury has announced a 30% tax rate for onshore shale gas production. This is an astronomical difference when compared to the 62% on North Sea oil operations and 81% for offshore oil fields. An energy consulting firm, Poyry were asked to report on shale gas by the Office of Gas and Electric Markets (OFGEM) and found that ‘only a shale gas boom in Europe would lead to significantly lower gas prices in the UK and such a boom was a low probability outcome’.
So why would the Government be making such a high stake gamble?
Lord Browne is the most senior business adviser to the Government and also sits on the board of Riverstone, which is a ‘private equity firm focused on leverage buyout and growth capital investments in the energy and power sectors’. If this doesn’t display a conflict of interest then his 40% ownership of Gas giant Caudrilla should serve to prove the motivation behind fracking in the UK. Lord Browne has said he will ‘finance whatever it takes, up to billions of pounds’ in order to dash the hopes of environmental activists.
Browne was responsible for a ruthless cost cutting program at BP that ‘compromised safety’ and is considered responsible for major accidents such as the Texas City Refinery explosion in 2005 and the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010. This type of relationship between government and those with vested interest in energy policy is one of many and the desire for extraction at any cost is clear. In tests in Blackpool, two earthquakes were caused that deformed the cases of the well. Caudrilla didn’t inform authorities that the well was deformed until asked despite the fact that a leak could have occurred. This kind of behaviour is tyrannical and serves as a reminder that giving energy companies free licence to frack is likely to lead to environmental disaster.
This view is backed by Liberal Democrat Tim Farron who has expressed his worry that ‘the Government have seen flashing pound signs, and have not considered the long term threats that fracking poses to the countryside’. There is still time to save the countryside however because although many areas of the UK are covered by licences, not many of these areas have been taken to the planning permission stage and even fewer to drilling.
This has seen Action group, Frack Off link up with local residents in Balcombe, Sussex. The mix of locals and activists proved to be successful in stopping Caudrilla from drilling in the area for many days and protests now enter their second week and have received national attention. The protesters argue that 85% of Balcombe residents signed a petition to express their desire for no fracking in the area and the Government are showing their ‘corruption’ by allowing Caudrilla to drill in the area. Frack Off are likely to continue disrupting drilling in Balcombe and around the country.
The actions of the group are extreme, however the argument that the Government are being anti-democratic is a salient point. The Tories have attempted to privatise the UK’s forests and now are going against their own manifesto by not allowing communities the right to self-determination. There needs to be more public consultation on fracking so that the right solution for all parties can be reached and not bought.
If your area is going to be test drilled and you have a problem with this then now is the time to contact your local authority before drilling begins.