A Sly & Underhand Move

Unconventional gas exploration is threatening Britain and Ireland. Licenses and planning applications have already been granted by the Government with little or no community consultation. The scale of the industrialisation and impacts are never discussed.

In one of their more sly and underhand moves to date the government last week pushed a pre Christmas vote without debate on fracking through the Commons. Members of Parliament voted it through on a nod in a breathtaking exhibition of bovine stupidity and complete indifference  to the implications. 

What the vote means is that while drilling cannot take place in National Parks it can take place 1,200 metres below the surface of the sites. That is, the drills will go down vertically outside the parks and other protected ares then drill horizontally across and below. For once, Labour in calling for a moratorium on fracking until evidence proves that it does not prove a risk to the environment, are on the right side of the argument.

Put simply, this and virtually every other government have discovered that you have more chance of being reelected if you give things away for free. Government borrowing is at unsustainable levels, regardless of what the chancellor may say, and the chance of a few easy bucks in the till make it a no brainer for Whitehall. If the MP's who voted for fracking, and the government, could be held to account in the future and have personal liability for this decision they wouldn't have sprinted headlong into what they perceive to be Christmas-for-all without doing some clinical and detailed diligence. There is a reasonably high probability that this will not end at all well.

So, what is the problem? Here is a quick summary,

  • Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, is the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at a high pressure in order to fracture shale rocks to release natural gas inside.
  • Using US numbers, each gas well requires an average of 400 tanker trucks to carry water and supplies to and from the fracking site.
  • It takes 1-8 million gallons of water to complete each fracturing job.
  • The water brought in is mixed with sand and chemicals to create fracking fluid.Approximately 40,000 gallons of chemicals are used per fracturing.
  • Up to 600 chemicals are used in fracking fluid, including known carcinogens and toxins such  as lead, uranium, mercury, ethylene glycol, radium, methanol, hydrochloric acid and formaldehyde.
  • The fracking fluid is then pressure injected into the ground through a drilled pipeline.
  • The mixture reaches the end of the well where the high pressure causes the nearby shale rock to crack, creating fissures where natural gas flows into the well.
  • During this process, methane gas and toxic chemicals leach out from the system and contaminate nearby groundwater.
  • In the US, methane concentrations are 17x higher in drinking-water wells near fracturing sites than in normal wells.
  • There have been over 1,000 documented cases of water contamination next to areas of gas drilling as well as cases of sensory, respiratory, and neurological damage due to ingested contaminated water.
  • Only 30-50% of the fracturing fluid is recovered, the rest of the toxic fluid is left in the ground and is not biodegradable. The waste fluid is left in open air pits to evaporate, releasing harmful VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) into the atmosphere, creating contaminated air, acid rain, and ground level ozone.

So, a real and present threat to human well-being is presented to Parliament and they don't even have a debate. Badgers and foxes get long debates and television airtime, why not human health? It won't have been noticed by inner city MP's but out here in the countryside many, many houses are not connected to mains water and have their bore holes that themselves go deep underground. If that well water is polluted, for ever, will the government indemnify householders for the cost of laying a mains water network across the countryside? Not for a moment. The government are potentially stumbling into a Thalidomide moment here but the implications are more far reaching than was that tragic episode fifty five years ago. 

And earthquakes, I haven't mentioned earthquakes. Without wishing to be overly dramatic lets just wait and see if the incidence of minor quakes seen previously in the North West and in other countries becomes more common. We needn't wait here for government reports; just watch house prices falling and insurance rates rising; those will be the 'tell.'

Jessica Ernst is a scientist who has worked in the oil and gas industry. She discovered first hand the consequences of hydraulic fracturing in her town of Rosebud, Alberta, Canada.  'No healthy community on this planet would allow hydraulic fracturing because it is not safe. It is impossible to do even with the best rules and regulations.'

The government should be careful here and check their arrogance. Most of the countryside is unpoliced in any conventional sense of traditional policing, (we never see them), and law and order is kept through consensus across communities, (and the fact that every second house is armed). There is though, something visceral that reaches to the soul about the right to clean drinking water. Start messing around with that and they will see a normally docile countryside begin to rise up and state their case. The media may portray protesters mostly as unwashed swampies and they may be right, for the moment but that is subject to quick and immediate change. I could joke about villagers grabbing their pitchforks but its just a little too serious for jokes.