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I wish this was my image.

Why Fracking’s a Bad Idea

I wish this was my image.

I wish this was my image.

Hydraulic Fracturing – or ‘fracking’ is an intensive method of fossil fuel extraction which involves blasting tonnes of water, sand and chemicals into the ground to extract gas or oil. It happened in America (see the shocking documentary film Gasland and this post) and now my government want it to happen here. My prime minister is ridiculously keen, as are many cabinet ministers including the minister for the department of Energy and Climate Change. My MP on the other hand, was recently arrested while taking part in an anti-fracking protest. Respect, Lucas.

From the title of this post and my general attitude I think you can easily guess which side of the fence I’m on.
That’s right, fracking can fuck off as far as I’m concerned. And I’m here to tell you why.

  • It totally contradicts our climate change obligations. More gas equals more carbon emissions, we’re meant to be weaning ourselves off this toxic stuff, not squeezing still more out of the ground. The dash for gas also diverts investment and public spending away from renewables, which is the direction we should be going in.
  • The chemicals and gas can easily leak into the groundwater. This in turn can get into people’s drinking water if it leaks into aquifers. In my county, 75% of the tap water comes from underground aquifers. The Environmental Agency has actually said fracking near aquifers shouldn’t be allowed as it poses too much of a health hazard.
  • The process is incredibly water intensive, and could cause water shortages just due to the sheer volume required. From an environmental perspective, this is a terrible use for a precious resource. In hot or arid  countries this issue would obviously be much worse.
  • Fracking can also cause earth tremors, which are basically small earthquakes. One has already happened in Blackpool and my local council is opposed to local fracking because they’re worried tremors could affect the London to Brighton railway line, which is an economic lifeline to my city as it’s full of professional commuters to the Big Smoke.
  • David Cameron, my prime minister, has claimed fracking will lower gas prices. This is clearly just a ploy to get struggling families on board, as there is little evidence to suggest this. Even Caudrilla, a major drilling company, admitted it won’t lower domestic prices. This is because the UK shares an integrated energy network with the whole EU, so the drilling companies will sell the gas (or oil) to the highest bidder in Europe. From an environmental perspective, this means even more pollution from long distance transport.
  • The economic effects of fracking aren’t even 100% rosy, as drilling sites will lower nearby house prices and residents may even struggle to get house insurance, due to the high risk levels.
  • Industrialisation of the British countryside will have huge detrimental effects for wildlife, the tourism industry and also national heritage. Increased traffic from lorries and trucks will contribute to congestion and air pollution.

Since lower prices and increased security aren’t guaranteed (because of the export to EU system), the only real benefits from fracking are job creation and a boost to economic growth. But as my recent posts about post-growth economics have shown, economic growth isn’t actually beneficial when you look at the big picture. That just leaves job creation, which is a significant benefit – I can’t argue with that. I can only say that a revolution in renewable energy would create just as many jobs, if not more.

So there we go.

For Frack’s Sake!

Last night my and my boyfriend went round to a neighbor’s house to watch Gasland – a  well made and shocking documentary about the fracking crisis in America. You can watch the film, read a blog and get more information here. Basically the gist of the film is that a few years ago officials in the States decided they were going to make use of the huge reserves of natural gas in their country and set about an enormous domestic gas drilling operation.

This map isn’t mine and belongs to Josh Fox who made Gasland – this came from the website linked to above. The reddish parts are gas drilling areas and the blue are waterways. Horizontal Fracking, or horizontal hydraulic fracturing to use it’s proper name, is a gas drilling process where a deep 8,000 foot well is dug and then a kind of tunnel is made horizontally. Bare in mind most of the drinking water aquifers are only 1,000 foot deep. Millions of gallons of water are then sent down along with sand and 596 chemicals at incredibly high pressure. This creates miniature earthquakes and fractures the gas shale – allowing liquid gas to be harvested. The gas comes up mixed with water and the two have to be separated. The waste water is called ‘produced water’ by the gas companies and is incredibly toxic.

This is when the film started to get really shocking. When I said the waste water is toxic, I meant very toxic. In the film Josh interviewed loads – like maybe twenty – of families that had had their drinking water contaminated by nearby gas wells. Their water would go yellowish brown and sometimes it’d even become flammable. Like they would turn on the tap and if they put a light to it it’d go up in flames. They got sick from drinking the water. The people interviewed reported headaches, sickness, loss of smell and taste, and joint pain. A scientist confirmed all of this was common and long term effects might include brain damage. The distressed victims obviously called up the gas companies and complained about their water, but they were told if they couldn’t prove the problem was caused by the gas they’d get no compensation. They now have to buy bottled water from a shop.

If you’re wondering how this could possibly be legal, it’s because of the ‘Halliburton Loophole’. Basically in 2005 Bush and Cheney passed the Energy Bill, which – can you believe it – exempts natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974. I know. Talk about corruption. The gas companies doing this drilling can pollute citizen’s drinking water to a point where it’s dangerous to drink and their wells could explode, and it’s completely legal. They don’t even have to disclose the chemicals in their fracking fluid because it’s propriety – like how some brands have a secret recipe. There is something called the Fracking Responsibility and Awareness to Chemicals Act (the FRAC Act) which would require companies to disclose the chemicals they use and would make them adhere to the Safe Drinking Water Act. It was introduced in 2009 and again in 2011 but as far as I can tell it hasn’t yet been passed.
American readers: You can follow this link to tell your local representative to support the FRAC Act. Get on it! 

It wasn’t even just a few newsworthy homes that had got problems. The drilling was and still is going on in many states, and the health problems are showing up wherever the drilling occurs. It’s ridiculously widespread. I still can’t believe the American government would let this happen to its own people. I thought they were meant to be civilized. I now feel incredibly naive – I thought dangerous drinking water and pollution with this level of acute health effects  was something that only happened in poor and developing nations. Not that that isn’t just as bad, but I have to admit this is unsettling. I knew big gas companies were fine with doing this kind of stuff in other countries… I didn’t think they’d do it in their own. How wrong I was.

Gasland was made in 2009 so after watching the film, I did some research into whether this has been cleaned up by now. Apparently not! This article about fracking was released on the Guardian website on 31st December 2012. Another thing: the madness is not contained to the United States. Oh no, it’s coming to my country as well! Frack Off is an action group against fracking in the UK. I was horrified to learn that hundreds of sites are already proposed and they have open testing sites already. My city has a Frack Free campaign group which I’m going to look into.

Bare in mind all this is just the short term effects. This is just what’s going wrong due to the gas being extracted. All the pollution and climate effects that’ll happen when the gas is burnt for energy haven’t even been mentioned here. It’s just such a bad set up. Why can’t they invest in renewable energy at this scale?

Anyway so:

  • To all Americans: A, I’m very worried for you. B, Please lose any remaining notions that your government is looking out for you or cares in any way whatsoever. C, Don’t take this sh*t! Stand up and shout and scream about this! 
  • To all Britons: Oh my god! I’m worried what shall we do?
  • To everyone else: Watch out for your country! Spread the word! Invest in renewables! Do something!

Oh my god.