Tag Archives: pollution

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.

Carbon Calculators – An Evaluation

Carbon calculators are one of the strategies that have popped up over the last few years to engage people in reducing their carbon emissions. The idea is that if you know how much you’re producing, and how, then that’s the first step to making changes. It’s a good idea but I’m doing a (very) quick evaluation on the most popular calculators to see how accurate and effective they are.

1. http://carboncalculator.direct.gov.uk/index.html

This is the first one I looked at. As it’s “.gov” I would presume it’s government endorsed. I’m straight away impressed by the swanky graphics, and it’s very user friendly. There’s handy “I don’t know” options for most questions which I made pretty good use of. I also guessed the age of my house. It includes heating and lighting your home, running appliances, and personal travel. It was all going so well until the last section… Travel really threw all notions of accuracy out the window.  You see, I said that I don’t own a car and don’t fly, both true enough, but then there was this section where you were meant to put in your frequent public transport journeys. I don’t have any regular journeys as such, so I didn’t fill it out. It reassured me that an estimation would be made for me based on national averages. Sadly I don’t think they did a very good job of this as my travel was then estimated at “0 tonnes per year”. I know this isn’t true because I do travel by bus and train on occasion and also get lifts in other people’s cars.

This error resulted in my allegedly getting 0.7 tonnes per year as my carbon footprint. I wish that were true… By the way it also tells me the national average for the UK is 4.46 tonnes.

After the result was shown there was a “next steps” section for reducing your footprint, which I think is a helpful addition.

So… Pretty, easy and eager to help, but completely inaccurate and therefore slightly useless…

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2. http://www.carbontrust.co.uk/cut-carbon-reduce-costs/calculate/carbon-footprinting/Pages/carbon-footprinting.aspx

This was my second port of call. However, I didn’t get to calculate my footprint because it seemed to just be for organisations, not individuals.

I will also say that it was very awkward and not at all easy to use. You had to register before you could do anything, and the questions were difficult.

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3. http://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx

I liked this calculator because it was the only one that clearly told you it’s sources of estimation. On the front page there’s a little list of organisations  (e.g. DEFRA) that they’ve got data from. It also confessed that the Secondary Emissions section will be less accurate than the Primary. I appreciate this kind of transparency.

It seems fairly transport orientated, with sections for house, flights, car, motorbike, bus & rail and secondary emissions. I actually only filled out the Secondary part as the others were quite hard. I don’t think many people know how many kWh their fridge uses per year, or how many miles they travel by bus per year… If I wanted to use this calculator properly I would need to spend a lot longer gathering information. I guess that is fair enough and if I did actually take the trouble to find out all the data needed then perhaps I would be awarded with an estimation that has some bearing on my actual carbon usage.

Any way, my result for the Secondary Emissions section  was 1.68 tonnes per year. Note: this is more than the whole supposed figure from the first calculator.

I would say this is a good calculator to use if you’re happy to put in the work for a serious calculation exercise, but for the layman it is a bit unworkable.

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4. http://footprint.wwf.org.uk/

This last calculator has very nice graphics and is very user friendly. It has sections for food, travel, home and stuff. This makes it more well-rounded than the others. My only real criticism is that in the stuff section the ranges are very wide. For example, the multiple choice options for money spent on jewellery in the last year start at £0-100.  I think there’s a huge difference between spending £5 or £100 on necklaces, but to be fair this method does make for a cleaner and easier filling-out process.

My total result from this one was 5.46 tonnes per year. It then tells me “You’re living as if we had 1.65 planets, but we only have 1“. Considering the well-known statistic is that most Europeans live as if we had 3 planets, this isn’t too bad.

I think this was my favourite calculator over all.

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From this brief look at carbon calculators, I will conclude that they’re a good way to raise awareness of the issue of carbon emissions, but they should only be used as a rough gauge.  I’m very dubious about the actual accuracy of the estimations given as most of them don’t even list sources. The first one as I’ve said was wildly out, and as a Government endorsed site this was a bit shocking. (But only a bit…). I think calculators would be a good tool for making our society more sustainable if they had a little bit of improvement. The concept is a good one but there’s definitely work to be done.

Fireworks!

Remember, remember, the 5th of November!

Ooooh!…

Today is Bonfire Night, an annual British festival stemming from when the pesky Guy Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament in 1605. An excuse to party ever since, you can either burn a fake “Guy” on the fire and give thanks that King James I survived the civic attack, or use it as a celebration of Anarchy. I suppose it depends on your persuasion. Anyway, nowadays the political root is mostly ignored and we simply Oooh and Ahhh at the many firework displays around the country.

I love fireworks. There’s nothing quite like the literal explosion of colour against the silky black sky… Invented in China in the 7th century, they’re used around the globe for their aesthetic appeal and dramatic effect. But unfortunately their beauty does come at a price, as beauty all too often does.

You see they are of course explosives, and as such pollute the air with smoke, toxic gases and all sorts of heavy metals used for colour pigmentation. Some of the gases produced are greenhouse gases, namely carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, and tropospheric ozone. All of these contribute to global warming, so it’s ironic that they’re used for celebration. Also the heavy metals obviously have to come back down to earth at some point, and can end up in fresh and groundwater, where they are serious pollutants.

Happily, greener fireworks are in the process of being developed. Traditional fireworks have a charcoal and sulphur fuel, which produces a lot of smoke when combusted, but if a nitrogen based fuel is used it is much cleaner. Also compressed air can apparently be used to shoot them into the sky, doing away with the need for propellants. As I’ve said, I love fireworks so I can only hope this research is given the priority it deserves!

…Ahhhh!….