Fracking – Britain’s Next Revolution
Global Research, August 20, 2013
Water, water everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.’
Samuel Taylor Coleridge: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
At long last Britain is discussing and objecting to fracking – or we would be if the general public had access to accurate information. As it is, Prime Minister David Cameron is going all out to promote a country-wide embrace of shale gas.
Forgotten is his promise to lead the ‘greenest government ever’. Forgotten is the fact that shale gas is yet one more fossil fuel that increases the risks from climate change; that methane is far worse than most carbon emissions where global warming is concerned. No, no. Instead he invites us to gaze on the Nirvana of cheap energy, energy that will allow the poor to heat their homes – presumably while they also try to cope with rising food prices, stop their homes from being flooded because of extreme weather events or, if they are ill or elderly, dying during ever-increasing heat waves.
He claims it will ‘drive energy bills down’; provide jobs; bring money to local neighbourhoods. He doesn’t give this last claim its accurate and truthful label – bribery. In order to persuade people to allow fracking in their community the energy companies have government permission to give communities £100,000 for each exploratory well plus 1% of all their profits from the fracked site, not that the ‘profits’ will be that much compared to costs, or last very long.
Because the shale containing the gas is fractured, after an initial burst of gas being captured and brought to the surface, a great deal of it simply leaks sideways through the fractures. Some studies show that a well’s output can drop by 60% within a year, and by as much as 90% within 5 years of coming into production, requiring the well to be ‘restimulated’. How sexy. Why don’t they get honest and call it re-fracturing? If that fails to improve the production then another well – or two – can be drilled. In other words, fracking never involves single wells.
Nor is it that profitable. As this report from a group of New York state businesses says, “Studies funded by the natural gas industry have exaggerated benefits and ignored significant costs”. Fracking is really not doing as well as Cameron implies. It is not the great economic boom he is asking us to grasp with both hands. Beware nettles, say I. The government is also bribing the energy companies by offering them large tax breaks for which, ultimately, the tax payer will pick up the bill.
Cameron says it takes ‘courage’ to go ahead with drilling for shale gas. No. It takes bare-faced cheek for a politician to attempt to con the public quite this much. It takes genuine courage to study and accept the plethora of evidence that is available from countries that have firsthand experience of the frightening effects of the fracking process, evidence that demonstrates why no country should go ahead with fracking.
He and his ministers are only interested in three things: the promise of cheap energy might buy votes at the next general election; the money they will make themselves (around a third of government ministers have links with energy and finance); and taking the country down the fracking path will allow them to ignore climate change, which they really do not have the courage to do anything effective about. But this being a government of rich men, mostly of the ‘their loss, our gain’ variety, fracking is about money, and when Cameron speaks about shale gas one can almost see the pound signs revolving in his eyes.
Pity the uninformed British people who are being swept down this road by Cameron’s evangelistic and very misleading fervour. Let’s put things into perspective. The largest US shale gas field, the Barnett Shale in Texas, is around 5,000 square miles. England, where almost all of the UK fracking (if allowed) would take place, is 50,600 square miles, no more than 11 times larger than the Barnett Shale, which already has over 16,000 wells. And England is very small, crowded and home to some 53.5 million people.
The real issue which is not being discussed in public, let alone addressed, is water or rather, one aspect of it. Cameron says that “international evidence shows there is no reason why the process should cause contamination of water supplies and other environmental damage if properly regulated” (my emphasis). But internationally, energy companies have shown little regard for regulations or the environment, and certainly not where profits are concerned. And proper inspection and enforcement of the regulations will cost money that we have not got, and would not spend if we had.
Despite the denials from supporters of fracking that the process can contaminate underground water supplies, there is plenty of evidence that it happens. A recently released study by Texas University found heavy metals such as arsenic, selenium and strontium. One of the report’s authors Brian Fontenot, said, “that any time you have water wells that exceed the maximum contaminate limit for any of these heavy metals, they are within about three kilometers of a natural gas well”. An Australian study echoed findings from the US, with details of farmers’ water supplies being unusable and farm stock dying from drinking contaminated water.
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