A year and a half ago Cuadrilla Resources, a company created by private equity to exploit the decline in easy to extract fossil fuels, began fracking the first ever shale gas well in Britain. Unfortunately for them, during these first fracks, a rather inconvenient event happened. Two of the frack stages cause a number of small, but not inconsequential, earthquakes. For those worried about the safety of these new extreme energy extraction techniques, the fact that these earthquakes buckled the well casing with unknown consequences for the integrity of the well were worrying. For the company and the government though, the main issue was the PR nightmare that ensued. A gentlemen’s agreement was quickly reached that Cuadrilla would refrain from fracking until this PR problem could be fixed. Numerous reports, endorsements from tame institutions, and oodles of spin later this PR problem has allegedly been solved.
This week saw the long expected announcement that the government will allow Cudrilla and other fracking companies to continue with attempts to exploitation of unconventional gas. The solution has been to integrate fracking into government energy policy, explicitly a new “Dash for Gas” which will involve the building of over 40 new gas-fired power stations. With North Sea gas in terminal decline, imports stalled due to completion with Asia and consumption being squeezed by rising prices, an energy plan involving burning loads more gas might seem to somewhat disconnected from reality. However there is method in their madness. The option of sensible energy conservation and localisation would not be profitable for transnational corporations. On the other hand the predictable energy shortages and price spikes can could be extremely lucrative.
The impact of a mad scramble to exploit unconventional gas would not be equally felt either. The fundamental difference with unconventional gas is that it is trapped in impermeable rock and cannot flow cannot easily flow so wells need to be drilled at regular intervals to access it. In order to supply just the proposed 40 new power stations it would be necessary to drill in excess of 50,000 wells, covering an area of over 7,000 square miles (at a density of 8 wells per square mile). Add in the thousand of miles of pipelines, compressor stations and associated infrastructure that would be needed and you get some idea of the scale of the issue. With the evidence from the US and Australia of destruction of water supplies, air quality, ecosystems, and people’s health mounting by the day, local people are justifiably scared.
On a global scale, we might just be able to get away with burning perhaps a quarter of known conventional fossil fuels and still have a (mostly) liveable planet. Any exploitation of unconventional fossil fuels would put us on a path to truly catastrophic climate change. Worse still fracking may just a gateway drug. The government is already selling licences for Underground Coal Gasification (UCG), literally setting fire to coal underground to extract energy. This planned close to major cities including London, Swansea, Liverpool, Newcastle and Edinburgh. In the next year the main battles are likely to be in Scotland and Lancashire, but many other areas of the country are threatened. Dart Energy has submitted a planning application for 14 sites, with 22 wells and 20 km of pipelines near Airth and Cuadrilla Resources want to restart fracking in Lancashire. The government also has plans to sell off half the country to fracking companies in the next year.
All this may be sounding very bleak but there some glimmers of hope. Over a year ago a report was produced that was supposed to smooth the way to a swift resumption of fracking. Unfortunately the morning that the report was released Cuadrilla’s drilling rig in Lancashire was stormed and occupied for over 11 hours, while further protests took place outside the conference. Less than a month later the rig was occupied again for another day. Meanwhile a string of public meetings and local organising was building a network of local community groups that continues to grow. Cuadrilla was planning to have fracked up to a dozen test wells and be pushing towards full scale production by now. Instead an alliance of local communities and environmental activists has managed to help delay the introduction of shale gas extraction for over a year and cost Cuadrilla millions.
If that all sounds a bit familiar, it should do. It is the basic story of the roads protests of the 1990s, where a variety of people from all walks of life were united by a common sense of injustice. We all know how well that worked out for the people who want to build a load of shit in other people’s communities. Now our countryside is under even greater threat, while the global implications have become apocalyptic. Across the globe the movement against extreme energy is gaining momentum. The fight for a future we can live in has just begun. For a round up of anti-fracking activity worldwide you could do worse than this occasionally amusing report by mercenary company Control Risks.
Big Energy front company and survey results falsifiers Cuadrilla are to be granted permission by British government ministers to resume a controversial method known as fracking to exploit what it says are huge shale gas reserves off Lancashire.
Okay, okay, the official line is that “a decision is awaited on this matter”, but I ask you, what is the likelihood of it not happening, eh? The government has already indicated its backing for the move by proposing tax relief for shale gas and producing a gas generation strategy.
Although don’t ask UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey – who presumably was appointed to this role because of his ability to produce vast amounts of hot air – about it, because he is on record as being both in favour of fracking and opposed to it. Often within the same speech.
The advantages of fracking to Cuadrilla itself and to individual government figures are clear: vast amounts of cash, generated by huge taxpayer-funded subsidies received by a private company whilst it simultaneously babbles on about freedom from government interference on the one hand, and massive kickbacks to individual politicians on the other. But what about the advantages to the general public?
Well, for a start, there’s the fact that fracking is so safe. After all, Cuadrilla had to stop test-drilling in 2011 after the process caused two minor earthquakes near Blackpool. Oh, hang on a minute – that’s a disadvantage of fracking. Hmm.
Okay, what about the fact that fracking will safeguard British energy supplies for years to come, bringing down heating bills for the UK consumer and reducing our reliance on all those irresponsible foreign types?
Well, as the Parliamentary Energy and Climate Change Committee stated in a recent report, shale gas would have little downward impact on the level of energy bills in the UK. In fact, a dependence on gas could force household bills much higher than relying on renewable energy and nuclear power.
According to PECCC chairman Lord Deben, the Committee’s its analysis showed that the average household electricity bill could rise by £600 a year by 2050 if the UK relied on “unabated” gas power that had no technology to cut its emissions, as a result of