Frack Free Nottinghamshire is a campaign that’s been gathering momentum in Nottingham. The group had an open Learning Day event at the International Community Centre on Sunday 19 January that explored the facts surrounding potential dangers of fracking, looking at evidence to see impacts that would be felt in the UK, and especially the local area.
The day was about sharing information and research, and getting the facts together in preparation for talking to Nottingham’s population. The group has among its many members: an ecological economist; former geologist; chemist; animal conservationist; activists; regulatory personnel from the transport industry and members of Nottingham’s independent creative community, plus the backing of local businesses.
But what is fracking? Fracking is short for hydraulic fracturing, the process of drilling deep underground with a high pressured mix of water, sand and chemicals to crack rocks and release gas stored inside. Only 10-40% of the water comes back as ‘flow-back’, the rest remains within the rock. This waste water is either disposed of or can be re-injected. The water that does come back is highly polluted, containing sub surface contaminants such as heavy metals, organic chemicals and naturally occurring radioactive elements (including radon, radium & uranium).
The people promoting fracking tout such benefits as gas price drops, job prospects, and economic stimulation in the local area. The BBC reported David Cameron saying, ”I want us to get on board this change that is doing so much good and bringing so much benefit to North America. I want us to benefit from it here as well." The US saw its drop in prices due to a combination of increased supplies lowering demand, as well as their disassociation with other energy markets. But these have been exaggerated. In the UK energy prices are tied to those of the EU. Plus the huge costs of infrastructure and cleaning the radiated water would surely offset any supposed financial gain.
Expansion of fracking is part of the government’s wider energy policy, announced in December 2012. The enthusiasm for shale gas cannot be denied, with Cameron quoted as saying he is “going all out for shale”. Councils are being offered to keep 100% of business rates, as opposed to the normal 50%, and £100,000 for each well built. Greenpeace has accused ministers of bribing councils.
Although it’s billed as cleaner than coal, pollution generated by consumption, production and transportation (of chemicals, water, gas) outweigh any supposed environmental benefits. Former chief scientific adviser to the government Sir David King has warned “enormous environmental consequences” of attempting to fill the UK’s gas needs and has played down the idea that it would have a major impact on the UK’s energy market. Estimated job numbers have been cut from 74,000 down to half and Lord Browne’s company commissioned research which clearly states that the UK wide employment from shale gas drilling will not, in fact, create more than six and a half thousand jobs even in their high end scenario.
Lord Browne is a former titan of the oil industry who is now chairing the board at energy company Cuadrilla after resigning from BP. These jobs will also be highly specialised and not necessarily for the local people. In Australia and the U.S the people working on fracking sites live in compounds away from the local people and economy. The economic benefits will be seen by companies supplying drilling equipment, construction conglomerates and other international companies. French oil and gas company Total will invest at least $21m (£12.7m) in the UK's shale gas industry. The investment makes Total the first of the so-called "oil majors" to invest in shale gas in the UK.
Currently in the UK, the statistics for fracking are:
· 19 hydraulic fracturing sites
· 5 extracting shale gas
· 14 extracting coal med methane
· 6 new shale gas sites approved
· 30 new coal med methane sites with a further 11 under consideration
The EU and UN are both sceptical, calling for a cautionary approach to fracking. Several European countries including France, Germany and Bulgaria have put a ban on fracking. Sydney has banned fracking 20km from residential areas. Despite economic and political benefits, fracking activities could cause serious repercussions on wildlife and the surrounding areas. Despite the rapid growth, we still know little on the impacts of natural resources.
The UN has said “Hydraulic Fracturing may result in unavoidable environmental impacts even if the gas is extracted properly, more so if not done inadequately”.