Why say no to fracking?

Fracking involves some high risk technologies with unresolved and probably disastrous flaws – short, medium and long term – affecting water, air and environmental quality (Ref 1 and 2)

Climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Nov 2014 report emphatically pinned the cause on human activity and rang the most urgent of alarm bells – requires that we must radically and swiftly reduce our CO2 emissions. (Ref 3)

Fracking takes us in wrong direction. By reinforcing dependence on fossil fuels it will delay investment in renewable energy and exacerbate effects of CO2 emissions.  Shale oil and gas should be left in the ground until climate change is arrested so that it can be available to future generations. We have no right to use it all. 

UK regulation of fracking is from existing mining, quarrying and waste frameworks, largely historic. This regime is not fit for purpose and is being applied by light touch. the Environment Agency (EA) rarely visits sites to inspect for problems or complaints.

Germany, France, Netherlands, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have banned fracking but we are rushing to introduce it even in the face of massive public opposition and formidable scientific warnings (Ref 1) The UK government has, with the fracking industries, run a propaganda campaign, destroying local safeguards in England and offering bribes to councils.

Evidence from the USA, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere demonstrates the dangers of rushed, under-regulated Fracking. (Ref 2)

The UK has failed to invest adequately or with determination in Renewable Energy. Funding is being capped. Yet they enthusiastically offer generous funding guarantees for fracking and nuclear. This is regardless of an 80% renewables target by 2050.   Campaigns to reduce energy usage have lacked conviction and reliable funding. We need a strategic, well planned set of co-ordinated policies to minimise waste and maximise efficiency and storage (Ref 4)

Threat to drinking water quality. 45% of our local water is from reservoirs, 33% from rivers and 22% from boreholes (into aquifers). Even if drilling could be made 100% safe (which is impossible) the abandoning, storage and disposal of the contaminated water are incredibly dangerous. The fluids used in drilling are themselves toxic. Fracking releases other neurotoxins, carcinogens, heavy metals and low level radiation from the shale. 20% to 50% of the fluids are returned to the surface. Storage and treatment are unplanned. Regulation has not caught up with this huge problem. Even small scale leakage into our water sources could be disastrous. Fluids left underground, even at great depths, can over time seep into our water courses. These combined dangers will be with us for many decades. Water quality is also crucial to agriculture, horticulture, eco-systems, recreation, brewers, spa/mineral waters etc. (Ref 1,2 and 5)

Methane leakage is inevitable when drilling for gas. In the North Sea it is about 2% of the total product and is managed by burning off. Fracking has multiple well heads. Each one can leak and is difficult to manage. In West Newton, East Yorks recently the fracking site caused noxious smells and illness and has been closed. Methane can also leak up from the fractured shale and permanently contaminate water sources, farmland and residential areas. (Ref 2) Methane is 10 to 20 times worse as a greenhouse gas than CO2, so any additional leakage seriously affects emissions and climate change.

Geology. Most geologists conclude that the danger of seismic activities is small. However none denies Fracking is high risk, only whether the risk can and should be managed. Prof David Smythe’s evidence to the House of Lords Economic Affairs committee in 2013 (Ref 6) cautioned that geological strata above the UK shale are much more fractured than those in the USA etc. Vertical and horizontal drilling is therefore more risky, with damage to aquifers and some seismic events probable. Ours is a high risk area because of faults and vulnerable aquifers. The greatest concerns are that reinjection and upward leakage of contaminated fracking fluids and methane, over time, is much more likely in the UK and mainland Europe than in North America. Evidence from the USA increases concerns about the cumulative effects of minor earth tremors, which seem to lead to major seismic events.

Traffic. Even advocates of fracking concede that volume of hazardous HGV traffic needed to service well heads (mainly water in and out) will prove unpopular and unsustainable. Main roads in Harrogate district are congested and many minor roads, on which a disproportionate number of serious accidents occur, are already over used. If well heads are, as is likely, in stretches of open land close to towns and villages the adverse effects on public safety and wellbeing will be severe. New housing (eg Flaxby) also need to be factored in.

Locations for well heads. Fracking well heads (each occupying about half a football pitch) spread in lines across an area will be visually intrusive. By comparison wind turbines will appear beautiful. Unlike USA, Canada, Australia we do not have vast tracts of uncultivated and unpopulated land to despoil. Fracking is too dangerous to be located close to dwellings and communities; and too risky to be located near good arable or pasture land or close to rivers and lakes.

Environmental and heritage priorities. Harrogate district comprises historic (and congested) towns and many growing (and congested) villages. We enjoy an AONB in Nidderdale, famed National Trust properties at Fountains Abbey and Brimham Rocks as well as many other historic sites. This is not about pushing fracking elsewhere – rather demanding to know how fracking can be accommodated anywhere in a country that is crowded, rich in history, and under huge environmental pressures.

Legacy issues/costs.  Bearing in mind the endless costs of the Sellafield legacy, and the devastation evident in the USA after fracking (Ref 8), we need to challenge bidders to identify all measures they intend to put in place to safeguard our well-being from the harmful effects of fracking. We also need an open commitment to tackle incidental decommissioning and restoration costs that cannot be fully anticipated.

Economic realism.  Recent evidence emerging from the USA suggests that estimates of shale gas and oil revenues have been wildly exaggerated. Bidders must be open about all costs, from test drilling to decommissioning, and must demonstrate that Fracking is economically viable without prolonged taxpayer subsidies. The widely quoted oil price figure for fracking to be viable is $110 per barrel. Current price is $30 and likely to fall even further as Iran reconnects to the global economy. 

In short, the case for Fracking in the UK has been presented without scientific and financial rigour, regardless of public hostility and international caution, despite our agreed obligations to pursue a low carbon society and despite the option of a diverse renewables alternative.

 

References:

Ref 1 Fracking in the UK and Germany: contrasting impact of scientific advice

Ref 2 Friends of the Earth presentation Sept 2014 to Harrogate Area Committee

Ref 3 Ten point summary of IPCC report Nov 2014 (FoE) FoE -IPCC-climate scientists ten point summary

Ref 4 Energy Futures – analysis of energy needs, sources, shortfalls and options

Ref 5  Bill Chameides, The Great Energy Challenge blog, National Geographic       Fracking Fluid possible contents

Ref 6 Prof David Smythe’s evidence to House of Lords committee 2013

Ref 7 David Cameron to Select Committee 16.12.14      transcript    video