Frack Off!

Nigel (Lord) Lawson: he’s a crazy fracker. Pic courtesy The Telegraph

This week the government announced that it was going to bribe local communities to accept shale gas drilling rigs.  Chancellor of the Exchequer,  George ‘Gidiot’ Osborne also announced generous tax breaks for shale gas companies.

Since last year, the Tories, mostly without exception, have declared their passion for shale gas hydraulic fracturing – fracking – which they claim will transform Britain’s sluggish economy and reduce household energy bills. To justify their intentions they point to the United States, where the practice is well-developed. In their desire to press ahead with fracking, they’ve dismissed every single concern without addressing them properly. Why? Because the Tories are greedy. But I don’t need to tell you that.  You know that already, dear reader.

Former  Chancellor, Nigel (Lord) Lawson was on Radio 4’s Any Questions last night, telling anyone who would listen that he was an “energy expert”. I kid you not. Lawson is also a noted climate change sceptic. He was heckled by large sections of the audience and rightly so. In 2003, Lawson founded The Global Warming Policy Foundation to produce evidence-free reports that condone the excessive use of oil and other petroleum-based products. “Carry on polluting” is their message.  The Carbon Brief says:

Lawson has links to the oil industry via his chairmanship of the company Central Europe Trust, which he declares on the Register of Lords’ Interests. CET states on its website that it co-manages private equity funds and consults on mergers and acquisitions for companies including BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Texaco. Lawson has also been president of the British Institute of Energy Economics, sponsored by Royal Dutch Shell, the BG Group and BP.

Kerching! Lawson, like the rest of the Tories, is practically wetting himself at the prospect of raking in more money at the expense of the environment.

This morning I discovered that there were a number of companies involved in shale gas extraction that had donated money to the Conservative Party. One of these companies is the Switzerland-based Vitol, who have donated over £550,000 through their chief executive, Ian Taylor.

Vitol admitted it had bought and sold Iranian fuel oil. The Swiss-based company said: “A Bahraini subsidiary company purchased a spot cargo of fuel oil from a non-Iranian counterparty in July 2012. The fuel oil delivered … was of Iranian origin. Vitol Group companies no longer purchase any product of Iranian origin.”

Dan Hannan, writing in the Telegraph, paints any opposition to fracking as a Green Party plot. He tells us:

What, then, is the problem? Some campaigners talk of water pollution; others, a touch histrionically, of earthquakes. If either was a remotely serious prospect, we’d know by now. There has been a great deal of fracking in the United States, but not a single instance of groundwater being contaminated. As for earthquakes, well, yes, technically any tremor qualifies as an earthquake, but the kind caused by fracking is, according to the most comprehensive report to date, “about the same as the impact caused by dropping a bottle of milk”. The process has been pronounced safe by the Royal Academy of Engineering and by the Royal Society.

Lawson said pretty much the same thing last night. First, the US is a much bigger country. Second, there have been plenty of reported cases of groundwater contamination, which have been dismissed in this US Federal government study. Yet concerns still remain. Third, shale gas exploration was cited as the cause of a couple of earth tremors in the Blackpool area.

A recent report, cited in The Guardian, tells us.

Prof Emily Brodsky, who led a study of earthquakes at a geothermal power plant in California, said: “For scientists to make themselves useful in this field we need to be able to tell operators how many gallons of water they can pump into the ground in a particular location and how many earthquakes that will produce.”

It is already known that pumping large quantities of water underground can induce minor earthquakes near to geothermal power generation and fracking sites. However, the new evidence reveals the potential for much larger earthquakes, of magnitude 4 or 5, related to the weakening of pre-existing undergrounds faults through increased fluid pressure.

The water injection appears to prime cracks in the rock, making them vulnerable to triggering by tremors from earthquakes thousands of miles away. Nicholas van der Elst, the lead author on one of three studies published on Thursday in the journal Science, said: “These fluids are driving faults to their tipping point.”

Prof Brodsky said they found a clear correlation between the amount of water extracted and injected into the ground, and the number of earthquakes.

The potential for earthquakes and earth tremors are harder to sweep aside. Yet they still try.

This government can give us a referendum on the future of Britain’s membership of the European Union, but when it comes to the potential damage that could be done to local communities through fracking, a referendum isn’t forthcoming.

Doubts have also been expressed over the quantity of shale gas in Britain. With the Right making frequent and unfounded comparisons with the United States, one suspects that this rush to frack is nothing less than than a combination of blind faith and barely disguised cupidity. Friends of the Earth claim that there is no hard evidence that shale gas will reduce our energy bills.  Indeed, the energy companies are far too greedy to drop their prices.

The government won’t admit it, but the only way they can proceed with fracking is to force it down people’s throats… like they did with neoliberalism.

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