Personally my prime concern isn’t that if we frack Preston New Road that we’ll get a sizeable earthquake locally. A lot of Lancashire has lived with minor earth tremors from mine subsidence for decades and I tend to accept the argument that the nuisance from that will be limited.
There are however problems with the water management process which are almost certain to have a major impact. Fracking requires pumping large quantities of water underground, mixing it with some very unpleasant chemicals and then creating enough water pressure to fracture rocks deep underground. The first problem is getting hold of the quantities of water needed without depleting local rivers or increasing risks of shortages during droughts. The second is that no one can possibly control what happens to the pressurised water deep underground. In a complex geology it is simply scientifically impossible to know where the polluted water will go. It therefore doesn’t strike me as a very responsible form of technology. Worse still is that fact that a lot of the polluted water comes back up to the surface. It then has to be stored and then of. That means tankers of water travelling to water processing plants. We don’t currently have enough plants with the capacity to do the necessary processing. So either the polluted water will get dumped in the sea or the taxpayer will end up paying for new processing sites. Whilst the local residents will have to put up with endless movements of tankers and the local ratepayers will have to pay to fix the roads that they damage.
Then there is the problem of the need to burn off excess gas at the well heads. The fracking companies are very fond of paying for lovely looking web sites explaining how technically skilled and scientifically sophisticated their work is. The reality is that they cannot possibly avoid burning off much of the gas that emerges at unpredictable pressures particularly in the early stage of the process. So the locals have to put up with burnt gas fumes mixed with added chemicals. Not my idea of a clean and safe technology.
Yet if I am honest none of that would have got me motivated to turn out on an unpromising Monday to protest about a drilling operation. My real concern is the simple fact that we know the environment cannot take the burning of all the conventional fossil fuel reserves that have been identified. CO2 levels are now above 400 ppm all year worldwide and rising fast. That is scientific fact. How that impacts on climate none of us know for certain. We are running a giant experiment on the planet and 97% of the scientists who have looked at the evidence inform us that the experiment is going badly wrong and has to be stopped quickly. Burning one more source of fossil fuels in the hope that it will shore up the UK’s dreadful balance of payments and its governments shortage of tax revenues is therefore extraordinarily short sighted.
What is even more astonishing is the way that investing in this kind of technology is neither necessary nor economically wise. Technology is moving on. Over the next few decades it is now almost certain that the world’s economies will move away from fuelling their civilisations by burning irreplaceable geological deposits and start to do so by increasingly effective solar, wind and water power. We are also highly likely to see switches to much more energy efficient devices, better storage and improved controls over timing of use.
In these circumstances any nation which puts its investment and its research efforts into finding new sources of fossil fuels is following a technological dead end. No country ever prospered by investing in declining technology. The UK should be getting at the front of the next economic revolution and investing in the next generation of green energy technology.
Going all out for fracking means that the UK government is not just inconveniencing local people, it is damaging the planet at the same time as failing to prepare our economy for a major technological change. Which would be bad enough if the mistake it was making had popular support. It doesn’t.
The national government has tried to bribe local communities to accept fracking with promises of investment in community halls and local facilities. It hasn’t worked. Lancashire’s elected councillors voted against fracking taking place in their county. So the national government that talks so much about the importance of respecting sovereignty gave up bribery and went for bullying. It simply passed a law that over ruled normal local government powers and forced councils across the country to approve fracking or risk massive legal and financial sanctions.
This is what really made me annoyed. It is bad enough that our UK government ignorantly buys the weak and flawed arguments of the gas industry and encourages them to suck every last drop of energy out of the ground instead of investing in modern technology. What is worse is that they are taking upon themselves excessive powers to over-rule local communities and impose fracking on them regardless of choice.
I have always found that people are at their most aggressive and narrow minded when they know in their heart that something they are doing is wrong but it is in their short term financial interests. I am therefore expecting the UK government to get more and more insistent and aggressive about forcing fracking down our throats. Whilst forward thinking governments like China invest billions in switching their economies away from fossils as rapidly as they can. Let us hope that a few of us can make it that bit harder for our government to get us locked into the past whilst others embrace the future. All power to the elbow of the couple of hundred protestors who turned up today.