Banners on the Blackpool tower which is close to two fracking sites. Photo by Frack Off.
Campaigners have reacted angrily to the release of a report that gives the green light for the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing – or fracking– for shale gas to be extended across Britain despite serious health and safety concerns.
The process, which involves drilling holes into shale rock and then injecting high pressure water and chemicals to release trapped natural gas, was halted in the UK after it was proven to be the cause of two earthquakes in the Blackpool area last April and May.
But Tuesday’s first official report into fracking, commissioned by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, recommends it be allowed to continue with stronger controls. This means hundreds more wells could be drilled across the UK.
‘This report is a seriously dangerous distraction,’ says Elsie Walker, an activist from campaign group Frack Off. ‘People need to understand that the wave of unconventional gas development that is threatening the British Isles will bring with it far greater consequences than a number of small earthquakes.’
Fracking has already gained a terrible reputation across the Atlantic where it has been blamed for contaminating water supplies, in some case even causing tap water to become flammable.
‘The effects of fracking have stirred up a hornets’ nest in the USA,’ says Phil Thornhill, National Coordinator for the Campaign Against Climate Change. ‘As well as air pollution, there’s been massive contamination of ground waters and aquifers as toxic wastewater is carried around causing pollution in any place there are spills.’
The company which holds the current UK fracking licences, Cuadrilla Resources, has welcomed the report as it is keen to begin drilling at new sites. But activists are worried that the public has failed to grasp what this could mean for Britain’s rural areas.
‘Cuadrilla want to drill 800 wells in Lancashire alone.,’ says Elsie Walker. ‘And there are several companies going after different types of unconventional gas in the UK, all potentially on a similar scale to Cuadrilla. If we allow this to happen, we will witness the total industrialization of the British countryside and the destruction of the ecosystems we rely on for our survival.’
The report does not rule out the likelihood of further tremors in fracking areas, disclosing that ‘it would not be possible to state categorically that no further earthquakes will be experienced during a similar treatment in a nearby well’. It calls for ‘an effective monitoring system to provide near real-time locations and magnitudes of any seismic events [as] part of any future fracking operations.’
But some argue that focusing on minor earth tremors as a negative side effect of fracking could be a way of diverting attention from other threats it poses.
‘Though seemingly damning, a report that focuses the minds of the press and public on minor seismic events could be seen as a PR coup for a company whose extraction method of choice has consistently been linked to groundwater contamination, severe methane leakage, air pollution, climate change and radioactive waste,’ says Elsie Walker.
As well as problems at the local level, fracking raises larger questions within the bigger picture of climate change. Natural gas may produce less carbon than coal or oil but it is still a fossil fuel, releasing heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.
‘We need to be finding alternatives to fossil fuels, not trying to exploit new ones,’ says Phil Thornhill. ‘Using natural gas would only reduce carbon emissions if you were using it as an alternative to coal but all the evidence shows it’s being used as well as coal, which means you’re simply messing the planet up twice over.’
Contact the Campaign against Climate Change or Frack Off for more information on how you can get involved.