The following post is another written by Will Richardson, a literary and political writer and friend of the Radical Tea Towel Company. He writes his own blog called The Opinionist and his Twitter handle is @WillRichardson6. Agree with the post or not, we’d love your comments below!
You know when you’re drinking a milkshake and you start to reach the end; you’ve drained it down to a diluted little pool of milk and bubbles and spit-back between the ice cubes, so you suck harder on the straw and it begins to make that gross slurping noise, kind of like: “phhhssshrrrawwwhhphhh”. Well that is a pretty apt beverage-based illustration of fracking.
As if we don’t know when to stop, as if we truly have no concept of the velocity at which we are hoovering up the life-enabling resources on which we depend, we have begun the process in the UK leading to desperately guzzling the final dregs from within the earth’s crust through fracking. All in the hopes we can power our futile existence for just a while longer until our planet starts to compact and crush inwards like a Ribena carton subject to a particularly greedy child.
Fracking is in vogue at the moment as the way to harvest non-renewable resources and it, as well as everything revolving around it, is absolutely bloody awful. Like frantic and suddenly bankrupt millionaires popping the cork on our last hurrah, through fracking we are attempting to live the lifestyle we’ve become accustomed to, frenziedly chasing the dream we once lived before the repo men come knocking on the door. And in a time when sustainable energy options are not only a dire necessity, but plentifully available and logistically workable, this is simply unacceptable.
Fracking, or ‘shale gas drilling’, as it’s more euphemistically called by George and David and Amber Rudd as they try surreptitiously to bring it into the public consciousness of acceptability, is a process whereby a rig drills vertically down and then horizontally a few thousand feet underground to expose cracks in the shale rock, in which are hidden pesky little gobbets of shale gas. Slickwater is then pumped down to widen the cracks, and then proppants – some scientific sand mixture – to keep the cracks widened so the gas can escape back up the pipe and be harvested.
You might think, perhaps, that forcing open cracks in the very foundations of the ground upon which we tread may not be the best idea in terms of the integrity of our land. Well, chum, you’d be right in thinking such a thing. The US Geological Survey itself has admitted that fracking has caused earthquakes in previously geologically staid states, i.e., states where earthquakes haven’t been usual for millions of years. Indeed, between 1973 and 2008 there were about 21 earthquakes per year in the central and eastern US. That pumped up to 99 per year between 2009 and 2013, and in 2014 alone there were 659 earthquakes! At that rate, the women’s sex toy industry is going to be bankrupted, seeing as most of the country is turning into one massive Sybian. The geological devastation wrought by fracking, then, is not up for debate. Fracking causes earthquakes.
Now, that drill with the pipe that goes down to get the gas, has to go past the water table. You may, perhaps, question whether it is safe to have noxious gas or cancerous, chemically infused liquid inches away from the very stuff we rely on to hydrate and cleanse us and power our super soakers. And guess what, chum? Once again you’d be right to do so! Our delicious, life-giving water can get contaminated in more ways than one.
For one, the concrete lining around the pipe can degrade over time, and that means that the carcinogenic chemical fluids used in the process, as well as the shale gas itself, can migrate out and into underground sources of drinking water. You know what that leads to? Flaming tap water. Seriously, Google it. And this is not a rare occurrence: 5% of wells fail in the first year of operation, 25% within 5 years and 50% within 15 years. The volatile substances being dealt with in fracking are not adequately contained; over time they are at an increased risk of spilling out and contaminating great areas of land. Indeed, the US Environmental Protection Agency has stated that the fracking process poses a threat to water, u-turning on a report they made in 2004 concluding the opposite.
Fracking also requires gargantuan amounts of our water: 4.4 billion gallons of it per year in the States to be exact. And such a scale of water withdrawal can adversely affect the water table as well because, like a 23-year-old blonde glamour model to her 75-year-old sugar daddy, it drains the aquifers quicker than they can replenish.
Of course, all that water has to be transported. Since we don’t have an army of airbenders, that’s going to have to be done by trucks shuttling the stuff up and down our emerald isle. Trucks pumping out clouds of smog and clogging up the roads and being noisy down your quiet little country lanes.
You know all those awful oil spills that make sea gulls look like characters out of grease, and the sea like it’s having a goth phase? Well, spillages can occur at pretty much every stage of the fracking process. And whereas oil spills only hurt the fish and we in bonny old England can ‘tut’ and tweet a “that’s not on” before turning back to look at the Kardashians, that is not an option with fracking. If a fracking well decides to take a giant turd, that giant turd is right there on our living room carpet, and we all have to smell the shit.
But never mind the myriad apocalyptic, potentially world-ending, destructive scenarios – the majority of which I haven’t even mentioned – never mind them because economy jobs economy jobs competing-in-the-energy-market economy jobs lower-bills self-sufficiency economy jobs. That is by and large the government blather in retort to the loony tree-huggers when they bring up any of the devastating effects of fracking. It is slightly empty. When faced with a toss up between a form of harvesting energy that can potentially decimate the environment and the ecology, pathetic protestations about the economy and the job market become rather… inconsequential. No? But of course, our government is hell-bent on servicing the economy like a hard-up rent boy, and so such logic falls by the wayside.
Not only is fracking a grave threat to our safety, but the nefarious way in which it has been forcibly immigrated into the British vocabulary, and shoved into the middle of the dinner table, pushing away the discussions and potential of green energy, is one of the greatest affronts of our age to our democracy, to the British people, and to progress itself.
Greg Clarke announced back in 2015 that councils would be made to stick to the arbitrary 16-week timetables put in place by central government for deciding on fracking applications. If he deems that they’re being too slow, then central government will step in to make the decision. Astoundingly, the government’s statement of appeasement in relation to such a policy was that local views will be taken into account, but that the development of shale gas is a “national priority”. This, of course, is bullshit for “we have already made up our minds. Fracking is happening”.
Now, obviously, we live in a very centralised country here in Britain – all roads lead to London. That, although perhaps undesirable, is a fact of our lives. But this usurpation of local autonomy is almost tyrannical in its audacity. It means that fracking in the North York Moors can be given the go-ahead, the trucks ploughed in, the pipes dug and the volatile little gas gobbets harvested – all at the say-so of a pleasant but slightly unnerving man from London with a shark-smile and an over-sized suit who will fuck off back down to Parliament before the earthquakes hit and the water turns into flammable, poisonous slurry.
The North York Moors, by the way – a place of religiously pure English beauty, of rolling greens and whispering grasses, of dozy sheep and a drifting sun sailing over sloping hills, of clouds shadowing vast swathes of lilac heather and lonely walkers with only the air and their steps for company, and the granite outcrops stoic, always, against the winds of time – is highlighted by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (a department which, if the nomenclature is anything to go by, seems to suffer from an astounding conflict of interest) as concealing ample deposits of juicy shale gas.
This splendid national park, therefore, could be one of the first victims of the recently clandestinely voted upon Hydraulic Fracturing (Protected Areas) Regulations 2015, which legitimate fracking under national parks. Of course, the drills themselves can’t be in the national parks, but avoiding an eyesore is perhaps the least of our worries when the companies involved are still allowed to split the rock and pump in the slickwater and suck out the gas underneath the parks – like the Great Escape, they just begin their tunnels on one side of the fence, and end them on the other.
This may sound like a compromise, but believe me it is not. For one, the cracks are still beneath the national parks. But secondly, there is a very real risk that the lush, fertile land surrounding the parks, as well as that that constitutes them, will be rendered barren and dead through the release of pollutants and through spillages. For an idea of the reality of this situation, gaze upon the pictures of US farmers staring despairingly at their fields turned sandy and brown. Destruction wrought by the rape of their property. And it will be private lands the fracking companies will be asking for permission to station their rigs on – your land, with very little legal recourse should things go tits up.
The risk to our great environment is not in question – it has been established across the pond, by our cousins subject to the capriciousness of rampant and unchecked capitalism in a way we are only beginning to know. This is why the way in which fracking under national parks has been brought in is so disgustingly bold. It represents, more blatantly perhaps than anything else committed under this government, the extent to which they prize profit and the success of foreign business over the safety and betterment of their citizens. For if not, why wasn’t the decision as to something that will directly affect the people put to a referendum? No, instead, George’s Treasury and David’s government have acted as shills for corporate interests and sold out the people for a dime. They snuck fracking in under our noses through unaccountable statutory instruments and back room committees.
The stark hypocrisy of our government, when it comes to energy, cannot be ignored. Its facilitation of fracking companies and its eagerness to get drills in the ground comes alongside the slashing of subsidies for onshore wind farms and solar power – a 90% cut in subsidies for individual homes seeking to install solar panels. And this after Cameron was photographed gawping like Tim-Nice-But-Dim next to huskies all those years ago and, more recently, after his strong, pseudo-passionate rhetoric at the Paris summit in 2015.
The sustainable energy market is a fledgling; all it can do is grow. So it seems odd that David, a man whose first word out of the womb was surely “economy”, is so averse to assisting its growth. A growth not only good for the economic stability of the country, but also for the job market and, ultimately, for the planet. So averse are they that Osborne has offered a tax rate of 30% to fracking companies, when the rate for traditional offshore oil rigs ranges from 62% to 81% – this, of course, is a tax break never even to be sniffed by the sustainable energy companies. It seems we are stuck with a government not so interested in advancement as it is to clinging on to the ideals of an older Britain – a Britain where factory chimneystacks wheezed black clouds and children were put to work for nothing as tugboats tooted up and down the Thames and Mary Poppins floated by. The Britain of old: the industrial, mighty, inhumane Empire. What other reason can there be for such a blatant disregard for the reality hurtling towards us at a speed of light years?
Really, though, is it any surprise? For we are governed by fallible, greedy human beings. It is this fallibility that means the interests of the old world are intrinsically financially the interests of our ‘representatives’. There are multiple much-documented conflicts of interest between members of the Conservative party and the fracking industry – too many to list, but they are easily findable. One worthy of mention is that of Andrea Leadsom, the minister for energy and climate change, who previously worked as a fund manager for Invesco Perpetual, a firm with £3,000,000 investments in oil and gas. Perhaps another more indirect influencer, but one more high profile, is Rupert Murdoch, who holds interests in an American company, Genie Energy Ltd., who are heavily involved in shale drilling. Murdoch is of course also the owner of the Sun, a paper that ran a petition to “get fracking started” and which backed the Tories in the 2015 general election.
You can see, then, that alongside its intrinsic dangers as a practice, everything surrounding fracking evidences everything wrong with our political homogeny. A state of politics in which the people are but obstacles and the economy is no longer a means to an end – a way to improve standards of living – but an end in itself; the numbers on the screen being what matters.
The frustrating thing is, though, that the alternative to fracking and to fossil fuel reliance is not some hippy commune dream world that is uneconomical and wouldn’t work. As well as being entirely harmless to the environment and offering us a long, prosperous and sustainable future, it is a wellspring of potential both in profits for the companies and in lower bills for consumers, and it is entirely feasible. For evidence, just look at Denmark, who in 2015 met 43% of their energy needs through wind power. Some days they produced more than they consumed and sold the excess energy to Germany!
As for the renewable energy industry in the UK, Price Waterhouse Coopers have deemed it entirely promising, indeed, veritably insurgent! Certainly, the renewable energy industry can’t compete with the likes of the Big Six power companies at the moment, because duh… It is not an established oligopoly with influence in the government and bottomless pockets. And it will need subsidisation to get off the ground, and it will take time, as do all things. In the 1950s the nuclear energy industry took time to get off the ground and compete with traditional forms of energy – but as investment came in, the technology got cheaper, the market levelled out as it found its way into the mainstream. The same will happen for the renewable energy industry: it will become profitable, sustainable, job-providing and can provide us with all our energy needs forever, until spiders finally grow wings or Trump and Putin decide there isn’t enough room in this world for two despots.
The world is changing. We have a government whose unique selling point is the economy – the economy above all else – and yet it is intent upon putting us in second place to the rest of the world. We are implementing fracking because the yanks did. We are playing catch up when we have it in our power to lead the way to a green future. Were our government to act out of hope instead of fear – and were we to give mandate to a government of hope rather than one that feasted on our fears we could begin investing in the sustainable energy market, bringing our country to the head of the pack. But no, we are consigned to keep up, to try and suck the last dregs of the milkshake out of the ground and the economy as it’s currently constituted.
When it comes down to it, the question to ask, is do you want to be forever known in history as part of the generation of a country that kept its head above oily waters, paddling like dogs, or part of a Britannia that ruled the skies and the waves by harnessing its endless energy?