"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

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Saturday, 22 June 2013

Mad to Frack!

Just because we can doesn’t mean we should… Just because we havn’t found any downsides yet doesn’t mean there aren’t any!!
Two things come to mind, that have been in the news recently, to which the above statements could be applied; “fracking” and GM foods. First fracking, or hydraulic fraction. This refers to the method used for the mining of natural gas embedded in the shale rocks far underground, (up to 2 miles in fact), by pumping sand, chemicals and water down through the shale layers at high pressure. Millions of gallons of water are used in the process, and the chemicals lubricate the process, designed to fracture the bedrocks and release the natural gas bubbles trapped within them, which can be harvested. Here, the supporters say, we have a cheap and plentiful gas supply, to keep us in energy for many years to come. But at what cost?
The other night I watched a BBC Horizon program on fracking called “Fracking: The New Energy Rush.” In the States the landowner also owns the gas below his feet. In the program we saw how Pennsylvania has produced a new wave of millionaires from this new craze for fracking, simply by farmers selling the drilling rights and taking ongoing royalties on all gas harvested.” As one farmer said, “If we see something we want we buy it.” And we saw his fleet of cars to prove the point!
Is this new found energy source an energy life line, the savior of America, as some have claimed? Yes it apparently provides energy security for many years to come. But at what cost? And what are the risks? The program left many questions unanswered. What about climate change and the continuing exploitation of carbon fuels? What are the chemicals used? This is apparently a closely guarded secret! Are they potentially dangerous? Is there any danger of domestic water supplies being contaminated? Is there an increased risk of earthquakes from the process? Do we really know enough about the possible bad effects to allow us to go ahead on such a large scale across the States? There are communities who claim they have suffered ill health, sometimes serious, from the fracking around them. Doctors appear to be “gagged” in what they are allowed to disclose to patients about the chemicals used. Then of course there is the blighting of rural communities across the country on a massive scale.
The prolific American author Upton Sinclair once said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!" 
Let’s not forget that tens of thousands of jobs are being created at thousands of drilling sites in Pennsylvania alone, where $30-50 million capital investment is at stake at each site, so the program told us.
Britain and other countries are looking to follow in the footsteps of the USA in rolling out fracking. The Horizon program was of course intended for the UK market and there is a critical review by Neil Midgley of The Telegraph highlighting how unsatisfactory it was in fulfilling that remit. It left so many questions unanswered.
I also just found a great blog by Martin Lack on the politics and psychology underlying our denial of environmental problems (something I also tackle from a different angle in my own first book, Healing this Wounded Earth). His recent blog tells us much more on the whole issue of fracking – with lots of useful links to more discussion. While we “need” shale gas in the UK, he writes, we probably cannot “afford” it, because, he goes on to explain: 1. it is cumulative CO2 emissions that matter; and 2. the Earth contains five times more fossil fuel than it would be safe to burn; and 3. any further delay in decarbonising our energy generation systems will be a false economy.

It is surely time to take stock and heed Sinclair’s words. Do we really know enough to say with certainty that fracking is harmless or indeed sensible? Of course we don’t!! But all those who benefit financially are bound to disagree!
By the way, I’ll come back to GM foods with another post!

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