Fracking: The debate between fact and illusion

Published on Thursday, 09 January 2014 08:15
Written by Graham Stringer

Feelings are running high amongst anti fracking protestors at Barton Moss. Sixteen have been arrested since they set up camp there, seven weeks ago. They are angry that energy company IGas has been given permission to drill a borehole, down to 10,000 feet below ground level, in order to search for shale formations capable of producing shale gas.

I am always cheered up when I see young people campaigning, demonstrating and arguing for what they believe in. This is so much healthier in a democratic society than the lazy and pessimistic view that nobody can change anything.

I admire the protestor's energy and I respect their right to demonstrate peacefully and within the law but I have nothing but contempt for the arguments they use in support of their objective of stopping this country developing its shale gas reserves. They make five assertions that are simply false. That fracking for shale gas causes earth quakes, pollutes aquifers, releases more methane than other forms of gas production, involves hundreds of toxic chemicals and uses unsustainably large quantities of water. Five myths that are easily shattered.

Durham University's definitive study of induced earthquakes concluded that water reservoirs cause bigger tremors and that 'only geo scientists would be able to detect earth tremors resulting form fracking'.

If fracking caused pollution of aquifers then in the United States, where there has been more than two million fracking operations, there should be evidence of ground water contamination. There is not. Two recent studies concluded that ground water contamination from fracking is 'not physically plausible'.

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study reported 'it is incorrect to suggest that shale gas related hydraulic fracking has substantially altered the overall (greenhouse gas) intensity of natural gas production'.

The fracking fluid is 99.5% water and sand, the rest is made up of thirteen chemicals found in most households.In the United States fracking uses less water than is used on golf courses.

Of course underlying the protestor's campaign is its misguided attempt to stop the use of fossil fuels in this country because they believe this will stop global warming. In fact the opposite is true. As we move to more expensive renewable sources of energy our carbon footprint increases because industry moves to where energy is cheapest. This means that we now are forced to import what we once produced. Jobs are lost and extra carbon dioxide produced, both from the less efficient production in the third world and from the transportation of the goods. In fact we face a double whammy; loss of production to the BRIC countries because of lower labour costs and loss of jobs to the United States because of lower energy costs due to shale gas exploitation.

Ineos, the sixth largest chemical company in the world, has already said it cannot sustain its business here in the face of substantial higher energy costs than our competitors.It is perhaps worth remembering that at the start of the industrial revolution energy costs in this country were one twentieth of those in China. We industrialised and became rich, China remained poor and medieval.

This is a debate between fact and illusion. The illusion being that fossil fuels will run out and become very expensive, making offshore wind farms and other renewables economically viable. The fact is we are not running out of oil, gas or coal and while nobody can predict the future price of fossil fuels the trends are downwards.

This country will just destroy its economic base if it doesn't reduce its energy costs. That means exploiting shale gas and using clean coal. This will give us the opportunity to invest in research which may produce price competitive renewables which will really stop the vast quantities of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere.

The demonstrators at Barton Moss dropped a 1.5tonne, 17metre long blade in front of the IGas site. This was meant to represent a clean energy future, based on wind farms, as opposed to a dirty shale gas future. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Wind turbines, in my opinion, are ugly. They are certainly more conspicuous than gas drilling rigs and they cover a greater area. They are inefficient and they only work when the wind blows, producing expensive electricity. They help increase the countries carbon footprint, not reduce it and are responsible for killing millions of bats and birds, many of them from endangered species.

I am sure that whatever support there is for the protestors would evaporate if they had honest slogans 'oppose shale gas for higher fuel bills, the destruction of millions of birds and more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere'. I look forward to seeing these placards.

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