Here is why England says “frack no!”
What the frack is fracking?
Modern day hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, was introduced in the USA in the 1940s. It involves injecting massive volumes of chemicals, water, and sand below ground at high pressure: it fractures the shale rock beneath, releasing trapped natural gas and oils which escape to the surface through the cracks created in the process.
The unseen impacts of fracking
The unintended consequences of hydraulic fracturing have been devastating for farmers, residents, and the environment in proximity to fracking operations.
Here are some examples of fracking aftermath:
Countless millions of gallons of freshwater are required for fracking operations annually. This water becomes contaminated with chemicals used in the process and is brought in by the breakup up the shale beneath, many of which are carcinogenic and radioactive. Often drilling operations are using and destroying dangerous quantities of water in sensitive arid regions, which may have long-term consequences for ecosystems as well as for farmers.
Ecological and health dangers
The chemicals used in fracking are supposed to be sealed beneath the surface, but they often leak from the pipes or fracture zones, contaminating water tables in the area which people and ecosystems rely on.
The health impact of fracking has been huge, especially since 17.6 million Americans live within a mile of an oil or gas operation. Fracking operations generate air pollution, which results in respiratory problems, blood disorders, birth defects, nervous system disorders, and cancer.
In recent years fracking has gained more media attention, but even so the problem is accelerating. Between 2011–2016, toxic wastewater from fracking jumped 14-fold, and is expected to jump to 50 times by 2030 if the trend continues.
So next time you hear someone talking about natural gas being a cleaner alternative, be aware the extraction process by far negates any “cleaner-burning” qualities in the gas itself.
Why is fracking still happening?
In many countries, gas and oil companies spend billions to lobby government agencies to create policies that benefit their industry. In the US, for example, the EPA gave gas and oil companies large loopholes for the environmental pollution they generated.
Meanwhile in England: the straw that fracked the camel’s back
Since the early 1980’s, over 200 onshore mining operations in England have used fracking. By 2011, a different type of impact had been uncovered: fracking causes earthquakes.
The liquid injections serve to lubricate the fault zones, which can trigger an avalanche of pressure releases that can sometimes cascade far from the point of injection. As is the case in the U.S., many operations are placed near active fault zones, or awaken dormant fault zones.
For the past decade, English activists have been fighting against the oil and gas industry to put a stop to the dangerous practice without gaining much ground.
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, once even referred to fracking as “glorious…for humanity,” is urging citizens to “leave no stone unturned, or unfracked.”
But fortunately for environmentalists and health activists who fought for over a decade to end fracking in the UK, a report published last week revealed fracking to be economically unattractive.
Study confirms: unknown magnitude
Then, a few days ago, a new scientific study by the Oil and Gas Authority warned it is not possible to predict the magnitude of earthquakes that could be caused by fracking. Furthermore, the study warned unacceptable consequences for people near the fracking sites could not be ruled out.
This summer, a fracking operation in Lancaster had to be paused due to 2.9 tremors, but the latest OGA study resulted in a moratorium on shale gas exploration and fracturing that will last “until compelling new evidence is provided,” proving it can be done safely.
Business and Energy Secretary Andrea Leadsome commented:
“After reviewing the OGA’s report into recent seismic activity at Preston New Road, it is clear that we cannot rule out future unacceptable impacts on the local community. For this reason, I have concluded that we should put a moratorium on fracking in England with immediate effect.”
Victory for the people
Rebecca Long-Bailey MP said the decision was a victory for local people who are owed an apology for the policy: “When the Tory government overruled local democratic decisions to halt fracking, communities did not give up. When fracking protesters went to jail, communities did not give up. And now they have forced the government to U-turn….The Tories owe the public an apology and an explanation of how much public money they wasted while ignoring the science.”
In the USA where fracturing seems to be more profitable for the moment, resistance is gaining less traction. Earthquakes are constantly being triggered from Oklahoma to California, damaging property and possibly triggering fires across the state. Oil spills like the ongoing 380,000 gallons spill in the new Keystone pipeline are damaging sensitive ecosystems, contaminating water, and threatening historical indigenous sites.
People who protested were treated like criminals for protecting the land, even though they are standing up for the basic human right to clean water. It’s time we all come together and say no to the continued shale gas and oil exploration. We have solutions for the ecological crisis, and it’s time to implement them. If the real criminals who are sacrificing our future will not step aside, it will be for all of us to stand in unison against them for the good of all of us.
How can we reduce dependency on oil and gas?
President George W. Bush spoke about reducing our dependency on oil over a decade ago, but it seems like we’re still having the same conversation now and exploring our options.
The main options seem obvious:
- Nuclear power
- Wind power
- Solar power
The aim should be for more countries to become energy independent while creating a low-carbon economy.
Heat, for example, could come from renewable sources, while offshore wind farms — like this wind island planned by Denmark — can power millions of homes. The introduction of more smart meters around the country will also be welcome.
The action has to start at the top. If there are things preventing private companies from ploughing investments into nuclear plants, they need to be removed. Costs need to come down. While there are alternative forms of energy in use today, they are costly and also less efficient than oil and gas. And while tax-funded government grants and subsidies will help, nuclear power (which is the cheapest alternative) needs our governments to remove restrictions so that it can become more abundant.
With more public momentum, we can make the transition from a society that relies on fossil fuels to one that allows these alternatives to flourish.
What do you think about fracking? Let us know in the comments!
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