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Keep Calm and Ban Fracking: Shale Gas in the UK

By Geert Decock

A view of the South Downs in from Devil's Dyke in southern England. CC by SA©IngerAlHaosului/commons.wikipedia.org
A view of the South Downs in from Devil’s Dyke in southern England. CC by SA(c) IngerAlHaosului/commons.wikipedia.org.

OK, I admit: I had never before heard about the South Downs National Park in England. However, last week, I learned that the planning committee of the park had voted unanimously to turn down an application by shale gas explorer, Celtique Energie, to start drilling and maybe fracking at Fernhurst, a two hour drive south of London. A couple of hours later, I can call myself a South Downs fan. Yes, I want to go on holiday there. Except maybe for blue sky and warm temperatures, the South Downs has lots to offer. Wikipedia informs me that the South Downs has “a rich heritage of historical features and archaeological remains, including defensive sites, burial mounds and field boundaries”. Within the park, there are 37 “Sites of Special Scientific Interest”, protecting the very little that remains of the old chalk grassland. Needless to say, South Downs is a “popular recreational destination, particularly for walkers, horse riders and mountain bikers”. And by drilling and fracking in such an area of outstanding beauty, UK shale gas explorers hope to win the hearts and minds of locals and public opinion more generally? How out of touch can you be? A recent report of the federal environment agency of Germany (covered in our previous blog post) details what is required to extract shale gas from an area of 260 square kilometers (about 16 by 16 kilometers) over a period of 10 years.

  • 144 well pads (one per every 2 square kilometers!)
  • 864-1440 wells (assuming 6-10 horizontal drills /pad)
  • 12.000-48.000 truck movements per well

Despite these facts, the CEO of Celtique has the temerity to state that his application “has been refused on subjective and unjustified grounds”. What is more likely to be the case, is that the planning committee analysed the existing pressures on their national park from agriculture, traffic and housing development and drew the common sense conclusion that adding fracking to the mix simply was not going to work. Despite all this, the UK government’s energy strategy continues to be “going all out for shale”, stressed Prime Minister Cameron. The efforts of shale enthusiasts like David Cameron (but also other mainstream political parties) will continue to fight a losing battle, as people get better informed about shale gas and fracking. In the latest licencing round, almost 60 percent of the UK territory was offered to shale gas explorers to start drilling for shale gas. It should not come as a surprise that new groups are popping up like mushrooms in areas singled out for shale gas drilling. Some of the most vocal groups are Residents Action on Fylde Fracking in the Blackpool area or the Frack Free Balcombe Residents Association, where exploratory drilling was halted last summer due to protests. They are not only determined to stop this terrible development, but they are well organized. Just take a look at all the resources available on the website of a grassroots campaign like Frack Off. This summer, the No Dash for Gas campaign hosted a “Reclaim the power” anti-fracking action camp. And they have the support from larger groups like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. The combination of a vibrant and growing anti-fracking movement with the non-stop PR disasters committed by shale gas explorers and the UK government will mean that their shale gas strategy will slowly but surely grind to a halt. With more than half of the UK territory now licensed for shale gas and oil exploration, anti-fracking groups in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland will be at the forefront of the campaign to ban fracking. On October 11, the Global Frackdown – an international day of action against fracking – will offer a great opportunity to express our solidarity with those communities in the UK under siege from the shale gas industry and its political supporters. Join us on October 11 for the Global Frackdown: http://www.globalfrackdown.org/.