"Fracking": The fact is, you are not important
Yes Mr. Smith! It's a corporate funded political stitch-up!
Published in 'The Ecologist', 24th June 2014, under the title, "Fracking – you are not important"
You are not important!
I'm sorry if that's an unwelcome reality, but if we look at some recent developments in the battle over fracking in Britain (and/or the USA, Canada, Poland, South Africa, Australia, etc.) we can conclude little else.
In mid-June I took part in a UK-wide series of events entitled, "We Need to Talk About Fracking". Given shape by Vivienne Westwood and Joe Corre, and supported by a variety of well-known people from Paul McCartney to Russell Brand, the idea was simple: organise a series of public debates between the "pro" and "anti" side of the argument, and let the listening public make up their own minds. The final and biggest event, at the Central Methodist Hall in Westminster, was even to be chaired by Channel 4 News' Jon Snow.
Difficulty was, the "pro" side of the argument chose not to show up!
Organisations promoting unconventional fossil fuels, the companies drilling the holes, and the politicians who support them were all invited. And while they made noises about participating to the event organisers, in the end they chose not to turn up for a debate.
Consequently the tour of Glasgow, Nottingham, Manchester, Swansea and London was no longer the anticipated "debate". Instead it had to be a panel discussion which, for the most part, was against the industry. If fracking's supporters did not want to put their side of the argument in public, that's not our fault – we carried on without them.
Of course, the big unstated issue here is – "why should they turn up?"
Let's examine this from their point of view.
If you are able to fund lots of positive media coverage; if you have the Government and leading political figures helping your case; if your friends in the finance industry can engineer a fracking boom; if one of the industry bosses, Lord Browne, happens to work as a non-executive Government minister – then you don't need to turn up for public debates. You can say what you like because, in the controlled conditions under which they will appear, no one would ever challenge what they say.
In short – the public's concerns don't matter; and that means that your concerns do not matter!
Irrespective of any evidence which might exist to the contrary about the safety of fracking, they will never have to defend themselves because their economic and political clout mean they don't have to. Therefore the fracking agenda in Britain is forging ahead because – in the corridors of power – no one "officially" sees, hears or speaks anything to the contrary.
As an example, look at what happened in Parliament the other day. Energy and Business Minister Michael Fallon – one of those invited to the 'talk fracking' debates – stood up to answer a question in the House of Commons and stated –
There are no examples from the United States of hydraulic fracturing contaminating groundwater because, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, the fracturing takes place very much deeper than any groundwater levels.
Michael Fallon has misled Parliament; he should lose his job. But there is nothing the public can do about that unless a group of MPs are willing to press the issue. And right now, all the parties in Parliament except the Greens are either supportive or non-committal on the fracking issue.
In fact there is now a lot of independent, peer-reviewed scientific information which flatly contradicts Government and industry assertions that "fracking is safe". Whether its on the issue of fracking and public health, or fracking and climate change, recent developments are making the opposite case:
- In Australia, the New South Wales Government recently suspended all oil and gas licences pending a review of their environmental and health impacts.
- In Canada, the Council of Canadian Academies recently stated that the process is fraught with many scientific and technical uncertainties, and should not be rolled-out until the impacts can be properly studied.
- Also in Canada, initial studies by the Chief Medical Officers of New Brunswick and Northern Health Board of British Columbia have highlighted the unknown or uncertain impacts of these processes.
- Australia has seen some recent high-profile groundwater contamination incidents as a result of "coal seam gas" operations (what we over here call coalbed methane).
- Also in Australia, last year the Australian Medical Association passed a motion objecting to the further expansion of unconventional gas operation without detailed environmental and health impacts being undertaken to demonstrate the safety of the process.
- Even the British Medical Journal recently carried an article critical of the Government's policy agenda around unconventional fossil fuels.
- Finally, just a few days ago, employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Health blew the whistle on the official cover-up of the health impacts of drilling in the Marcellus shale.
Despite this, the Government's hollow arguments are not going to be challenged in Parliament. In fact one of the few public bodies which might, by now, have carried out an independent scientific review of the evidence – the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution – was abolished within the first year of the coalition Government coming to power.
The trouble is that the "fourth estate" – the mainstream media – are also doing a damn poor job of evaluating and critically presenting the Government's arguments. This is something which the public raised during the 'talk fracking' events around Britain.
Many politicians have made statements on this issue which can be shown to be inaccurate or flatly wrong. At the same time we've seen the Government issue "dodgy dossier"-style reports, making claims which cannot be proven, which justify their policies by getting experts to make questionable claims about the technology. It's an open goal – why aren't the media on the ball?
We can talk about about our declining democracy. We can talk about corporate power or the manipulation of the media. But in the final analysis what this means is that, in their eyes, you are not important to the prosecution of their greater political project. And if they can do this for something as awful as fracking, what else is on their agenda?
Now, what are you going to do about that?
- We Need to Talk About Fracking – http://www.talkfracking.org/
- Join the Debate: We Need to Talk About Fracking, YouTube, June 2014 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DOHjXcLqD98
- "Foot on the gas": Lobbyists push for unregulated shale gas in Europe, Laura Weis, Corporate Europe Observatory, November 2012 – http://www.fraw.org.uk/files/extreme/ceo_2012.pdf
- Emails reveal UK helped shale gas industry manage fracking opposition, Damian Carrington, The Guardian, Friday 17th January 2014 – http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jan/17/emails-uk-shale-gas-fracking-opposition
- Shale And Wall Street: Was The Decline In Natural Gas Prices Orchestrated?, Deborah Rogers, Energy Policy Forum, February 2013 – http://www.fraw.org.uk/files/extreme/rogers_2013.pdf
- Owen Paterson held urgent meeting for fracking boss, documents show, Damian Carrington, Guardian On-line, Friday 21st March 2014 – http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/mar/21/owen-paterson-urgent-meeting-fracking-cuadrilla-lord-browne
- 'Shale Gas', Oral Answers to Questions – Energy and Climate Change, Column 1250, House of Commons Hansard, Thursday 19th June 2014 – http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm140619/debtext/140619-0001.htm#14061939000016
- The Free Range On-line Library: 'Extreme/Unconventional Energy and Resources' – http://www.fraw.org.uk/library/extreme.html
- A critical review of Public Health England's report – "Review of the Potential Public Health Impacts of Exposures to Chemical and Radioactive Pollutants as a Result of Shale Gas Extraction – draft for comment", Paul Mobbs/Mobbs' Environmental Investigations, April 2014 – http://www.fraw.org.uk/mei/archive/phe_shale_gas_and_health_report-critical_analysis.pdf
- Extreme Energy and Climate: A critical review of the UK Government's policy on unconventional fossil fuels and climate change, Paul Mobbs/Mobbs' Environmental Investigations, May 2014 – http://www.fraw.org.uk/mei/archive/extreme_energy_and_climate-critical_review.pdf
- NSW Government Freezes Petroleum Exploration Licence Applications, New South Wales State Government, 26th March 2014 – http://www.csg.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/41834/rel_roberts_20140326_petroleum_exploration_licence_applications.pdf
- Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Extraction in Canada, Council of Canadian Academies, May 2014 – http://www.scienceadvice.ca/en/assessments/completed/shale-gas.aspx
- Chief Medical Officer of Health's Recommendations Concerning Shale Gas Development in New Brunswick, Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, New Brunswick Department of Health, September 2012 – http://www.fraw.org.uk/files/extreme/new_brunswick_2012.pdf
- Population Health and Oil and Gas Activities – A Preliminary Assessment of the Situation in North Eastern BC, Medical Health Officer, Board of Northern Health (British Columbia), October 2007 – http://www.fraw.org.uk/files/toxics/northern_health_2007.pdf
- Santos coal seam gas project contaminates aquifer, Sean Nicholls, Sydney Morning Herald, 8th March 2014 – http://www.smh.com.au/environment/santos-coal-seam-gas-project-contaminates-aquifer-20140307-34csb.html
- AMA calls for coal seam gas health checks, Australian Medical Association, 23rd May 2013 – https://ama.com.au/media/ama-calls-coal-seam-gas-health-checks
- Public Health England's draft report on shale gas extraction: Mistaking best practices for actual practices, Adam Law et. al., British Medical Journal, vol.348, 17th April 2014 – http://www.fraw.org.uk/files/extreme/bmj_2014.pdf
- Former Pennsylvania Health Employees Say Bosses Enforced Silence on Shale Drilling, Brandon Baker, EcoWatch, 19th June 2014 – http://ecowatch.com/2014/06/19/pennsylvania-health-employees-silence-shale-drilling/
- Wikipedia: 'Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution' – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Commission_on_Environmental_Pollution
- Fracking 'as bad for climate as coal' – UK's dodgy dossier exposed, Paul Mobbs, The Ecologist, 30th May 2014 – http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2417288/fracking_as_bad_for_climate_as_coal_uks_dodgy_dossier_exposed.html
- Shale gas and public health – the whitewash exposed, Paul Mobbs, The Ecologist, 6th May 2014 – http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2385900/shale_gas_and_public_health_the_whitewash_exposed.html