An open letter part 3

An open letter from members of Coal Aston & Dronfield Against Fracking to residents of S18.

Part 3 of 4 (intended in part as a response to the contents of Natascha Engel’s letter in the Dronfield Eye/on-line)

Fracking in general

Protecting the Environment
Fracking has been touted as a more environmentally friendly solution to coal, however, this doesn’t really apply to the UK, as most coal plants will have closed by the time that fracking becomes established. Regardless, a recent report by Paul Mobbs states that fracking should no longer be considered as a bridging mechanism for transition to a low carbon energy generation. The author reviewed the research that this bridging concept was based on, the Mackay-Stone report, and has shown that it is fundamentally flawed.

Furthermore, to suggest that gas extracted by Ineos will be used to help “keep the lights on” is totally misleading. By their own admission, they plan to use the gas for their plastics manufacturing plant in Grangemouth, many of which are not reusable or recyclable, yet another contribution to environmental pollution.

Water usage
Every single well fracked needs to use huge quantities of water for its operation. Exactly how much is difficult to say and may depend on conditions, but the most conservative estimates are in the range of between 2-8 million gallons per well. Some estimates indicate that this may rise to as much as 16 million gallons. Where will all this water come from? It will be taken from our national reserves in reservoirs, rivers, lakes etc. In other words, the water supply we use daily for drinking, cooking, bathing and so on will be depleted.

Between 10-40% of the water used in fracking returns to the surface as flowback – the rest is thought to remain within the fracked rock, effectively removing it from circulation. The returned water can contain massive amounts of brine (salts), toxic metal compounds, and naturally occurring radioactive materials. Where and how will this be transported, treated and disposed of? All these steps further add to the risks created by this industry.

Ground water contamination
The areas targeted for fracking have aquifers spread throughout. The 2015 Environmental Audit on the risks of fracking state that “It is critical that groundwater is protected from contamination.” The Environment Agency’s Groundwater protection: Principles and practice state that “damage to groundwater may be irreversible, and that the precautionary principle must be followed.” This means that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public, or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus (that the action or policy is not harmful), the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking that action, namely Ineos.

Impact on communities
Public Health England’s 2013 study on the impacts of fracking on communities was effectively a review of the scientific literature available at the time, and completely disregarded socio-economic impacts. However, the number of peer-reviewed publications on the impacts of fracking doubled between 2011 and 2012 and then doubled again between 2012 and 2013. More studies were published in 2014 than in 2009 – 2012 combined, and in the last 2 years have increased again. Yet the PHE report, which must now be considered as outdated and substandard in its scope, is still being quoted as an authoritative document by the government in its case for shale gas development, despite being described by the British Medical Journal as ‘a leap of faith without scientific foundation’. An updated review of all of the available evidence is essential before we go “all out for gas”.

Many medical professionals and concerned scientists are saying that there are poorly understood and potentially serious health risks associated with fracking. Medact stated in 2016 that” that the absence of an independent social, health and economic impact assessment of shale gas production at scale is a glaring omission” They also state that”given the availability of alternative sources of energy, these are grounds for placing an indefinite moratorium on shale gas production (a position adopted by many jurisdictions across the world) until such time that there is greater clarity and certainty about the relative harms and benefits of shale gas.” We would call for an outright ban, but for the same reasons.

“Unlikely incidents”
All through reports on fracking, there is much talk of very “unlikely incidents”, such as tremors, or well casing failures. In the USA, tremors and earthquakes are commonplace – indeed, frequent – in fracking areas, and both of these have happened in the UK in the first attempt for drilling and fracking, which hardly seems to conform to the idea of just how “unlikely” they are. However, the current Government has decided that it will continue its support of the oil and gas industry through large subsidies, whilst continuing to withdraw support for the very necessary renewables industry, where at least 20,000 jobs are thought to have already been lost across the UK because of the cuts.

Part 4 follows.

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