Fracking – scraping the barrel
The title of this blog looks as if it’s about gas, but hang on in and it’s actually about the end of life as we know it.
The public are welcome to Council meetings – and we’re working hard to make that Welcome with a capital W….. And we are happy to encourage speakers with issues of broader concern than pot-holes – important as they are if you ride a bike. SO, it was great to be informed about “fracking” at the External Affairs Committee and asked to express the council’s concern to Mendip about this.
Fracking involves using large quantities of water and various chemicals (many of which are toxic) to fracture gas holding rocks. The gas rises to the surface to be collected. What we heard about was local water pollution; the risk of the gas mixing with tap water (and exploding); and other as yet unknown risks of the technology. (I’ve now read more about fracking and it turns out loads of methane escapes – a greenhouse gas 25 times worse than CO2. One of the big claims for fracking is that burning gas is preferable to coal….. not if you factor in the leaking CO2 it’s not). The Frack Off Website tells you much more.
So why do it? For every unit of energy you use to extract oil and gas, you get around 15 units back. Fracking gives 1.5 – 4 units back for every 1 in (depending on the rock formation)….. That’s one hell of a lot of energy (and money) going in for very little coming out. Now, big oil told us they’d invest significantly from the $900Bn they’ve made in the last decade on renewable – in fact it’s been about 4%…… their money is actually going into tar sands, shale oil, fracking, in every remote corner of the world (even the Mendips). Why? Because the timeframe of developing both renewables and nuclear just isn’t going to fill the energy gap required to reinvigorate economic growth….. so scraping the barrel for the last vestiges of carbon fuels is set to be lucrative.
Let me return to that comment on “economic growth”. Over the last century(ish) humankind has improved the standard of living for many people, (it would if course be for many more if we share out the gains a bit better). We’ve done this based on using the energy of millions and millions of years of sunlight stored in carbon fuels. But if what I set out above is right, there are plenty of reasons to believe the party is nearly over. And climate change is just a warning that we better end the party damn quick anyway, because we’ve messed up the atmosphere in the carbon binge. BUT all that energy is essential to fuel growth – which we are told is essential to drag us out of recession. And without growth, capitalism doesn’t stack up….. Which, of course if what the Occupy Movement is all about . Capitalism, climate change, fraking – they’re all linked.
This leads to two final comments:
One – Fracking is a warning. If we need to stick 100 units of energy, a LOT of water and a LOT of chemicals into the Mendips to get out 110 units of energy….. then it’s like sniffing the lid of the empty honey pot. The age of cheap energy is ending. We don’t want it because it is dangerous and polluting, and we don’t want it because it’s part of stopping us face up to reality.
Two – the Occupy Movement, the Arab Spring, 3 new (unelected) leaders in Europe in the last few months, over one million young unemployed in the UK… Frome is not an island. There is opportunity in crisis. What are those opportunities and can they grasped from the bottom up?