Wednesday, 24 October 2012

A shorter letter to the Somerset Standard

It would appear that I'm a rather long winded waffler! If you read my blog regularly then I'm sure you already knew this, but the Somerset Standard asked me to shorten my piece so that it could fit into their paper, so here it is in it's abridged form:

Dear Editor,

I am writing to express my concern at the actions of Frome Council in declaring a "frack-free" zone, which appears to be based on biased propaganda rather than any consideration of the facts that relate to the debate surrounding shale gas extraction and hydraulic fracturing.

Shale gas extraction should not be described as a form of "extreme energy", using "a lot of energy in order to get just a bit more energy back". In fact, fracking a well takes only a few hours. A recent life-cycle emissions analysis by the European Commission has indicated locally-produced shale gas has no worse a climate change impact than LNG imported the Middle East (with the additional emissions associated with transport), not to mention the economic and geo-political impacts of producing our own gas, rather than buying from foreign regimes with dubious human-rights records.

The biggest objection raised against fracking is the issue of groundwater contamination, usually spurred by the dramatic images of flaming taps available on Youtube, where water loaded with methane can be set on fire. However, these videos usually fail to mention that methane contamination is in fact a common and natural occurrence in many parts of the US, and was so long before shale gas extraction came into the picture.

In fact, the US Environmental Protection Agency has documented only two proven incidences where shale gas extraction has caused water contamination: at Dimock, Pennsylvania, and Pavillion, Wyoming. At Dimock, the faulty well was identified, remedied, and contamination levels have now returned below acceptable minima. At Pavillion, the cause of the contamination is still uncertain, as different US agencies have attributed different causes, so investigations are still ongoing. The US Groundwater Protection Council has examined water contamination incidence rates due to onshore oil and gas wells, finding an incident rate less than 0.01%.

The council's view is, apparently, that "the American experience points towards relatively small gains in energy at huge long and short term environmental cost". In fact, the experience in the USA has provided significant gains on both the local and national level.

On the local scale, once moribund rural areas are booming: the influx of workers has seen hotels fully booked for months in advance, restaurants and bars full every evening, and every other service industry experiencing a similar boost. On a national scale, gas prices have tumbled by as much of 75%, providing benefits not just for the average domestic heating bill, but also for the many industries that use natural gas as a feedstock. Meanwhile cheap gas prices have lead power companies to switch from coal fired to gas fired power stations, resulting in a reduction in CO2 emissions to their lowest levels in 20 years.

It is commonly implied that oil and gas companies are devious, unreliable, and bad neighbours to have. However, in this case, companies proposing hydraulic fracturing have been remarkably open: all of the pertinent data from tests conducted by Cuadrilla in Blackpool are available on the Department for Energy and Climate Change website, as is the fracking fluid composition (of which, 99% is H2O). In contrast, the opposition to shale gas has based its arguments on falsehoods, manipulated data and scary Youtube videos. There is a need for a rational, evidence-driven debate about shale gas extraction in the South-West. However, by polarising the debate in this manner, environmentalists are preventing this from happening.
Yours Sincerely, etc etc etc

I think maybe it looses something in going from 1000 to 500 words, but never mind....

1 comment: