I went on a march on Sunday (along with around 1,000 others at the very least – the BBC apparently had the cheek to say 100-200 then, but said “hundreds” yesterday) to the anti-fracking camp at Barton Moss (in Irlam, Salford, Greater Manchester) where drilling for shale gas (known as “hydraulic fracturing” or “fracking” for short) is taking place by the company iGas.
Fracking was top of the news agenda yesterday on most if not all TV news programmes in the UK – and was also featured heavily on RT (Russia Today, Freeview 85). This was partly due to direct action by protesters that day (including getting on top of a tanker and holding up traffic) and the high policing costs that could make it uneconomic, and partly due to UK prime minister David Cameron doubling the bribe to councils from 50% of the business rates to 100% (giving back with one hand a bit of what he has taken with the other as part of the austerity agenda), clearly scared about the unpopularity of fracking, which should be massive in urban areas as long as campaigners put across effective arguments. The benefits to residents however are tiny – £100,000 may be a lot per person if there are just a few farmers nearby, but it is ridiculous to expect city-dwellers to accept a minuscule share of that money, plus the 1% of revenues if shale gas is found (compared with 10% in some countries overseas), even if there is just a small chance their tapwater will be undrinkable like in Dimock in the USA as covered up until revealed in a Huffington Post article, or even get skin lesions from showering in water contaminated by fracking: “The first person in Dimock to discover that there were problems with the water was Norma Fiorentino, whose water well exploded. And it took a little while and, for a certain period of time, some of the residents were still showering in the water and drinking the water and were experiencing a lot of the health impacts and dizziness and skin lesions. And, of course, the long-term effects aren’t known. But, over time, they started to realize that the water is not safe to use.” Some other problems are listed in an article I co-wrote for an issue of Revolutionary Platform News: Number 6: “mini-earthquakes, subsidence and noise for those who live nearby (hence reduced house prices), heavy use of water, radioactive contamination, carcinogenic chemicals”. If councils accept the bribe, expect a lot of the councillors to lose their seats in the local elections in May!
It is the point mentioned above about putting across effective arguments that I am particularly concerned about – arguing for tidal power (sometimes called “tidal energy”) and putting serious amounts of research and development (R&D) into that technology (at last taking place from 2012 in Scotland but with an investment of a mere £30 million according to this article, the same amount as the French company Total is investing into just one Lincolnshire drilling project according to the Independent due to fracking being banned in France and the lucrative profits – part of the solution to solving environmental problems is revolutionary change involving overthrowing the leaders of such companies without compensating rich shareholders and running them democratically by ordinary people). I fully agree with arguments about moving away from fossil fuels (including shale gas obtained from fracking) and opposing nuclear fission, and instead investing in renewable forms of energy. Unfortunately, however, the renewables suggested by speakers at the protest on Sunday limited suggestions to using wind turbines (which don’t work when there’s no wind or even too much wind and they produce little power compared with their cost) and solar panels (which aren’t particularly efficient either in the UK).
Furthermore, there is a shortage of rare earth metals used for both technologies (wind turbines and solar panels) as revealed in a November 2013 Yale University report by Nicola James entitled A Scarcity of Rare Metals Is Hindering Green Technologies: