Gas fracking: the next threat to the planet

Unconventional gas extraction should not be part of our energy future.

Unconventional gas extraction should not be part of our energy future.

A weekend of news dominated by a volatile global financial system and erupting Tottenham riots did not stop two individuals with some banners, a good head for heights and an important point to make from hitting the headlines.

Early on Saturday morning, environmental justice protesters climbed over 150 metres up Blackpool Tower to drop banners reading "Fracking is coming to the UK -- We can stop it".

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a way of extracting otherwise inaccessible shale gas. A toxic mixture of chemicals, including known carcinogens, is combined with sand and millions of gallons of water before being blasted at very high pressure into rock in order to pulverise it and release the gas. Amongst other things, fracking fluid leaches radioactive elements and chemicals such as arsenic out of the rock.

You would be right in assuming, therefore, that fracking fluid disposal requires incredible care. However, numerous spills in the US have already been reported and France has banned the unconventional gas extraction practice, despite reportedly harbouring some of the most potentially productive natural gas fields in the world. As if toxic leaks weren't enough, geologists have found a correlation between earthquakes and fracking.

If the "science bit" left the mind boggling, this rather entertaining video featuring the fracking song My Water's On Fire Tonight might help you get to grips with what the frack is going on:

The banner drop this weekend launched the Frack Off campaign, with Blackpool Tower only a few kilometres away from the first UK fracking test well. Despite their arrest upon descent, both protesters were in no doubt over the necessity of the actions they took to highlight the dangers of hydraulic fracturing.

One of the climbers, Nathan Roberts, said:

There are so many things wrong with this unconventional method of gas extraction that it's hard to know where to start. It has been linked with poisoned water supplies, earthquakes, leaking gas and even radioactive contamination - and that's before you even get to the effect it will have on the climate. It's unbelievable that they think they can get away with it. We can't let this happen.

The government has made it clear that gas is an energy source it wishes to encourage. Last month, the government's latest energy white paper, Electricity Market Reform (EMR), was widely criticised by both environmental campaigners and those concerned about fuel poverty after the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Chris Huhne, made it clear that gas is going to play a key role in the government's ongoing energy strategy: "we are sending a clear signal that we do want new gas", said Huhne on the day the EMR was released.

Earlier this year, it was reported that results of preliminary attempts to extract UK shale gas using fracking methods by US private equity-backed firm Cuadrilla Resources would be kept under wraps over the next four years. The government granted the company that time in order to investigate potential gas sites and protect Cuadrilla's "commercial opportunity".

Kevin Anderson insists a much more in depth assessment of the health and environmental consequences of fracking is necessary before any proposed plans are rolled out. In his report, the professor of energy and climate change at Manchester University's Tyndall Centre makes it clear that beyond any direct impacts, investment in fracking would have serious implications for the UK's energy future more widely:

In an energy hungry world any new fossil fuel resource will only lead to additional carbon emissions. In the case of shale gas, there is also a significant risk its use will delay the introduction of renewable energy alternatives.

Sami Jones, the second Blackpool Tower climber, reiterated how important it is that sustainable energy investment is prioritised in order to ensure reliable and ecologically viable energy in the longer-term:

We hear a lot about energy shortages. We need to be investing in researching sustainable energy sources rather than finding tiny pockets of non-renewable gas and destroying our planet in order to get to them.The UK fracking industry is in its infancy. We must act now if we are to stop it in its tracks. It's bad for Lancashire, it's bad for the UK and it's bad for the planet.