Why fracking is not the solution

There are clear conflicts of interest over the sources of the government’s advice on fracking. In 2012, Cameron was committed to renewable energy - what changed?

David Cameron wrote a disturbing article in the Telegraph on the 11 August in which he unreservedly endorsed hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’, as a solution to the energy needs of Great Britain.

Fracking is a technique to extract shale gas from the earth by forcing water, laden with a cocktail of hazardous chemicals, into the rock under high pressure. This releases shale gas, as well as toxic gases such as methane, salts and metals. Fracking causes earthquakes, contamination of aquifers, leakage of toxic chemicals into the ground, air pollution, increased road traffic and significantly contributes to climate change. Each well drilled requires millions of litres of water, which will place an immense strain on already scarce resources.

If the Prime Minister had, as he claimed in April last year, given Britain ‘the greenest government ever,’ he would have written an entirely different article. The satirical version of his piece, by the UK Youth Climate Coalition (UKYCC), which substitutes renewable energy data for Mr Cameron’s fracking statistics, shows us what he should have said.The UK should be committing to a conversion to renewable energy. Instead of shale gas, the UKYCC dryly suggests, the Prime Minister should be endorsing solar panels, wind turbines, tidal power and hydro - sources which do not threaten our communities, our safety, our air, water and environment as fracking does.

The Prime Minister has some important questions to answer. Why has he changed his policy, which in 2012 was still directed towards a coming-of-age for renewable energy in the UK? Who counselled Mr Cameron to abandon renewable energy for fracking?

There are obvious conflicts of interest in the sources of the government's advice.

The Conservative strategist Lynton Crosby’s links to the fracking industry have been well documented. But there are more sticky fingers than just Crosby’s in this pie. Lord Browne, former chief executive of BP and chairman of fracking company Cuadrilla - the very same company which is currently operating in Balcombe, West Sussex - is also a UK government adviser.

The endorsement of fracking in the UK has the fingerprints of corporate interest all over it - especially Lord Browne’s. The Royal Academy of Engineering’s final report on shale gas extraction which states that fracking ‘can be safely undertaken’ with low risk of seismic activity is often cited by the pro-fracking contingent.

It seems more than coincidental that the scientific society telling the government that fracking is safe - the Royal Academy of Engineering – had as its president, until 2011, the same Lord Browne, Chairman of Cuadrilla, which stands to make huge financial gains if fracking is widely adopted as government policy.

I notice that the government has hired the PR giant Bell Pottinger in an attempt to greenwashfracking, to persuade the British public to comeon board. Mr Cameron’s endorsement is starting to look like a corporate takeover. Collusion of this kind between government and corporations compromises the statein the performance of its duty: to protect its citizens and the environment.

Prime Minister – have you forgotten BP’s miserable safety record under Lord Browne’s leadership between 1995 and 2006? In his book "Run to Failure: BP and the Making of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster," investigative reporter Abrahm Lustgarten states: Browne drove a spree of acquisitions while pushing BP into riskier drilling and ruthlessly cutting costs.

Prime Minister - it would only take one mistake by Cuadrilla and others to cause a fracking disaster.

How can Mr Cameron write that fracking is safe. International evidence shows there is no reason why the process should cause contamination of water supplies or other environmental damage’in the face of the mounting evidence to contrary? The UK Environment Agency impact assessment released on the 13 August is clear that fracking involves ‘Serious hazards, including the potential for air pollution and for contamination of surface and groundwater,’ with a “high risk” of pollution caused by the chemicals pumped into the ground, of contamination and loss of resources, injury, ill health or death, loss of or damage to a habitat.”

Tom Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, concluded in a recent study that fracking and reliance on shale gas will exacerbate climate change for many decades. Whereas the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) suggests investment in wind and solarcould reduce emissions of CO2 from the US power sector by up to 80 percent by 2050.

Prime Minister, I urge you to examine the ‘international evidence’ more closely.

Dr Anthony Ingraffea is a professor of engineering at Cornell University as well as the president of Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy. He has worked as a researcher onshale fracturing techniques as well as for Nasa. He is co-author of the Cornell University 2011 study that established the greenhouse gas footprint of fracking as being greater than that of any other fossil fuel including coal, and is one of the leading voices raisedagainst the use of intensive fracking in the US.

‘I was aghast,’ he said of the US’s adoption of fracking.‘It was as if [I'd] been working on something [my] whole life and somebody comes and turns it into Frankenstein.’

Has the Prime Minister seen the footage of methane-laden water catching fire as it pours from a kitchen tap?

The Prime Minister is not the first world leader to try and soft-pedal the dangers of fracking. Areportby the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was suppressed by the Obama administration during 2012 then leaked by whistleblowersto the Los Angeles Times on July 27 2013. It clearly states,"Methane is at significantly higher concentrations in the aquifers after gas drilling… and… apparently cause significant damage to the water quality”. Nor is the US the only country to experience serious repercussions from its commitment tofracking.Around 40 ‘seismic events’ were recorded in British Columbia, Canada, between 2009 and 2012 - the earthquakes were caused by fracking, according to the 2012 report by the British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission. And a study published in Science journal in July found thateven earthquakes thousands of kilometres away can triggerquakes near wells.

Most of the ‘international evidence’ resembles cautionary tales. France, which has some of the largest reserves of shale gas in Europe, has banned the practice, and there is currently a moratorium in New York State. But Mr Cameron need look no further than Lancashire for proof of fracking-related earthquakes. Cuadrilla admitted in 2011 that their gas exploration had caused problems near Blackpool.

In his article, the Prime Minister promises communities money- £100,000 up front for those near drill sites, and  ‘one per cent of the revenue – perhaps as much as £10 million’ which he claims ‘will go straight back to residents.’

I am outraged when governments and corporations offer vapour money to communities in return for exploitation of their natural resources. The Prime Minister’s words sound ominously like those guarantees beingmade by multinational corporations in the developing world. Usually all that results is irreversible environmental destruction. Communities rarely benefit.

Prime Minister - we can’t put a price on the environment. The air, the water, the land – these are precious resources which we must conserve, if we are to leave a habitable world to future generations.

The Prime Minister also claims that ‘fracking has real potential to drive energy bills down… ’

There is just too little evidence to back this statement up.The Prime Minister’s claim of ‘1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas lying underneath Britain,’is unproven. The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology finds it unreliable. Their report states - Estimates of UK shale gas potential are at an early stage of development… leading to uncertainty in resource estimates. There are no official reserve estimates, which are needed to forecast the commercial scale of shale gas extraction. In addition the nine-month long cross-party inquiry chaired by former energy minister Charles Hendry, the Carbon Connect report, finds that a UK shale price boom will have little to no bearing on energy prices in the UK and throws doubt on the capacity to extract the gas.John Vidal called 1,300 trillion cubic feet estimate ‘meaningless,’ in the Guardian, ‘until it is known how much is accessible, what the environmental cost could be to extract it and how long the supplies may last.’

UK energy prices depend on the global market and global suppliers. Predicting them is a lottery. It’s true that in the US gas prices are at an all-time low – but there’s no reason to believe the UK will follow suit - and the US bubble is already bursting. ‘The economic momentum of the shale-gas industry can be sustained for the long term only by decreasing production (ultimately causing prices to adjust—a process that may be under way…) or by increasing sales of its product,’writes Michael McElroy for Harvard Magazine.

Chancellor George Osborne’s reduced 30 per cent tax rate for shale gas producers (less than half the amount paid by the conventional oil and gas industry) will help companies like Cuadrilla make money. It will certainly not carry any benefit for consumers or fracking affected communities.

Fracking will however have extensive economic repercussions for communities other than energy prices – property prices near the drill sites will probably fall. Buildings and businesses will be harder to insure. The £100, 000 promised to communities situated near exploratory wells won’t cover these deficits – nor will the purely speculative ‘£10 million’.

The Prime Minister makes assurances in his article that: ‘Local people will not be cut out and ignored… Dialogue is important…’

Mr Cameron –are you not aware that the drilling in Balcombe is taking place against the will of the residents? When I spoke to villagers during my recent visits it was clear that most of them oppose it.

Kathy Dunne, of resident's campaign group No Fracking in Balcombe Society (No FIBS), conducted a survey in the village: 85% of those who answered were against fracking. We spoke to every household in the village," said Dunne, "and the overwhelming majority of people who live in Balcombe don't want fracking."

Yet Cuadrilla began drilling in Balcombe anyway. There was little sign of the ‘dialogue’ promised by the Prime Minister.

For the past eight weeks protesters havegathered at theBalcombe site, during which over 100 protesters have been arrested, including MP Caroline Lucas. The Balcombe protesters were ordered to leave the site by 9am on Tuesday 10 September – but many stayed. Today a High Court judge ruled that they have the right to remain, and that West Sussex County Council must pay court costs. This is good news, but the battle is far from over.

Balcombeis a litmus test of the British public’s attitude. Most want the countryside frack-free.

The risks of the Prime Minister’s frackingpolicy are high, the rewards uncertain at very best.In the words of Dr Anthony Ingraffea: My position is this. Where shale gas development has not yet occurred, ban it. Period.I am deeply concerned about the impact fracking will have on our environment, our water sources, air and way of life. In this mad ‘dash for gas’, in this quest for profit and so-called ‘cheap’ energy, is the UK government losing sight of the real objectives? We urgently need to reduce carbon emissions and decrease our dependence on fossil fuels. Fracking will not achieve this. Only a sustained and serious commitment to renewable energy will turn us aside from climate disaster. As Einstein wrote in 1949, ‘We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.’ Prime Minister, time is running out.

George Monbiot’s response in the Guardian says it all. Extraction is an ideology, gendered and gendering, pursued independently of economic purpose. As Cameron says, without shale gas "we could lose ground in the tough global race". It doesn't matter whether the race is worth running. It doesn't matter that it's a race towards mutually assured destruction, through manmade climate change. The point is that it's tough and a race. And that's all a politician needs to feel like a man.

Prime Minister, you made a promise to the electorate. You swore to give the UK a green government, promised to “inspire and encourage positive action through a radical but realistic vision of green growth,” to lead a new political consensus to stop “short term political calculation” getting in the way of environmental protection. You have let us down miserably.

Prime Minister, it is not yet too late to rethink this position. I appeal to you to weigh the dangers of this enterprise, and ban fracking in the UK. If you persist in embracing this hazardous technology it will be a betrayal of present and future generations and of the environment.

 

Bianca Jagger is the chair of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation. She tweets @BiancaJagger
Protests against fracking continue in Surrey. Image: Getty

This article first appeared in the 16 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Syria: The deadly stalemate

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Roy Hattersley: Labour is far closer to extinction now than in the 1980s

 If the takeover of the party by the far-left succeeds there will be no opportunity to rescue it from the wilder shores of socialism, says the former deputy leader.

The comparison with the Eighties is irresistible but misconceived. Labour is far closer to extinction as a major party than it was 35 years ago. That is not because Jeremy Corbyn is incapable of leading the party to victory — although he is. Nor is it because his supporters threaten the political assassination of anyone who says so — although they do. It is because, for the first time in its history, Labour is in real danger of a permanent domination by the unrepresentative and unelectable left.

All the other regular crises in the party’s history — German rearmament, nuclear disarmament, the defection of the Gang of Four to found the SPD — were resolved by mistakes being rectified, resolutions reversed and Labour resuming its place in the mainstream of British politics. Nor was there any genuine risk that the infiltrators from the far left would play a decisive part in national policy making. The Militant Tendency controlled municipal politics in Liverpool and attempted, with mixed success, to unseat vulnerable mainstream MP’s. But there was no possibility of them subverting the whole party. Now the far left operating through Momentum  aspires to make a decisive, and irreversible shift in Labour’s core ideology by initiating a purge of mainstream Labour MPs and a cull of headquarters office staff, reducing the part that the parliamentary party plays in choosing the leader and making the election manifesto the preserve of the annual conference. If the putsch — described by its instigators as an extension of party democracy — succeeds, there will be no opportunity for a latter day Neil Kinnock to rescue Labour from the wilder shores of socialism and the odds on its survival lengthen.

The crisis could have been averted. The parliamentary party  with the exception of a handful of residual Blairites  is ready for some sort of compromise. That is why, three weeks ago, it gave its overwhelming support to the proposal that the shadow cabinet should be elected by Labour MPs rather than chosen by the leader. The change was intended to allow an honourable return to the front bench for the shadow ministers who resigned in the spring. As a move towards unity, it is no more than papering over the cracks but better that than gaping fractures. Although Corbyn had neither the sense nor the grace immediately to accept the gesture of conciliation, the choice between an uneasy peace and continued guerrilla warfare still lies with him. If — as his victory speech suggests — he regards last Saturday’s victory as a mandate to impose his sectarian will on the party, the battle is likely end with mutual self-destruction.

Even if Jeremy Corbin succeeds in his attempts to create a permanent far-left hegemony, the Labour Party is unlikely to split as it did 30 years ago . The fate of the SDP — absorption into a Liberal Party which kept the Tory-led coalition in office or defiant independence that ended in the ignominy of polling fewer by-election votes than the Monster Raving Loony Party — has dampened enthusiasm for a breakaway movement. Nor are there charismatic potential leaders who stand ready to lead their followers into battle in the way that Roy Jenkins and David Owen (the Fidel Castro and Che Guevara of social democracy) marched a dozen Labour MPs into the valley of political death. But a futile attempt to form a new party would at least imply the hope of some sort ofresurrection. The more likely outcome would be the product of pure despair — the parliamentary Labour party would not divide and instead would begin slowly to disintegrate.

If the worst happens some Labour MPs will suddenly discover previously undetected virtues in Corbyn and Corbynism and line up behind him. Others will grow weary of being abused by local extremists and fade away. Contrary to public opinion, most MPs could earn more from less demanding jobs outside parliament. The politically dedicated, determined to be candidates in the next election, will accept the challenge of reselection. More will succeed than fail, but the harm to the party’s reputation will be immense.

One feature of the 1980 desertion will certainly be replicated. When the Gang of Four defected, the damage done by the loss of glamorous leadership was more than matched by the loss of hard working membership. If Labour MPs begin to believe that the battle for reason and recovery is no longer worth fighting the disenchantment will become infectious. Jeremy Corbyn’s devotees would still turn out for the rallies. But the enthusiasm with which they would tramp the streets on rainy nights, or spend boring weekends telephoning target voters, is in doubt. Reliance on the notion that the election can be won online is the refuge of politicians who either have not identified or do not understand the floating voters.

The haemorrhage has already begun — increased by the behaviour of recently recruited Corbynites who do not seem to have heard that their hero has an olive tree outside his office door. All over the country they are bullying and filibustering their way into the control of local parties — excoriating mainstream members, manipulating the rules of debate and postponing votes until late in the evening. Of course, the men and women who oppose them could play the same game. But they are, by their nature, reasonable people and they want to lead reasonable lives. That is why they represent the sort of Labour Party with which voters can identify. 

Unfortunately, many of the Labour MPs who should have led the campaign to recreate an electable party have spent the last year either sulking or complaining. They have been anti Corbyn but pro very little. Owen Smith’s leadership campaign ended in disaster not because of the size of the incumbent’s votes but because of the challenger’s failure to set out an alternative vision of the society that socialists hope to create. Angela Eagle would have won fewer votes, but she would come closer to reassuring party members that "moderates" (a deadening description which should be abandoned) have principles and policies. A campaign that relied on nothing except the obvious truth that Jeremy Corbyn would lead Labour to defeat was doomed from the start. A majority of the party members who joined before 2015 voted for Smith. Think of how many more would have done the same had he offered them more to vote for than disapproval of his opponent.

Corbyn, and many of the Corbynites, are unmoved by the evidence that they are heading straight to defeat. That is, in part, because Corbyn himself is in what psychiatrists call “total denial.” There were times last year when he seemed to be implementing a carefully coordinated plan to alienate all the middle-of-road voters on whose support a Labour victory depends. He has proposed the unilateral abandonment of the British nuclear deterrent, refused to back Britain’s continued membership of the European Single Market and defended his historic association with apologists for terrorism — all items on the curriculum vitae of a Labour leader who might have been invented by Conservative Central Office. No political leader in British history has been so careless about his party’s prospects at the ballot box. But that is only one of the reasons why the threat of defeat will do little to halt the party's leftward gallop.

There is, within the ranks of Corbyn supporters, a substantial number of activists who — since they do not believe that parliamentary democracy can create the socialist Utopia of their dreams — regard the election of a Labour Government as an irrelevance. Indeed they believe that a prolonged period of Tory misrule will bring forward the day when a spontaneous uprising will herald the new dawn. It is near to inconceivable that Corbyn believes in such millenarian nonsense. But he appear to subscribe to the equally fatuous view that the first task is to make Labour a genuinely socialist party and that winning elections can wait until it is accomplished.

That is clearly the view of those correspondents to the New Statesman who complain about Corbyn’s critics obsession with what they call “electablity”. It is easy for their cynics to sneer about putting power before principle, but winning is a matter of principle too. Labour exists to make those changes in society which can only be achieved in power. In 2016 the fight — to quote the former Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell in 1962 — is less about saving “the party we love” than about rescuing the nation from long years of  Tory bigotry. To behave in a way which diminishes — indeed for a time extinguishes — Labour’s chance of fulfilling its historic purpose is worse than self indulgent. It is betrayal.

There are major figures in the current drama of the Labour Party whose attitude towards the prospect of government is both inexcusable and incomprehensible. Chief among them is Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite and a man whose every bombastic television appearance is worth thousands of votes to the Tories. The members he represents have the strongest possible vested interest in a Labour victory at the next election. Yet many of his policies and pronouncements — particularly his risibly unsuccessful attempts to bully MPs into supporting Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership — contribute to the Conservatives’ opinion poll lead and increases the danger of massive defeat at the next election turning into total destruction.

Anyone who doubts that Labour could be reduced to the status of the Liberal Democrats or the Greens — struggling for influence without even hoping for power — should be sent to canvas for the party in Scotland. But the near oblivion north of the border is not yet inevitable in the south. Recovery will take time and before Labour can begin effectively to deal with the challenges from outside the party it must struggle back into the mainstream of politics — a process which has to begin with an acceptance that Jeremy Corbyn’s first election was more than a combination of the Peasants’ Revolt and the Children’s Crusade. For many of the men and women who voted for the first time in 2015 his victory represented the end of a decade of disillusion. At first they had felt no more than disappointment at opportunities that successive Blair Governments missed — their delight in the landslide victory of 1997 fading away until it was finally extinguished on the battlefields of Iraq.

The Peak District village in which I live is home to more Labour party members than the tourists may imagine. Two of them  —  a retired bank manager and an emeritus professor of cardiac surgery — voted for Corbyn in 2015. In part they were motivated by a desire to “give socialism a chance for once.” But they also thought that they were drawing a line under the years of “the third way” and triangulation. New Labour, in which they had once devoutly believed, had come to mean private enterprise edging its way into the health service, the surreptitious extension of secondary selection and light regulation of the City of London. Jeremy Corbyn, like the Scottish National Party, has much to thank Tony Blair for.

For some people Jeremy Corbyn was, like Donald Trump and Marine LePen, a welcome alternative to the politics of the establishment. To many more he was, by the very nature of his unelectability, the antidote to the opportunism which they (wrongly) believe characterises life in Westminster. Now, a mainstream candidate for the Labour leadership will have to make clear that they are guided not by opinion polls but by a vision of a new and better society. The next leader must concentrate every nerve and sinew on winning, but they must have faith in their ability to carry the country for reasonable revolution.

Unfortunately the members of the Labour mainstream are notoriously reticent about  discussing first principles. They find talk of “the vision thing” embarrassing and believe that the task which faces them is too obvious to need justification by any “fancy theories.” Yet there is a great body of work — by the likes of TH Green, RH Tawney. Anthony Crosland and John Rawls — which set out the theory of democratic socialism and descriptions of why it is especially relevant today – Joseph E Stiglitz’s The Price of Inequality and The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett — abound. The recovery of reason has to begin with Chukka Umuuna explaining the virtues of equality, Yvette Cooper describing Britain’s obligations to the developing world and Dan Jarvis defining the role of the state in protecting the weak against the strong. Or any of them talking about what they stand for instead of assuming that their convictions are taken for granted. The Daily Mail might not report their speeches, but moderate party members will treat the related Fabian Society pamphlets like water in the desert.

If, as they must, the reasonable majority of Labour MPs choose to stay and fight, they have to organise — inside the parliamentary party and, more importantly in the constituencies. I have spent much recent time insisting, to sceptical friends that the occupants of the opposition back benches are as competent and committed as were members of any of the governments, or shadow governments, in which I served. But I do not even try to argue that they are as active as my contemporaries once were in reclaiming the party. Success and survival depends on the constant demonstration that reasonable radicals still have a home in the Labour Party.  

One refugee from Corbyn’s original shadow cabinet assured me that like-minded Labour MPs do occasionally meet. When I asked what they discussed, I was told that they “wait for something to turn up.” But, something will only turn up if it is prepared and promoted by the men and women who have the courage and commitment to lead Labour out of the wilderness. The journey will be long and hard and there can be no guarantee of arrival at the desired destination. But those of us who believe that Labour can still provide the best prospect of a more equal society have to begin the trek toward the promised land — and we need to set out straight away.

Roy Hattersley was deputy leader of the Labour Party from 1983 to 1992.