In which The Author hears from his local councillor
A friend of mine was recently arrested near the village of Balcombe in West Sussex, where the energy company Cuadrilla has been ‘test drilling’ for oil and/or shale gas. Frances is among a large number of my friends who’ve been actively campaigning against the spread of hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’, in the UK.
This controversial process has shot to the top of the political agenda in the past couple of weeks. The UK government has recently announced tax breaks for companies involved in the search for shale gas – hardly surprising, given the close connections between the corporations, banks, and key political figures and ‘advisers’:
While Frances is waiting for her day in court, I decided to email my local Labour councillors over the weekend to try and find out what’s happening locally:
I’m very concerned about the prospect of fracking – or hydraulic fracturing – in our area.
Fracking has been linked to contamination of water supplies and atmospheric pollution, as well as increased traffic to construction sites. The government has promised lower energy bills if gas and oil from fracking is produced, but even the fracking companies admit this is unlikely to happen.
I would like to know if any companies are planning to carry out fracking in this area and whether any relevant licences have been sold. There have been media reports of sites being earmarked in the Maesteg area, the Vale of Glamorgan, and near Llanharan. Can you please clarify whether any companies are currently investigating sites within RCT? If so, I would be grateful if you could let me know your position on the matter and what steps I can take to register my objections.
If there are no current plans or licences, I would be grateful if you could keep me informed of any future developments.
I had a reply from Cllr Ann Crimmings this morning, which I thought I’d share with you:
Dear Mr O Gorman [sic]
Further to your e-mail below I’ve contacted the Development Control team to gain the information you requested and have been advised as follows:-
At the moment we do not have any applications for ‘fracking’ as such. However, we do have an application in Llantrisant for test drilling which was deferred for a Site Visit, at the Development Control Committee meeting in July.
The difference here is that the application is for a test hole and not for ‘fracking’ itself. It is essentially a bore hole that many extractive industries undertake to confirm the extent of the potential resource (coal bed methane, shale gas, etc) that is underground.
In terms of licensing, they are issued by the Department for Energy and Climate Change, and as far as we are aware, licenses [sic] for the exploration and extraction of onshore gas have been issued to two companies in South Wales, but we are not sure as to how far these licences extend into Rhondda Cynon Taf.
So, it seems that even our elected representatives are being kept in the dark with regards to fracking. If the Development Control team don’t know the extent to which our county borough might be affected, will companies like Cuadrilla have carte blanche to drill wherever and whenever they like?
, I told you how I was converted to the cause of solar and wind energy (they weren’t called ‘renewables’) thirty-odd years ago. For the last ten years or so, the public focus has been on the spread of wind turbines across South Wales. These majestic windmills are now a familiar feature on our hillsides, while letters objecting to their construction have become a familiar feature in our local newspapers. The nay-sayers maintain that they’re harmful to wildlife, cause environmental damage during their construction, deter tourists, and don’t generate enough electricity to justify their existence.
A couple of years ago, I looked into a scheme where homeowners could qualify for grants to have solar panels fitted. I gave the company involved my house number and postcode; shortly afterwards, I received an email advising me that my roof fell below the minimum area required. It seemed that all they had done was to look on Google Earth and take the measurements from that image. I didn’t mind, to be honest; I didn’t fancy all the disruption involved during the installation work. Anyway, the following winter, my neighbours’ house in the next street was blanketed in a good six inches or more of snow. Their solar panels would have been useless for at least three weeks until it thawed. At a time when you’re already cranking the thermostat up, having your secondary energy source out of commission seems to defeat the whole object of the exercise.
There’s currently a planning application on the table for opencast coal extraction a short distance from my house. I have little doubt that the protesters are rehearsing the usual argument as I type: the noise, dust, extra traffic and (of course) the extra CO2 generated will far outweigh the benefits in terms of job creation and lower fuel bills. (These objections conveniently ignore the fact that China is building one new coal-fired power station every week.) Don’t forget – I grew up towards the end of the deep mining era in the UK, and even then we had two large opencast mines on the periphery of the valley. The deep mines were closed on the grounds that they were ‘uneconomic’ to operate. Even so, there are still tens (or possibly hundreds) of millions of tons of top-grade coal underneath our valleys. The deep mines won’t be reopened, but we still want to keep the home fires burning. How do we reconcile these two schools of thought. Maybe the anti-opencast lobby would prefer it if we built a new fission reactor on the site where the Phurnacite Plant once belched forth its filth over our valley.
Personally, I don’t know what to think any more. I’m pretty sure that I don’t want my water supply rendered undrinkable by fracking. I don’t fancy sitting through earth tremors, either, as some people in Lancashire did in November 2011. We need to explore renewables, but on their own they aren’t going to even scratch the surface of our ever-increasing demand. It’s going to be a difficult balancing act, and I don’t envy the policy makers who are going to have to try and please all the people all the time.
We’ve reached a strange stage in our development as a species, where any step towards increasing our energy supply is howled down by environmental protesters. Maybe, like me, these people watched Tomorrow’s World and the last part of James Burke’s Connections. In those days, we were forever being promised infinite cheap energy by means of fusion by lunchtime next Wednesday. It’s now 2013 and even the best estimates for fusion technology are looking another two decades into the future.
I don’t want to get too deeply involved in the pro- or anti- lobby. The issues involved are far too complicated for it to be a black-and-white argument. However, I can’t help thinking that, if fracking licences are granted in South Wales, wind turbines will be the least of our worries.