Last month the UK government agreed to let companies drill underneath people’s homes for shale gas without the homeowners consent. 99% or respondents to a consultation on this disagreed with the move, but, as this is the sort of democracy we seem to live in nowadays, the government have gone ahead and acted in the best interests of big business anyway.
Why should we be worried, though? Is it really so bad? Are people just overreacting to something which will, in the long run, just create jobs and prosperity as it trundles relentlessly along?
That is certainly what the MP for Falkirk, Eric Joyce thinks. He has recently written about how wonderful fracking will be for his constituency. Dart are currently planning on drilling in nearby Airth, with the extracted shale gas being processed by the petrochemical plant at Grangemouth. An estimated 5000 jobs could be created. What’s not to like?
Well, plenty don’t like it. Joyce, however, dismisses the concerns out of hand,
” The anti-science of the anti-fracking movement is a minority self-indulgence. But the shocking anti-jobs rhetoric of Unite, the SNP and the small number of local nimbys who seem determined to talk down the value of their own homes is profoundly dangerous for Falkirk’s strong manufacturing base and the many, many jobs which go with it. They should pack it in.”
Wow! Anti-science, anti-jobs and a small number of local NIMBYs! That’s fightin’ talk there, Eric! You sure that all of fracking’s opponents are just self-interested whingers who can be fobbed off like this?
Let’s look at some of the arguments against fracking, which (as well as some others) can be found in This document on the Green Party of England and Wales’ website.
Pollution: This drilling happens below the water table and there is evidence of a serious risk of pollution of our water supplies by methane, heavy metals, radioactive elements and carcinogenic materials from leaking wells. This is on top of the possibility of air and noise pollution and threat to local wildlife caused by the drilling installations.
Damage to the local communities: Pollution to groundwater causing illness, deformities and stillbirth within local wildlife is pretty horrendous. Yes, it has also been known to negatively affect house prices too, which, despite Mr Joyce’s dismissal, is damaging to local households and the local economy. The amount of water needed for fracking has also seen supplies run dry in some American communities, which is just one more nail in the coffin for some already stretched farms.
Climate incompatibility: We have targets towards lowering carbon emissions by reducing the burning of fossil fuels. One sure fire way not to do this is by extracting and burning more fossil fuels. Our air is being polluted and choked enough without us actually adding to it. Jobs won’t help you if you can’t breathe. In fact, increasing investment in shale gas extraction could cost up to an estimated 40000 jobs in the renewable energy industry.
Damaging the ground beneath our feet: Not in the Green Party document, but still a concern. Expanding small fissures by blasting high powered water down them weakens the rock and, subsequently, the foundations under our homes. There have already been cases of minor earthquakes in Lancashire linked to fracking. Mr Joyce argues in a comment on the post that some of the ground in the Falkirk area is literally undermined already – so why weaken it further?!
Yes, fracking may create jobs in the areas in which it occurs, but at what cost? And, if you are going to argue in its favour, why be so disingenuous towards its opponents?
“The shocking anti-jobs rhetoric of Unite” he talks of links to this post on the Green Left blog. The only mention of jobs by Unite on that is where they urge their members not to take jobs in the fracking industry. That’s not anti-jobs, it’s a principled stance. You know, Eric? Principles?
Later in that same post we read this,
” Peter Murry The Green Party Trade Union sends it’s congratulations ad support to Unite in taking a principled stand against the stupid and harmful practice of fracking. If fracking can be stopped and jobs created in converting the infrastructure to one based on renewables then Unite’s stance could lead to job creation.”
Wait! So this “anti-jobs rhetoric” could lead to job creation? Well, if the investment in fracking is redirected to renewable energy, then yes. Not only creating jobs, but long-term sustainable jobs which will not disappear when the gas runs out.
As for the NIMBY accusations, well he links to Falkirk Against Unconventional Gas, a local organisation of residents who object to fracking for all of the reasons above (not just house prices!). Yes, they are a small group and yes, they are campaigning specifically about Falkirk. How about the thousands who have signed petitions with Greenpeace, 38 Degrees, The Green Party, Friends Of The Earth or the Government’s own epetition site? Literally tens of thousands who aren’t campaigning about fracking in Falkirk, but in the whole country. NIMBY stands for not in my back yard. We don’t want fracking in anybody’s back yard.
Democracy is in a desperate enough state when the government of the day removes your right to object to major operations happening in your community and under your own home, but when your own elected representatives (and I am one of his constituents) refuses to reasonably engage with people he disagrees with and resorts to name calling and baseless accusations then we are in real trouble.
This is why we need real change in this country. It’s why our systems are broken. It’s why I’m happy I’m getting a new MP next year. It’s why I joined the Scottish Greens last month. It’s why an increasing amount of people are standing up and refusing to let the political classes have it all their own way any more.
It starts with fracking, but it won’t end there.
Update (19/10/2014): The article below appeared in the local paper the Falkirk Herald. As you can see, Eric Joyce is still trotting out the NIMBY line and saying that those who disagree with him should shut up. An incredible lack of respect for open and democratic debate and discussion from the soon to be ex-MP.