In Japan, Fukushima reactor number 4 is in danger of imminent catastrophic meltdown. The head of the US Nuclear Regulatory Agency recently resigned because the government is not taking safety seriously enough on these 40+-year-old GE reactors the industry wants rubber-stamped to life for another 10-20 years. The UK Tory/LibDem Government wants to do just that and in the process also back off of its pledge to invest in renewables. They instead want to expand shale oil drilling and with it, hydraulic fracturing or fracking.
The Vale of Glamorgan, once called courageous in past columns for fighting pre-election the test bore in the Llandow Estate that WILL lead to fracking, post-election, reversed its unanimous decision to reject the planning application because it now feared having to pay costs for the appeal. It, along with Welsh Water now, suddenly, have no objection to the test bore. Indeed yesterday in an appeals hearing on the matter, Andy Chyba of the Bridgend Green Party was repeatedly held to such a narrow questioning line by session leader Emyr Jones of the Welsh Government that only a senior barrister could have maintained it. It made a mockery of the appeal process as ashen-faced residents watched a classic rubber-stamping of industry’s interests. While the decision will not be brought before July after a mid-June site visit, no one left thinking the issue was in doubt. And geological expert Oliver Taylor hired by Coastal was allowed to smirk and sneer his way through two very long days of proceedings where resident’s concerns meant less than nothing.
This writer was discouraged from speaking because no one in the room was allowed to mention fracking (or, seemingly, anything going on outside of Unit 1 on the Llandow Estate), which everyone concedes is the end result of this test bore. Were I able to speak freely, it would have been about the insanity of the government chasing money over public health. I would have spoken about the jigsaw puzzle of agencies unable to come together because of rules of conduct put in place so each could cover their own asses vs doing their job for the common good. Courageously, no one wanted any blame.
Instead because it is no one’s fault or responsibility, a gas company can exploit every possible loophole. They were able to submit and re-submit an application multiple times with differing claims of what it was they were planning to do, changing the information each time because they learned what they could get away. All of it will have zero consequence for any previous mis-statement… because the 1st application represented their true intention… to sneak an application to start fracking in the Vale past the residents and hoped no one would notice.
Local concerns be damned, if an oil company wants to explore for gas, we’re supposed to roll over and let them in to do whatever they damned well want to do because there is so much money in this they will spend whatever needs to be spent to buy whatever influence they need to buy in order to get the job done. That’s been the American Way for four decades and it is one export from my birth country I am least proud to see exported here.
Facts be damned, it’s all about money and power. Who has it and who can wield it for the greatest affect. Oil and gas leases are already underused by some 50% around the globe yet these companies want more. So the US Government will allow drilling in the Arctic where there is no plan for disasters because it’s too cold to even contemplate and a spill could never be contained. ‘Drill baby, drill’ has been the motto of the US Republican Party since Sarah Palin coined the phrase in 2008.
Now the Tories/LibDem govt think it will lead us to energy independence when oil is a freaking commodity traded on the open market. The price matters not whether it comes out of the ground in Saudi Arabia or around the corner in Sully.
Natural gas though is now so cheap and plentiful, you cannot pump it out of the ground for a profit. Yet this nation’s government (and others around the globe) will allow government officials to cover their asses by narrowing the focus and saying The _______ Agency will take care of any problem or another group will… when no one is minding the store and the same people who botched the Deepwater Gulf Oil spill and others, feed on greed. That extends to local landowners who think they will gain, do not read the fine print and sign extended leases on their property for a pittance thinking they too have struck oil. Like in the USA they too will be ripped off and left without a leg to stand on. And these companies? They will all disappear like cockroaches when the kitchen light is turned on when it goes ‘tits-up’ my kids drink fouled water or we develop cancers from chemical runoff.
And do not underestimate the power they have. ExxonMobil has so much power they are their own government. The African nation of Chad receives $10 million dollars a year in aid from the United States. ExxonMobil contributes $700 million dollars directly to the corrupt petro-dictatorship of Hissene Habre for protection of the oil fields and its workers. To whom do you think Habre listens?
It’s the ‘free market’ everyone argues. It’s ‘capitalism.’ Back off, these are the ‘job creators.’ Companies should be able to do whatever they want to do without regulation and when it goes bad they open up big show clean-ups that do nothing. The end result? Shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico are born without eyes and there are massive dolphin and other sea mammal die-offs. Which, of course, no one can blame on big oil because they’re too busy running adverts on US telly talking about the great job they did cleaning up the Gulf and show folks eating locally fished seafood (in their dreams) when family fishing businesses have failed in enormous numbers waiting for payment for their losses.
So the Vale off Glamorgan rolls over like a sad little puppy dog and the Welsh Government follows because they buy into the debunked claims that fracking creates jobs, jobs, jobs. And we’re supposed to forget that states in the US like Vermont, Maryland, New York, Delaware and indeed entire countries have banned the process for fear of what the chemicals forced beneath the ground do to health and water tables.
We’re supposed to forget earthquakes that never happened before. Forget roads that will be damaged by convoys of hundreds of trucks racing daily to and from drilling sites. We’re supposed to ignore poor waste disposal pools of used chemicals and an industry that looks at fines as just a cost of doing business. Forget the noise. Forget worker’s health and safety handing those chemicals onsite. Forget that EVERY estimate of the amount of reserves underground has been overstated by a factor of between 7-100x.
Forget that fracking will place local farmers in direct competition for limited water supplies which Welsh Water will sell to the highest bidder vs. the greatest need (already Texas is having battles and losing hectares of arable land because water is being purchased by oil companies to keep the million gallons each well needs to drill there vs. growing crops.)
I would have said all that and more, but appeals in this country have to be so narrow, no one can ever win them and no real voices of concern and dissent can be heard. And that is the real shame.
So ‘frack’-off citizens of Wales, your voice does not matter and by the time folks see the damage, like in most cases, it will be too late because once again, industry lies trump real human concerns. That is the real cost of an austerity, business focused government.
Denis G Campbell is the author of 6 books including 'Billionaire Boys Election Freak Show,' 'The Vagina Wars' & 'Egypt Unsh@ckled.' He is the editor of UK Progressive Magazine and provides commentary to the BBC, itv Al Jazeera English, CNN, MSNBC and others. His weekly 'World View with Denis Campbell' segment can be heard every Thursday on the globally syndicated The David Pakman Show. You can follow him on Twitter via @UKProgressive and on Facebook.
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