Next Monday evening the Extraordinary Scrutiny Committee for Economy and Environment in the Vale of Glamorgan will hear from experts both for and against the natural gas extraction procedure known as hi-speed hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” This meeting is held to inform all council members in advance of the Planning Committee’s decision to allow a test drill rig to explore for natural gas deposits deep beneath the surface. (Full disclosure I will be one of the speakers at this meeting.)
The company asking for the permit, Coastal Oil and Gas Ltd, have never participated in hydraulic fracturing before, yet are likely to get a green light for the £500K test well to be dug. The oil and gas selling points rarely vary from location to location:
- Fracking will provide Vale residents with an endless supply of cheap fuel!
(Well not really, oil and gas are commodities and the price is the same whether extracted from the ground in Saudi Arabia, Pennsylvania or The Vale.)
- Lots of new jobs=massive economic development!
(Again not exactly true. The problem is the jobs are all either imported highly skilled drilling professionals and/or low paid unskilled workers to help them. The 5-6 jobs per rig are but a statistical blip in the Vale. Indeed the New York environmental agency said the first true local jobs would be in 2042 for their ‘massive’ gas reserves – already overstated by 80%.)
- All chemicals used in drilling are perfectly safe, indeed one executive took a swig of so-called fracking fluid before a horrified group of onlookers at a recent industry meeting.
(Again the EPA in the US is now gradually making a connection between increases in illnesses and fouled water supplies to the process.)
- Solemn and sombre promises to rapidly clean-up any unexpected environmental mishaps!
(The story always ends the same way, nothing that goes wrong is ever anyone’s fault and the cockroaches scamper away when a light switch is turned on – i.e. an environmental disaster occurs).
How a company that can barely afford to dig this well can even clean up a problem with the test bore can then categorically guarantee water and health safety is beyond comprehension, yet their planned company flotation hangs in the balance of this well. We played this game with mortgage backed securties that also could not fail. They can and indeed do fail.
So the well is dug, lo and behold ‘massive’ samples are found, the industry vastly overstates the size of the reserves and fracturing begins in Wales as outside oil money floods in, deals are cut with every local farmer to drill two miles from or even closer to the historic Glamorgan Heritage Coast and directly beneath Grade A farmlands.
And we all should trust this industry because of their rapid clean-ups everywhere else. Have we all become so blatantly unconscious to news and corporate SPIN that we forgot this industry’s record?
We’re watching a container ship disaster unfold off the coast of the Rugby World Cup host nation New Zealand. 300 tonnes of heavy oil are washing ashore, containers with hazardous materials are not even identified and the shipping company is “very, very sorry and working with officials.” As the Brits say, “Sod that! Apology not accepted!” Every available person (even unavailable) should be on site with shovels and gloves and every expert known to man there to help as beaches are fouled. But the Liberian registered tanker is so shielded by corporations that it will take forever to find out who even owns the damned boat!
Has Wales forgotten its own off shore oil tanker disaster two decades ago? Are we that eager to ignore the fact that earlier this week BP, Halliburton and others were placed on the hook for £45 million pounds of penalties for the BP Horizon Gulf spill (a fraction of the damage done to the fish-beds and protective swamp marshes that keep back hurricane storm surges and protect cities like New Orleans), yet BP also this week got approval for a new oil field in the North Sea off Scotland?
Do we not remember the spill there of six weeks ago also deliberately downplayed in terms of amount and supported by the government because this industry cares not a whit about clean-up, only limiting their financial liability?
Yet we’re willing to gamble our water supply and intricate coastline for old energy? Are the inmates running this asylum? Is our crack habit for oil and gas being broken by exploring for these new sources of oil and gas? Can anything persuade the Welsh Government, Westminster and the Vale Council to get together and come up with a coherent strategy rather than acting like the chimps playing: “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil?”
If the Welsh Government and Vale Council are truly committed to green energy solutions then they need to stop this fantasy of “manna under our feet” and examine the potential environmental and health costs.
And finally, why the mad rush to drill in South Wales? Pennsylvania, New York and in the EU France have halted all fracking to conduct thorough investigations based on health, water table safety and seismic activity related to deep earth fracking explosions. The Delaware River Basin Commission has put fracking on hold until the end of November and just yesterday the City of Philadelphia filed a lawsuit against the DRBC halting fracking completely until resolved! And as you read here the US EPA of then US Vice President and former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney (not coincidentally the largest producer of fracking fluids) declared… under his office’s supervision… the drilling fluids to be safe in 2005.
This is the same US Administration that would not allow UN weapons inspectors to finish the job in Iraq and raced ahead with an invasion and war that lasted for more than six years.
Does The Vale of Glamorgan not owe it to the people of South Wales to adopt a go-slow approach until the Welsh Government and Westminster decide on a national course of action? Everybody expects everyone else to do their job, in their silo and toss the decision to someone else making sure administratively they have covered their civil service backsides by dotting all i’s and crossing all t’s on the forms?
And in so doing, no one is safe and everyone is at risk. Hell of a way to run a government, county or a country. We need our elected and civil servants to stop acting like Sir Humphrey Appleby and display real courage!
Theodora Filis, Sustainability Contributing Editor contributed to this story.