A recent British Geological Survey has shown that most of East Lancashire including Pendle, where I live, has potentially vast deposits of both primary and secondary shale gas deposits.
Our local MP was quick off the mark to welcome this discovery when he said: ‘This is good news and could kick start economic recovery. Fracking has an important role to pay in our future energy mix.’ In a response to my concern over the issuing of licences to drill for this source of gas, he commented that the Government will ‘ensure fracking is safe and the local environment protected’.
I am not convinced by his reassurances because of the evidence, mainly from the USA, of the damaging impact of fracking. Nor am I persuaded from a theological and Christian ecological perspective that it is right to proceed with fracking.
There are 10 main reasons why we should say no to fracking:
- Fracking would not be a quick fix or a large source of fuel in UK to meet our energy needs. The National Grid did not expect shale to have a major impact in Europe this decade, ‘if ever’1
- Fracking would not cut energy bills or meet our energy needs. It is far more expensive than developing efficient renewable sources of energy. The technology is already in place to deliver renewable and non polluting energy to ‘keep the lights on’.
We should be harnessing sustainable forms of natural non toxic resources, such as tidal, solar, hydro, geothermal, wind power and, to a lesser extent, combined heat and power (CHP). The UK has fallen behind in investing in renewables and in providing financial incentives to build them.
Germany and Denmark have forged ahead with renewables. Germany makes it a legal requirement for such energy to be installed in new and renovated housing. UK renewable energy firms are finding it difficult to compete. Investment in sources of generating energy is not a level playing field. We should be find ways to reduce demand on energy, conserve it and stop it being wasted when it is transmitted.
- Fracking would not help tackle climate change. Fracking is highly polluting, which would stop us achieving the 80% reduction targets in emissions by 2050, which the Government claims it is committed to. The Committee on Climate Change has said that we need to almost entirely decarbonise our electricity supply by 2030 particularly from coal and gas sources. The International Energy Agency has concluded that relying on shale gas to meet our future energy needs would cause catastrophic climate change2.
- Fracking would contaminate water supplies. Fracking involves drilling down vertically up to 2 miles, then horizontally up to 2 miles. This means drilling through the water table, which could cause fracturing and polluting of reservoirs of drinking water.
- Fracking would create dangerous gases, air pollution and ill health. Nearly all shale gas wells produce a percentage of gas, which is unusable and often toxic. Environment Agency stated that water returned to the surface would contain radioactive waste (radon gas) which would have to be transported off site. US Studies have also linked fracking to increased air pollution, respiratory and other health problems, such as cancers3. Gas and oil industry data shows that 5% of wells are faulty & can leak flow back fluid in the first year of operation. Failure rate worsens by up to 20% as the wells age. All these toxic pollutants would also threaten the viability and diversity of flora and fauna in the vicinity of wells, as the RSPB has pointed out4
- Fracking has triggered off earthquakes, subsidence and structural damage. This is very pertinent since East Lancashire is urbanised unlike vast tracks of rural USA where most of the shale gas in fracked. There are also risks from a network of local old coal mines and the presence of geological fault lines. Damage to wells increases the chances of fracking fluid or coal bed methane escaping, which is 2000% worse than CO2 as a global warming gas. A research group at Cornell University has shown that it requires only 4-5% leakage from fracking wells to cancel out the gain from using gas rather than coal.
- Fracking would not boost the Lancashire economy whereas renewables would be a greater source of employment. Local jobs would be limited while its environmental impact puts at risk the county’s vital farming and tourism sectors. Over 100,000 jobs are expected to be created in offshore wind and 70,000 in energy efficiency over the next decade. The 2010 Climate Jobs Report shows how 1 Million Jobs could be created to tackle the challenge of climate change, at a net investment cost of £18 billion5.
- Fracking would require heavy road traffic movements. Each horizontal well fracturing needs 3 – 5 million gallons of fresh water with up to 1500 super sized tanker trips each time it is fracked. Up to another 750 tanker trips would be needed to transport the toxic waste from each well on roads to waste disposal plants. With 10 wells on each pad, imagine how many pads could be developed along the M65 Corridor in East Lancashire Valley and beyond into West Craven part of Pendle, very near to centres of population.
- Fracking would waste vast amounts of fresh water. The most valuable resource in the world today is not oil, not natural gas, not even types of renewable energy but clean, fresh water. It is essential for life.
- Fracking would have impact on property values and raise the cost of insurance. Fracking in the US shows that the value of properties and homes has been reduced in areas around wells while Insurance Premiums have rocketed.
Instead, this Government has transferred its support to the dash for gas (shale) and nuclear power/waste disposal with a mixture of tax breaks and subsidies, paid for by the tax payer, as well as community benefits (bribes). For instance, the Government has promised £100,000 to communities situated near each exploratory (hydraulically fracked) well, and 1% of revenues from every production site.
The controversy over wind farms has masked the fact that wind power is free, completely renewable and will never run out. The positioning of a wind farm is of paramount importance where it can receive maximum benefit from the variable wind available off shore and on shore. New technologies also mean that wind turbines can maximise output by installing storage facilities before transferring energy to the grid at peak times when it is most needed.
While wind farms aren’t cheap to install but once a wind farm is developed, most modern turbines will have a 20-year lifespan with minimal maintenance. Wind power gives a significant Return on Investment (ROI).
In conclusion, traditional energy, such as coal, gas and oil will accelerate climate change by increasing the levels of CO2 emissions. We are reaching a tipping point when we can no longer prevent irreversible damage. This crisis could lead to resource wars, mass migration and an unsustainable struggle for survival at a time when the world population is mushrooming. This scenario is a nemesis of our own making – a judgement on us as consumers of creation.
In theological and Christian terms, I think we should be guided by the version of the Creation Story in Genesis Chapter 2 rather than that in Chapter 1, which seems to suggest that human beings have the right to dominate over the earth and subdue it – do what they like with it.
By contrast, the second version calls for us to care for Creation: ‘Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it’. The word ‘tend’ (Hebrew ‘abad’) means ‘to work or serve,’ and thus referring to the ground or a garden, it can be defined as ‘to till or cultivate.’ While the word ‘keep’ (Hebrew ‘shamar’) means ‘to exercise great care over.’ In the context of Genesis 2:15, it expresses God’s wish that humankind, in the person of Adam, ‘take care of,’ ‘guard,’ or ‘watch over’, even preserve or conserve the garden, the source of life, (Creation).
So, in the light of this clear evidence, I believe that the precautionary principle should be invoked and fracking should not proceed. East Lancashire is not for shale! Members of the local Green Party, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and some Unions are campaigning against the imposition of shale gas extraction in our area under the name of LEAF (Lancashire East Against Fracking).
David Penney is a member of CEL (formerly Chair of the Magazine Committee), the Green Party, CND and Greenpeace. He is retired from the Ministry as a C/E Priest and lives in Colne, Lancashire. David is an active environmental campaigner promoting green values locally and nationally. In his early years, he worked in mixed dairy farming while serving in the Lee Abbey Community, North Devon.
2 IEA Report: World Energy Outlook 2013
5 “One Million Climate Change Jobs”, October 2010, from Campaign against Climate Change (www.campaigncc.org)