Showing posts with label fracking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fracking. Show all posts

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Fracking Media Silence

Professor John Robertson who accused the BBC of pro-No bias in its coverage of the referendum campaign has turned his attention to an apparent media silence on the subject of fracking in Scotland. In a survey of a recent 30-day period of news coverage of fracking he concluded that the Scottish national press and broadcasters have hardly covered the question at all, at a time when it is attracting headlines in the UK press and also in the frack-friendly US.

During the period. The Scotsman, Daily Record and Daily Express carried one story each, while the Daily Mail had seven, most of them critical of anti-fracking opposition and especially the decision of the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, to ban the industry in his state due to health and environmental concerns. The Herald news headlines and BBC’s Reporting Scotland made no mention of fracking, while STV’s Scotland Today reported fracking once.

“Scotland’s mainstream media, including of course our ‘Public Service Provider’ BBC Scotland, cannot be accused of distortion bias in their coverage of the debate on shale-fracking, because they just didn’t cover it at all,” writes Robertson. “Much more difficult to prove that distortion bias is bias by omission, where the electorate is kept ill-informed and where the media can insist that they don’t cover it because it’s not ‘newsworthy'; that no one is interested in it.” Prof Robertson points out that the event may have attracted a great deal of attention on social media, but very little in the mainstream media. Speaking to he made the point that Scottish TV news in particular is dominated by murders, violence, road accidents and sport.

The question is: why? Prof Robertson concedes that this brief study could not reach conclusions. However, his research does point out factors of interest to news desks and editors around the country. Fracking is raising serious concerns within central Scotland, and especially local communities such as Falkirk and Grangemouth, where the processing plant operator Ineos has announced significant investment plans related to the industry.

Robertson argues that there was ample reason to find fracking newsworthy. He cites the UK HM Chief Scientific Adviser’s annual report, which raised questions about fracking. During the last month there have also been significant reports about fracking and local health in the US, concerns that underpinned the New York Governor’s decision. A US survey of 400 peer-reviewed papers into shale gas found that 96 per cent of them drew conclusions on adverse health impact.

A group called Concerned Health Professionals of New York stated: “A significant body of evidence has emerged to demonstrate that these activities are inherently dangerous to people and their communities. Risks include adverse impacts on water, air, agriculture, public health and safety, property values, climate stability and economic vitality.” In Ohio just before Christmas, families in Monroe County were evacuated and a “no-fly zone” instigated for more than a week because of an uncontrolled gas leak from a fracking well, one of several incidents reported in the US this year alone.
In the UK, concerns are being echoed either by local authorities such as North Lanarkshire Council – which has called for a moratorium – and community groups. Scotland’s public attitude to fracking is ill-defined. In Scotland, despite the existence of a thriving shale oil industry in West Lothian until the early 1960s, it has been assumed widely that the country’s geology means that the profitable extraction of onshore oil or gas is very unlikely.
Fracking had a lower political profile until 2014, when Ineos signalled great interest in the industry in two ways. Firstly, the company is investing £300m to create docking and handling facilities for tankers carrying US shale gas to the UK and European markets. This deal was at the root of a dispute with trade unions over planned changes to work practices at the company’s Grangemouth plant last year.
Next, Ineos – a rapidly growing player in the chemicals’ market – declared its intention to become a major player in shale in the UK, setting aside more than £500m for that purpose. Ineos bought the rights to explore fracking for shale gas in a 127 square mile area around Grangemouth and the Firth of Forth. This has made the company, and the area, the focal point of anti-fracking protests, and hundreds of people participated in a protest march from Falkirk to Grangemouth this month. Without being specific it appears to be willing to back, or even lead, fracking-based exploration. The company has embarked on a major propaganda campaign to promote its enthusiastic embrace of shale gas. That latter move is at the root of concerns about possible fracking in Scotland. Protestors are wary that Ineos may use its clout – as it did so successfully during that union dispute – to force through planning decisions. It is likely that outside of the environs of Grangemouth refinery , there will be little benefit but significant risks to communities in the Central Belt.

When fracking – or “hydraulic fracturing” – was first discussed in the UK, the media focus fell on communities in England, where companies are already involved in putative exploration of onshore oil and gas from shale. Protests at Cuadrilla’s test drilling in the Home Counties raised the profile significantly. Chancellor George Osborne proposed in his Autumn Statement to create a “sovereign investment fund” to benefit northern England if fracking is successful there and the Coalition government appears determined to issue licenses. The Scottish Government has kept its public response low-key to date. This may be on the assumption that the problem will go away because of Scotland’s geology, although some opponents suspect that Ministers may be swung by the emergence of some new oil or gas bonanza to be realised onshore. The crash in global coal and oil prices may delay this activity in Scotland.

His view of the media as a corporate channel that publishes or broadcasts only corporate “news” is underlined in his research. He comments: “Those who lead the media are part of those inter-locking elites revealed long ago by people like Noam Chomsky, who work daily in their own interests which in turn are the interests of those same elites – employers, industry executives, senior civil servants, speculators, military chiefs, government ministers, lawyers and, uniquely in Scotland, the Labour Party leadership”. He adds: “Further closing off any opportunities for alternative voices is the reliance of hard-pressed reporters on press releases from the corporations that come to dominate the news.”

PS The BBC Scotland’s environment correspondent David Miller has confirmed via Twitter that he starts work on a fracking documentary January 5th. No transmission date given yet.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Into the unknown

How to overcome local objections to the risk of unhealthy pollution? Promise to make them millionaires and that is exactly what tax-evading, union-busting INEOS has done.

Ineos has never drilled wells before, but believes it can be successful because it has hired three experienced executives from the US shale boom. Ineos said wells had successfully been bored next to schools, churches and even close to the centre of large cities such as Fort Worth, Texas. “It is possible to drill wells in densely populated areas, but we don’t think that is necessary,” said Gary Haywood, the chief executive of Ineos UK.

Scientists from the UK Energy Research Centre told the BBC that promises of lower prices and greater energy security from UK shale gas were lacking in evidence. “It is very frustrating to keep hearing that shale gas is going to solve our energy problems – there’s no evidence for that whatsoever, it’s hype,” said Prof Jim Watson, UKERC research director.

Simon Clydesdale, energy campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said investment was essential to transform the UK energy system, but not “giant speculative bets” on unproven and risky resources. He added: “Ineos have jumped on a spin-powered bandwagon which is going nowhere. Independent academics recently called out government ministers over the ludicrous levels of hype around shale gas, saying ‘shale gas has been completely oversold’. It seems that Ineos have based their business plan on breathless PR brochures rather than scientific reports.”

The British Geological Survey has estimated that the Lowland valley in Scotland could contain about 80tn cubic feet of gas and 6tn barrels of oil. But it said: “The relatively complex geology and limited amount of good-quality constraining data result in a higher degree of uncertainty to resource estimation than in England.” BGS said Scotland’s shale reserves were modest compared with England’s.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Fracking Scotland

“The IPCC [UN climate science panel] is quite clear about the need to leave the vast majority of already proven reserves in the ground, if we are to meet the 2C goal. The fact that despite this science, governments are spending billions of tax dollars each year to find more fossil fuels that we cannot ever afford to burn, reveals the extent of climate denial still ongoing within the G20,” said Oil Change International director Steve Kretzman.

The most detailed breakdown yet of global fossil fuel subsidies has found that the US government provided companies with $5.2bn for fossil fuel exploration in 2013, Australia spent $3.5bn, Russia $2.4bn and the UK $1.2bn. The government money went to major multinationals as well as smaller ones who specialise in exploratory work, according to British thinktank the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Washington-based analysts Oil Change International. The report found that  four times as much money was spent on fossil fuel exploration as on renewable energy development.

It shows an extraordinary “merry-go-round” of countries supporting each others’ companies. The US spends $1.4bn a year for exploration in Columbia, Nigeria and Russia, while Russia is subsidising exploration in Venezuela and China, which in turn supports companies exploring Canada, Brazil and Mexico.

Britain, says their report, proved to be one of the most generous countries. In the five year period to 2014 it gave tax breaks totalling over $4.5bn to French, US, Middle Eastern and north American companies to explore the North Sea for fast-declining oil and gas reserves. A breakdown of that figure showed over $1.2bn of British money went to two French companies, GDF-Suez and Total, $450m went to five US companies including Chevron, and $992m to five British companies. Britain also spent public funds for foreign companies to explore in Azerbaijan, Brazil, Ghana, Guinea, India and Indonesia, as well as Russia, Uganda and Qatar, according to the report’s data, which is drawn from the OECD, government documents, company reports and institutions.

“The evidence points to a publicly financed bail-out for carbon-intensive companies, and support for uneconomic investments that could drive the planet far beyond the internationally agreed target of limiting global temperature increases to no more than 2C,” say the report’s authors.

“This is real money which could be put into schools or hospitals. It is simply not economic to invest like this. This is the insanity of the situation. They are diverting investment from economic low-carbon alternatives such as solar, wind and hydro-power and they are undermining the prospects for an ambitious UN climate deal in 2015,” said Kevin Watkins, director of the ODI.

The above should be noted regards to the latest development to frack beneath the Firth of Forth in the already well-polluted Grangemouth/Kincardine area. Cluff Natural Resources [what an environmentally sounding company name that is] said plans are being drawn up to extract coal from under the Firth of Forth following a large discovery.  The company is seeking permission to build the UK’s first deep offshore underground coal gasification (UCG) project to extract it. Cluff said two of the coal seams identified have 43mln tonnes of coal in place (CIP), or the equivalent of 1.4 billion cubic feet (BCF) of natural gas-in-place. For context, 1bn cubic feet of gas could serve 11,000 homes for one year. The process of gasification involves drilling horizontally into a seam and then injecting air and oxygen to produce syngas - a mixture of combustible gases which include hydrogen, carbon monoxide, methane and carbon dioxide.

WWF Scotland director Lang Banks said Scotland needs to rely more on electricity and renewables rather than coal and gas. “Plans to ‘burn’ coal under the Firth of Forth will not deliver that aim and should therefore be a complete non-starter,” he said. “In a worst-case scenario, proposals such as this one could even extend our use of fossil fuels, locking us into a high carbon world. Just over a week ago, scientists from the United Nations issued their latest predictions of the growing threat from global climate change and the need to be rapidly phasing out our use of fossil fuels. Since the developers themselves have admitted that carbon dioxide will be emitted by their plans, from a climate change perspective this scheme is nothing short of irresponsible.”

There is no peoples’ mandate for the fossil fuel industry to unleash and bring on runaway global warming that will bring humankind to its knees, sink whole island countries, and may eventually cause the death of half or more of the species on the planet and billions of human souls. Politicians  have ignored the damage to sustainable world resources, and have invited chaos. Instead of being acquiescent, we should all be angry.  Our children and their children's future depends on it.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Fracking Gas

More than 20,000 square kilometres (7800 square miles), A quarter of Scotland, covering the entire central belt and a part of the southwest, have been earmarked by the UK Government for possible exploitation by controversial technologies such as fracking to extract gas from wells dug deep into the ground. Scotland is rich in coalbed methane gas because of its coal reserves. Plans are afoot to drill 22 wells to tap the methane gas in coal seams near Falkirk and Stirling. Some 16 exploratory wells have been dug.

One recent study published in an international scientific journal found that 632 chemicals were used to extract underground gas in the US. Of the 353 on which there was detailed information, more than three-quarters were potentially hazardous to health, with over one-third being gender-benders (chemicals that can disrupt sexuality) and one-quarter capable of causing cancer. "These results indicate many chemicals used during the fracturing and drilling stages may have long-term health effects that are not immediately expressed," concluded the researchers from The Endocrine Disruption Exchange in Paonia, Colorado.

 Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) warns that fracking for gas is "very likely" to bring radioactive wastes to the surface in fluids. The radioactivity is naturally present in the ground, but is released by the process. Sepa also points out that, in addition to the climate pollution caused by burning the gas, there could be accidental emissions. Releasing methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon, would help accelerate global warming, it says. Mary Church, a spokesperson for Friends of the Earth said  "Communities around the world are seeing the devastating impacts of coalbed methane and shale gas expansion. We need to learn from these experiences and ensure the same doesn't happen here."

The UK Government suspended fracking after it was blamed for causing small earthquakes near Blackpool last year, though it is now expected to give it the go-ahead.

1: Fracking, hydraulic or ballistic: This frees the gas by deliberately fracturing the rock by drilling down and then pumping in high-pressure liquids, or even detonating explosive charges. Fracking can be used to extract the gas from shale, a type of rock, or to free "tight gas" held in deeper, denser rock formations. It can also be used to help mine the methane that inhabits coal seams.

2: Tapping "coalbed methane": This involves drilling into and along the seams, and then pumping out and disposing of large quantities of water, a process known as dewatering. The removal of water may be enough to stimulate the flow of gas, though sometimes fracking may also be necessary.