Now is a good time to reflect on the year just finishing and look forward to the year to come. For many people in the Dudleston area, 2014 was the year that they started to look into unconventional gas extraction for the first time. We are also delighted to be able say that the community has been impressively united against the threat that it posed to our lovely area.
What we learnt
We found out the difference between the CBM process and fracking shale. Importantly we learnt about the extensive experiences in other countries that have tried this technology, where every governing body promised best possible regulation. The impacts on the environment and peoples’ health are well documented. Despite each area promising regulation that would be better than all areas before, there isn’t an area that is able to say that they have had no issues. The UK Government repeatedly talks about how their regulatory regime will be the best, how there is no empirical evidence supporting the claim and plenty of reasons to doubt it. The Environment Agency suffers from political interference and has its pension fund invested in fracking companies, so it is unlikely to be slowing down the industry with environmental concerns.
We have also discovered that the Dudleston area is geologically unsuitable for extraction according to the country’s leading geologists so all of the big impact on our lives would be for no actual gas getting extracted. Now the UK Energy Research Council have published a report that concludes that unconventional gas will give the UK little benefit and the report says that its potential has been significantly oversold by the current Government. Renewable energy and efficiency improvements deliver significantly more benefits, more jobs, cheaper energy and without the big impact on health and the environment.
Even the most optimistic estimates say that it will take at least ten years for fracking to start producing gas, and current progress is slower than those optimists envisaged.
The Government has just concluded a £1Bn auction that sought to ensure that there is enough power supply in 2018 and plans to conduct further auctions to cover other years. Renewable energy didn’t feature in the auction – almost all of the money went to existing big power companies.
The Past Year
The highlight for 2014 has to be the amazing response from local people to the planning process. The proposed colossal wind turbine at Ellesmere drew a mixed response, with some supporting it and most people being against it. Letters from Owen Paterson MP on that subject talk of there being too many decisions being taken by remote planning inspectors and the need for local people to have more say in the process. Sadly when people wrote to him about the local CBM application, his replies talked a lot about fracking (which, as we all know, isn’t being proposed for here) and never once mentioned the need to give local people a say in the outcome.
Fortunately for us, the democratically elected members of Shropshire Council did listen to the unanimous and well informed opinion of over 500 people and they are now requiring Dart Energy to address the legitimate concerns that have been raised.
We owe a huge thank you to the local newspapers. It was thanks to them that we found out about the application in advance. Most areas only find out when the drill rig arrives so the head start that we got was crucial. The papers have also been fantastic in their willingness to report local stories as they really are instead of having politically controlled editors.
The Year to Come
Right now the planning process is ongoing. Dart are being asked to provide additional evidence that is required for the application to be properly considered. Obtaining that evidence will require extensive access to the site, which they will find difficult because the site is being guarded by the protectors. You’ll probably have seen pictures of their camp in the papers, or you may even have been up there yourself.
They want the same outcome as we do but choose to make their protest in a different way. When they arrived we agreed to pursue parallel but separate campaigns. Now with the way that things have progressed we have further cause to be grateful for their presence. The camp is manned 24×7 and they take it in turns to go back to their families and jobs. Their commitment to the cause has to be applauded, particularly now that we are into the more challenging winter weather.
Top of the wish list for 2015 is that we get the Dudleston application officially and formally rejected. Collectively we have made tremendous progress and our efforts are being noticed far and wide.
Other areas of the UK have declared moratoriums on unconventional gas exploration so second on our wish list is that all of Shropshire be protected from this threat. In Salford the Council initially welcomed the test drilling, but have now done their homework and banned any further activity until the industry is proven to be safe. Dart Energy are now owned by IGas, shares in which have declined by roughly 10p each month for the past year. Now that they are down to around 30p per share we need the trend to continue for just a little bit longer!
Third on the wish list would be that the Government restarts investment in clean energy and stops pouring our money into such a foolish industry. The next round of licences was due to be announced by now and will extend the area impacted by unconventional gas to almost two thirds of the country, including most of the marginal constituencies. Even if the announcement is delayed until after the General Election to avoid losing lots of votes, it is hard to imagine any political party that supports fracking winning the 2020 election. By then Germany will have enviable levels of renewable energy providing them with cheaper electricity whilst we’d still be subsidising the old power stations and many years away from getting gas from fracking.
2014 was a challenging year, but also one showed us what a great community we have.
2015 will hopefully be a momentous year for us and the whole environmental movement.
Happy New Year and Best Wishes
Here are some pertinent links should you wish to read more:
Effective energy policies, or not
UK ERC statement that fracking is hype and has been oversold: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-30013668
Lack of EA impartiality: http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/environment-agency-investing-pension-fund-in-industries-it-regulates-is-clear-conflict-of-interest-9946597.html
The £1Bn windfall for old power: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/dec/24/the-uk-capacity-auction-made-utility-companies-merry-this-christmas?CMP=share_btn_tw
The future is solar and not big utility power stations: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/aug/27/ubs-investors-renewables-revolution
Why Germany will be streets ahead by 2020: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/oct/13/wind-power-is-cheapest-energy-unpublished-eu-analysis-finds?CMP=twt_gu
Nuclear is very expensive, even before considering that we will spend further £Bns on decommissioning it later and the taxpayer will foot the bill for any large scale incidents: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/energy/11148193/Hinkley-Point-nuclear-plant-to-cost-34bn-EU-says.html
Fear the Black Fog and not Owen’s Green Blob: http://projects.exeter.ac.uk/igov/it-is-the-black-fog-the-daily-mail-needs-to-worry-about-not-the-green-blob/
Analysis of Owen’s speech about scrapping the environmental protection targets: http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2014/10/checking-owen-patersons-figures-on-the-cost-of-decarbonising-the-uk/
Public opinion continues to move more and more against fracking: http://www.renewableuk.com/en/news/press-releases.cfm/2014-12-09-record-wind-power-levels-as-new-research-shows-clear-majority-back-wind-energy-projects-near-them
Authoritative reasons to be concerned for our health: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/nov/28/fracking-risk-compared-to-thalidomide-and-asbestos-in-walport-report?CMP=share_btn_tw
Mention of us (mis-spelt!) and the impact on marginal constituencies: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/08/shale-gas-fracking-conservatives-grassroots?CMP=twt_gu
The Pope declares that looking after the environment is top priority: http://www.catholic.org/news/green/story.php?id=58194
And a bit of light relief: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfRkKcCs_YU&app=desktop
Wishing you a Happy Gas-Drilling-Free New Year