UK fracking firms face surge of protests

LONDON – News that a gas extraction process which triggered two earthquakes is likely to resume brought a surge of protest bubbling to the surface on Tuesday.

A government-appointed panel of experts said that fracking in Lancashire could continue under strict conditions. But environmental activists Frack Off branded their report “a seriously dangerous distraction” which only scratched the surface of the problem. Frack Off said local groups were springing up across the country to fight the spread of fracking in the wake of last year’s quakes.

The process involves pumping water and chemicals into shale rock at high pressure to extract gas. Test fracking near Blackpool, Lancashire, by energy firm Cuadrilla stopped in 2011 when two earthquakes were felt at the surface in April and May. The panel’s report, commissioned by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, gave the green light to continue provided there are monitoring systems to halt extraction if a quake looks likely.

But Frack Off activist Elsie Walker said the report focused too narrowly on earthquakes and “misses all the real issues.”

The group warned that fracking can cause “groundwater contamination, severe methane leakage, air pollution, accelerated climate change, industrialization of the countryside and potentially radioactive waste.”

Walker also pointed to quakes’ “potential effects on sensitive infrastructure like nuclear power stations and railway lines.”

Frack Off said local groups concerned about groundwater contamination as well as earthquakes were being formed to fight planning applications, many of which have already been approved, for fracking as well as other processes.

The activist group emerged from the Camp for Climate Action when it disbanded. Its activists tour new local groups – many of which are being set up around Lancashire.

Walker said: “Cuadrilla wants to drill 800 wells in Lancashire alone. There are several companies going after several types of unconventional gas in Britain and all potentially on a similar scale to Cuadrilla.”

The group said fracking is used not just to get shale gas but also to get at gas trapped in unmineable coal seams, known as coal-bed methane. Another form of unconventional gas extraction is underground coal gasification, where unmineable coal is burnt underground and gas is collected at the surface.

Ms Walker said it’s been known that fluid injection can cause tremors since at least 1967 and it has resulted in serious earthquakes in the US, Germany, the North Sea and Uzbekistan.

Report author Prof Peter Styles claimed that any earthquakes are “not likely to cause significant damage.”

Cuadrilla chief executive Mark Miller welcomed the report and said the company had already begun to amend procedures in light of expert advice.

A Department of Energy and Climate Change spokesman said: “No decision has been taken on whether to allow fracking to resume at Cuadrilla’s sites in Lancashire.

“Responses to the call for evidence will be carefully considered before ministers make a final decision.”

This article was originally published in the Morning Star. Photo: Progress Ohio // CC 2.0