Scrabbling for fossil fuels while the Arctic melts: Time to Get Fracktious!
This summer a dramatic, record-breaking shrinkage in Arctic sea ice has made the warming of our planet visible to all. We don’t know when the Arctic will be entirely ice-free in summer, but it seems likely to be soon.
This CO2-caused warming of the planet is already affecting our weather by altering the behaviour of the jet stream: heat-waves in the US and the unusually wet and cool summer in the UK are just two sides of the same coin. We also expect that Arctic melt will accelerate global warming further: for example by releasing methane from frozen permafrost.
How have the world’s leaders responded to this alarming development?
Rather than seeking to slow the dangerous destabilisation of our climate, they are allowing, even encouraging, exploitation of ever more extreme sources of fossil fuels. These include the tar sands in Canada; gas forced out of shale rock (‘fracking’); and reserves of oil only made accessible by the retreat of Arctic ice. These new fossil fuels are often even more damaging to the climate than the old ones. They also share the ability to bring local environmental devastation in their wake.
What is ‘fracking’?
‘Fracking’, technically known as hydraulic fracturing, is a way of extracting natural gas from shale rock by pumping water, sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressure to fracture the rock and force out the gas. It is used widely in the US, so we know a lot about its environmental impacts.
Natural gas (methane) is a potent greenhouse gas, so its release during fracking causes additional climate impacts. We don’t know exactly how much is released, but one study estimated the climate impact of shale gas to be greater or comparable to coal – certainly not the ‘clean option’ it is billed as.
Methane can also have more immediately visible effects, polluting water supplies. The most dramatic scene from the US documentary film ‘Gasland’ is when a local resident sets fire to methane-contaminated water coming out of their taps. The chemicals pumped into the rock have been kept ‘commercially confidential’, but these, along with others released during the process, can potentially pollute groundwater, and have done so in the US when there have been failures in construction or operation.
And if all that wasn’t enough: the process can also cause local earthquakes, which has already happened in Blackpool.
So why is it being promoted in the UK?
A press release last year from one of the main companies claimed vast resources of shale gas had been found off the Lancashire coast – a cheap source of energy for the UK? Almost certainly not, it is clear that in the densely populated UK, extraction will be complicated and probably expensive: particularly with the expected intense local opposition.
However, at the recent Conservative party conference, George Osborne jumped in and announced a new tax break for fracking. This is despite the minister for energy and climate still reserving judgment on shale gas. It is just part of his ambition to ensure a major role for gas in the UK energy sector, bypassing the Committee on Climate Change, who warn that it is incompatible with the UK meeting its climate targets.
Why is George Osborne intent on setting the UK on the path to a fossil fuel future?
We can only assume that the rising price of gas and its potential impact on UK household bills concerns him no more than the impact on the planet of the UK tearing up its climate commitments. Instead he is influenced by his predecessor Nigel Lawson, whose climate sceptic think-tank the ‘Global Warming Policy Foundation’ can regularly be found singing the praises of shale gas. He might also wish to court popularity with the right wing of his party by promoting gas over renewable. Although these same backbenchers, might not be so keen on fracking in their own constituencies.
1st December: Time to Get Fracktious
We believe it’s time to “get fracktious” about the criminal insanity of the way we are responding to probably the biggest threat humanity has ever faced. On 1st December on the annual National Climate March, the Campaign against Climate Change will be taking the message to Parliament, constructing a replica fracking rig.
We will also be visiting the US and Canadian embassies in Grosvenor Square to highlight the shame of tar sands exploitation. We don’t know whether the US president on 1st December will be Romney (a puppet of the climate-denying extreme right) or Obama (who has failed so far to take real action on climate). Either way we will be bringing the climate message loud and clear!
We need lots of help from our supporters to make the event a success – if you’d like to help out with planning beforehand or as a steward on the day, contact
By Claire James
Campaign against Climate Change