Thursday, 5 June 2014

Why the Tories Want Fracking

While the bulk of the commentariat have picked up on the recall plans in yesterday's Queen's speech, the government's single-minded pursuit of fracking has caused less excitement. Philip Pearson of the TUC sums it up:
* Removing the responsibility for companies to notify individual landowners of their intention to frack.
* Underground access: proposing changes to trespass laws that would give fracking companies the right to drill under homes and businesses
without permission.
* Proposing to introduce “standard” environmental permits which will normally remove the right of local people to be consulted.
* Failing to consult on planning practice guidance which means planning rules override the interests of communities.
Let's call this what it is: a fracker's charter.

It is an absolute failure of our politics that the close relationship between the Tories and the fossil fuel lobby is a) not widely known about, and b) seized upon by the opposition. Evidence isn't hard to find. He who pays the piper ...

A lot of political opinion about fracking is informed by the stupidest of stupid empiricism. It really goes no deeper than "oh look, the American economy is enjoying cheaper fuel bills and a manufacturing renaissance thanks to shale oil and gas - let's have some of that!" That US shale has been consumed domestically because the export infrastructure doesn't exist, that the UK's geology is more complex, that fracking will not reduce fuel bills is barely, if at all recognised by the government. And this is before you start talking about subsidence, ground water poisoning, carbon emissions and climate change. You can only conclude their ignorance is studied, a stance that not so much borders but trespasses fully into the willful.

In the Tories case, their zeal for fracking, their granting of no-holds-barred rights to their mates has an undercurrent of desperation to it. In their more honest moments, away from the microphones and earwigging of the press, Dave, Osborne, and the rest know that the much-trumpeted "fastest-growing economy in Europe" is lop-sided and based on fundamental weaknesses. Selling houses to each other is not the recipe for a sustained recovery. But unleashing fracking ticks a number of boxes for this most short-termist, poll-obsessed of governments. It rings the bell for energy independence and (non-existent) bill decreases; it employs new people in primary industry, contributing to some rebalancing metric or another; and every exploratory well counts toward those practically deified GDP figures. In short, a rapid spate of exploratory drills and building of a shale infrastructure helps compensate for the structural economic weaknesses this government has done nothing to address.

The thinking is that economic growth will save their bacon next May, so they are scrambling for every positive indicator they can find. In their haste, however, they have overlooked how fracking - at least its initial wave - will be blighting the South East, the one English region that has consistently awarded them poll leads this parliament. Hence not only is the Tory party, as the preferred party of the ruling class, utterly incapable of attending to the long-term interests of British capital, it is dangerously cavalier about its own narrow interests.

Let's make sure fracking does them some serious damage before a single drill is sunk.


Robert said...

Tories frack off!

There's plenty of evidence that the US fracking boom is a con and yet another Wall Street bubble. I expect a lot of gullible investors will lose a lot of money when it pops.

"The pundits and corporate flacks who have, for all practical purposes, gone barking mad about the world’s energy supply—I really don’t think any less forceful phrasing reflects the nature of these strident claims that scraping the bottom of the barrel, via fracking or otherwise, ought to be treated as proof that the barrel’s still full—are by and large associated with the two economic sectors, finance and petroleum, that are going to be clobbered first and hardest as the reality of peak oil sets in. The elephant’s in their living rooms; that’s why their shrill denials that elephants exist can be heard so clearly all through the neighborhood. As the elephant roams a little more widely, I suspect that the same frantic tone will travel with it, until finally we find ourselves on the far side of denial and the next phase starts."

Phil said...

It'a completely unnecessary. Britain is a renewables super power thanks to wave and wind. Where's the requisite investment? Where's the implementation?

Robert said...

Even George Monbiot, who is pretty green, doesn't think renewables will be enough to avoid catastrophic climate change. He believes we need to invest in nuclear as well, specifically Integral Fast Reactors.

Being a total layman I'm not qualified to judge.

Another issue, suppose the Thatcher governments hadn't blown North Sea Oil revenues on tax cuts and mass unemployment to break the unions but rather built up a sovereign wealth fund like Norway. Maybe that might help to pay for new energy technology right now?

Tories = triumph of short term greed over the long term national interest.

Corin said...

Very good demolition of the Tory's case for fracking in the UK, thank you.

With regards to the question of how to power Britain using renewables, may I recommend the Zero Carbon Britain report which presents one possible scenario.

Monbiot has become a flag-waver for new nuclear due to pressure-of-time concerns, though in his book Heat from a few years ago he also describes how to move the UK to sustainable energy without burning (in a fancy way) uranium instead of coal.

The economic benefits of a massive push to go fully renewable can't be overstated, but unfortunately they are realised over the medium to long term which helps explain why none of the three major parties devote the attention they should to the subject.

asquith said...

I'd like to add to those endorsing Monbiot, not just for his honest and principled stance on nuclear but for his thought in general. "Feral" in particular being an excellent book.

I agree that fracking is an especially objectionable technology, and I think local communities should be given far more influence over the decisions, as they should on the almost as bad wind farms (note: I've never considered NIMBY a dirty word, and disagree with most of those of my tendency on this matter).

It is simply a fantasy to say that any cheap, plentiful and environmentally friendly energy can be supplied. IMHO, the "lessons" of Fukusshima are heinously misapplied- and doing active harm to Germany, while France has rightly misunderstood the hysteria- and we should be looking towards a sensible nuclear development whose aim is to minimise the harm associated with it, especially in the past.

I advise all and sundry to read Monbiot's blog and remain yours, etc.

opit said...

"sensible nuclear development whose aim is to minimise the harm associated with it" I don't think people realize yet that Fukushima was no accident. Both GE design engineers and construction engineers resigned over their concerns about safety. There is a YouTube video exposing the design flaws of these turn key operations, which affect many more reactors than just the Japanese ones. It was only yesterday I ran across funding games by the World Bank causing such to be constructed in Manila. How many more there are I hesitate to think about. Plus the engineer on YouTube noted construction of US nuke plants on the Mississippi River emergency flood-way.
These old designs were based on the units used in nuclear submarines. In all of them, spent fuel had to be kept cooled in a pool of circulating water: failure of backup power meant radioactive things went bang.
Was that just oversight or incompetence ? From the United States Offering Iran Uranium Enrichment Technology to Suggestions for Creating Catastrophic Industrial Failure
I have kept some notes on water warfare which seem to apply to such diverse things as dredging the Mississippi ( Contrary Brin - futurist David Brin - has more than one article of analysis ), effects of Hurricane Katrina and state of retaining structures ( ), and construction of high dams in the Himalayas ( International Rivers has a report )
Nuclear notes
Since hydrofracking is your focus, it would be remiss not to include the link for the Texas blogger who has run an information nexus exposing frack dangers for years

opit said...

Better check your spam filter. I sent a note including several links I thought relevant. Here is perhaps the most important again :

Phil said...

Many thanks for all those links. They will come in very handy.

Phil said...

Surely it's fairly obvious why the Tories want fracking. The question is who's going to frack them.