Just another fracking day

Since Dave Watson's blog on fracking and the powers of the Scottish Government to stop it, there have been a few developments that I thought were worth a short update.

Starting with the Smith Commission report that includes devolving onshore gas exploration. That removes any fig leaf the Scottish Government may have been clinging to on powers to regulate the exploitation of unconventional gas or fracking. As Dave pointed out, they already have the planning powers to stop fracking, but there is little evidence that they want to. Ineos would not be be buying up licences like a Tesco Black Friday sale, if they though the Scottish Government was going to stop them drilling in the central belt.

On the safety front the Guardian covered a report produced by the government’s chief scientific adviser that fracking carries potential risks on a par with those from thalidomide, tobacco and asbestos. The flagship annual report by the UK’s chief scientist, Mark Walport, argues that history holds many examples of innovations that were adopted hastily and later had serious negative environmental and health impacts. The residents of Falkirk and the surrounding areas have probably already worked that one out!

A similar view on the health impact comes from a large amount of health impact data from the USA summarised by a Correspondent in The Lancet. Recent studies from the USA before, during, and after fracking have suggested an increased risk of adverse health events, such as congenital heart defects, and low Apgar scores – the very first test given to a new born child – in individuals living close to natural gas development (within a radius of 10 miles).

One major peer reviewed study in rural Colorado calculated natural gas well counts within a 10-mile radius of maternal residences to estimate maternal exposure to natural gas developments. The study found “an association between density and proximity of natural gas wells within a 10-mile radius of maternal residence and prevalence of congenital heart disease and possibly neural tube defects.”

Some bad news for taxpayers who are likely to have to fund hundreds of boreholes across Britain to try to persuade the public that a looming shale gas boom can be developed safely. Sensors in the boreholes would detect possible water pollution or earthquakes caused by fracking and the information would be made public. “We will be taking the pulse of the sub-surface environment and will reveal if things are going wrong, but also if they are going right,” said Professor Mike Stephenson, director of science and technology at the British Geological Survey, which would drill the boreholes. “The aim is to reassure people that we can manage the sub-surface safely.”

The plan, called the energy security and innovation observing system, will cost taxpayers £60m-£80m. It is awaiting final approval from BIS where energy minister Matthew Hancock, a fracking enthusiast, holds another ministerial post.

So, powers in place, safety fears not resolved and the taxpayer to pick up the bill. Just another day in the search for a energy source we simply don't need.



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