“Loophole”?

When Malcolm’s alter-ego was a Borough Councillor, Tories had a constant (and even honourable) line on compulsory purchase: they were against it on principle.

That got in the way of many worthwhile municipal schemes, or involved extra expense to “persuade” the sellers of the needed land.

Which makes him raise a wry eye-brow when he reads this, in today’s Times (£ — page 39 of the print edition):

Landowners are entitled to compensation from shale gas companies in return for allowing drilling. If they are still opposed, companies would have to acquire the land under a compulsory purchase order, but this can take several years and would be hugely expensive.

The Times revealed last month that the shale gas industry was talking to the Government about closing the loophole.

A bit more than a “loophole”, one might feel:

  • It certainly plays fast-and-loose not just with any concept of “property”.
  • Any Conservative should recall Margaret Thatcher (in her Reagan lecture of December 1997):

A totally planned society and economy has the ability to concentrate productive capacity on some fixed objective with a reasonable degree of success; and do it better than liberal democracies. But totalitarianism can only work like this for a relatively short time, after which the waste, distortions and corruption increase intolerably.

Does that define the ConDem unquestioning support for fracking as “totalitarian”, leading to “waste, distortions and corruption”?

  • It also plays hell with language, extending mightily the metaphor of “loophole”.

Consider meaning 3 in the OED:

fig. An outlet or means of escape. Often applied to an ambiguity or omission in a statute, etc., which affords opportunity for evading its intention.

 The Times, normally so “conservative” (a capital letter C is optional there), is gung-ho for fracking. We have today a singularly-misguided second leader:

Environmental Dogma

Opposition to fracking and GM crops is anti-science and harmful to the world’s poor

That sub-heading goes missing in the on-line version, unless one clicks past the “taster”. The whole piece is a paean of praise for Owen Patterson (who is not only Environment Secretary, but about as far-to-the-right as any member of this benighted administration).

After a couple of paragraphs on GM crops, we go off on a side-track for this:

Debates over government policy on agriculture and energy are right and inevitable. They should be founded on evidence, however. The environmental groups’ campaigning is instead based on an obscurantist hostility to science itself. Mr ­Paterson is right to call it what it is.

Fracking involves blasting shale rock with water at very high pressures to release the gas. Environmental groups maintain that this activity can cause tiny earthquakes and that the toxic chemicals used in fracking may contaminate ground­water.

In practice, any seismic activity that has been produced by the fracking boom in the United States has been negligible — indeed unobservable by anyone except geologists. Contamination of the water supply is not strictly impossible, in the sense that science does not rule absolutely preclude any scenario that meets the conditions of logic.

Yet there is no evidence that any such scenario has occurred. To issue such warnings with no evidence, or even a plausible explanation by which it might occur, is irresponsible. It is not part of any scientific debate: it is baseless superstition. The benefits of fracking, conversely, in limiting the ­environmental impact of energy exploration and in diversifying Britain’s energy mix are huge.

The biggest losers as a result of the anti-science thrust of much campaigning by Greenpeace and its equivalents, however, are the one billion people still classified as hungry.

The Times‘s dismissal of the many proven unpleasantnesses and dangers of tracking is disingenuous, to say the least.

Unobservable by anyone except geologists ?

To claim that seismic activity [read: earthquakes]has been negligible — indeed unobservable by anyone except geologists is patently untrue:

New research officially confirmed that ‘fracking’ caused the set of nearly a dozen mysterious earthquakes in Ohio in 2011. 

Scientists have spent the past two years trying to explain why Youngstown, Ohio- a town where there had been now reported earthquakes before December 2010- suddenly fell victim to 109 small quakes. [The Daily Mail, 5 Sep 2013]

They started small, but On Dec. 31, 2011, at 3:05 p.m., Youngstown was stirred by a 3.9 quake. For what it’s worth, a 3.91 quake is what was produced by a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast, “touted as the most powerful non-nuclear weapon ever designed.” Non-geologists might notice that one.

Not just Ohio, either:

In 2010 and 2011, there were as many as 1,000 minor earthquakes in Arkansas. And scientists believe they were caused by fracking.

Seismologists at the U.S. Geological Survey say the disposal of millions of gallons of wastewater flowback as part of the fracking process can create “micro earthquakes,” which are rarely felt, and also the rare larger seismic disruption. Scientists say that’s what happened in Greenbrier, Arkansas, where the quakes damaged homes.

Yesterday, five local residents settled for an undisclosed sum of money after suing two oil companies. Those five residents aren’t the only ones suing Chesapeake Energy and BHP Billiton. Twenty other residents are expecting to file lawsuits in Arkansas state court, according to Reuters. [The Atlantic Cities, 29 Aug 2013]

And again:

The earthquake registered a magnitude 5.7*—the largest ever recorded in Oklahoma—with its epicenter less than two miles from the Reneaus’ house, which took six months to rebuild. It injured two people, destroyed 14 homes, toppled headstones, closed schools, and was felt in 17 states. It was preceded by a 4.7 foreshock the morning prior and followed by a 4.7 aftershock… Between 1972 and 2008, the USGS recorded just a few earthquakes a year in Oklahoma. In 2008, there were more than a dozen; nearly 50 occurred in 2009. In 2010, the number exploded to more than 1,000. [Mother Jones, March-April 2013]

And yet again:

A recent wave of small earthquakes in and around the Eagle Ford formation in Texas was probably the result of extracting oil and in some cases water used for hydraulic fracturing, according to a study.

Clusters of small-magnitude seismic events between November 2009 and September 2011 were “often associated with fluid extraction,” according to the study scheduled to appear this week in the online edition of the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters. The study follows previous research that links earthquakes to the disposal of drilling wastewater by injecting it underground. [Bloomberg, 27 Aug 2013]

Contamination of the water supply is not strictly impossible ?

Pity the editorial writer at The Times didn’t consult the other end of the Murdoch operation, at the Wall Street Journal:

Chemicals found in a Wyoming town’s drinking water likely are associated with hydraulic fracturing, the Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday, raising the stakes in a debate over a drilling technique that has created a boom in natural-gas production.

The agency’s draft findings are among the first by the government to link the technique, dubbed “fracking,” with groundwater contamination. The method—injecting large volumes of water, sand and chemicals to dislodge natural gas or oil—has been criticized by environmentalists for its potential to harm water supplies, which the industry disputes …

The EPA has responded to several instances of potential fracking contamination, including in Texas and Pennsylvania. In Texas, the EPA ordered a company, Range Resources, to provide fresh drinking water to residents who said their water was contaminated. The case is the subject of a lawsuit.

The agency ordered Pennsylvania to tighten its standards related to removal of drilling wastewater and recently said it would consider nationwide standards for disposal of such water.

Let’s bring that Pennsylvania reference up to date:

Pennsylvania’s Attorney General has filed criminal charges against ExxonMobil for illegally dumping tens of thousands of gallons of hydraulic fracturing waste at a drilling site in 2010. The Exxon subsidiary, XTO Energy, had removed a plug from a wastewater tank, leading to 57,000 gallons of contaminated water spilling into the soil.

… a July study found that the closer residents live to wells used in fracking, the more likely drinking water is contaminated, with 115 of 141 wells found to contain methane. [Thinkprogress, 11 Sep 2013]

If it’s in your coffee and shower water, what about the air you breathe? —

study by researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in late 2012 reconfirmed earlier findings of high rates of methane leakage from natural gas fields that utterly vitiate any climate benefit of natural gas, even when used as an alternative to coal.

Previous findings showed leakage of 4% methane leakage over a Colorado gas field and the new findings have more than doubled that to 9%.

Gas drilling operations release airborne contaminants that can have detrimental effects on our health.  Areas where there is gas production have reported significant increases in ozone, commonly known as smog, because some of the toxic precursors to smog, such as volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides are released during the process that brings natural gas from the ground to market.  Lisa Jackson, former Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) admitted in an interview with National Public Radios’ Michele Norris at the Aspen Ideas Festival in June 2011, “You are going to have huge smog problems where you never had them before……These are rural areas. … There is a lot of activity around those wells and that has an impact on air quality — and we know it already.” [Catskillmountainkeeper]

Fracking sitesMoreover, in Britain, we are not talking of fracking out where there’s land, lots of land under starry skies above, as frack-off.org.uk’s map (right) shows.

Malcolm admits a personal interest here. Two of those sites are just down the road from his new home. Dart Energy have rights all the way from Easingwold, to Tadcaster, and all the way to the centre of the city of York.

Fracking Tories

In those days of Borough Councillorship, Malcolm’s alter-ego (see top of this posting) could see where the Tory side was on the matter of compulsory purchase.

Similarly, it is comforting to observe, as at the Manchester Conference, that many Tories today remain uncomfortable with George Osborne’s approach:

Chancellor George Osborne has sent a strong message to the Conservative rural heartlands, warning that he will fight any Tory backlash against fracking and saying that it would be a real tragedy if Britain allowed the shale gas energy revolution to bypass the UK.

Research conducted by Greenpeace has shown that 38 out of 62 MPs in the south have land with existing oil and gas drilling licenses – and 35 of them are Conservatives, including many cabinet ministers.

It raises the prospect that many Tory backbenchers in the run-up to the 2015 election will find themselves conflicted by the demands of the UK economy and business to exploit the reserves, and opposition from environmental groups as well as many of their anxious constituents.

ConHome and senior voices in the Tory Party have to be rounded up to keep the line.

For how long? 

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Filed under Britain, economy, gas, George Osborne, health, politics, Times, Tories., United States

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