British resistance to fracking is cranking it up a gear. Community groups across the country are organising for a day of action on Saturday 1st December, to make it clear that they do not want to be fracked. Rumours are afoot of actions spanning from fire-eaters to naked flash mobs. Alternatively, there’s always the yearly climate march in London on the same day, which will have a fracking theme. The day has been titled “The Big Rig Revolt” and at present the default option for those wanting to fit in with the crowd seems to be to build a mock drilling rig and place it somewhere thoughtful, controversial or confrontational, depending on your preference. More inventive ideas will doubtless emerge nearer the time.
And it’s not all about doing it just for the frack of it – this upsurge in resistance is not focused on only one particular technology, as indeed the industry isn’t: the crackpot energy schemes come in many flavours. As easy-to-extract fossil fuels are depleted, prices are rising and the system is desperately scrabbling around to find alternatives, which are necessarily more extreme, dangerous and destructive. Up until now this has mainly been energy sources like tar sands and deep water drilling which are remote to most people. Now, however, with the screws really tightening and the global economy tottering, these sort of extreme energy methods are coming to a field near you. At the same time it is becoming increasingly clear that effects of burning fossil fuels on the climate are not limited to some far future but are already effecting many people. The rash of extreme weather events in the past year have devastated lives and are pushing up food prices threatening to starve many in the third world. Any widespread exploitation of unconventional fossil fuels could be completely catastrophic.
In Scotland, an Australian company called Dark Energy (er, sorry no, Dart Energy) has applied to build Britain’s first unconventional gas development, with 14 sites, 22 wells, over 20 km of pipelines, a processing plant and a waste outfall into the Firth of Fourth. Another 600 Coal Bed Methane (CBM) wells could follow, in this one small area between Falkirk and Stirling. In Lancashire, Cuadrilla Resources are in the process of drilling their fourth shale gas test well and are preparing to frack the well they drilled last year. The amounts of gas Cuadrilla are bragging they can extract from Lancashire would require them to drill over 6000 wells in the area. In Somerset, UK Methane have applied for the for permission for the first CBM test well in Keynsham near Bristol. Again this is but the tip of a much larger iceberg with in excess of 2000 wells needed to extract the gas that UK Methane hope is there. And in Cheshire, IGas have also been have been drilling for CBM around Warrington and Ellesmere Port and would need around 2000 wells to extract the gas they claim is there.
Outside these frontline areas there is little reason to feel complacent though. Other regions have well sites approved or licenses already sold and could be next in line to be fracked. The government originally planned a new licensing round to sell off more areas of the country this year but that has been put back to 2013. When it does happen though it is possible that rights to huge swathes of the country could be sold off for exploitation by private extraction companies. The dash for unconventional gas could result in tens of thousands of wells being drilled, plus associated pipelines, access roads and compressor stations, coating the landscape in industrial crap – even before you get to the issues with water contamination, air pollution and er, earthquakes.
Meanwhile Swansea, Newcastle or Edinburgh are in the firing line to be the first place where Underground Coal Gasification (setting fire to underground coal seams) is trialled. The government has already sold 18 licences for UCG around the coast, just offshore. While it is difficult to envisage what UCG would be like, since it has never been done on a large scale anywhere in the world, the best comparison is probably with the tar sands in Alberta, where huge industrial plants produce vast quantities of toxic waste.
The Big Rig Revolt is a chance for communities, groups and individuals across the country to make their voices heard in opposition to this threat. Actions are already planned in Lancashire, Swansea, Somerset, Brighton and London. See frack-off.org.uk/the-big-rig-revolt for more details and let them know if you are doing an action you want publicised.