Does the British Tory government really believe that climate change is real and that it is man-made? I have already written about their obsession with nuclear energy, so let us put that aside. Now they have added another obsession, natural gas. Furthermore, they want to frack Britain to extract it, including from underneath our beautiful national parks.
Before we look at the dangerous side-effects of fracking, the question arises as to whether natural gas is the right fuel to replace coal in our power stations. Natural gas, it is true, when burned, produces half the carbon dioxide (CO2) of coal per unit of energy. However, natural gas, which is 95% methane (CH4), when it escapes to the atmosphere is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. Recent studies have shown that when leakages are taken into account, its benefits over coal disappear.
Thus a government that believed in climate change would not move to natural gas as an alternative to coal, as ours is planning to do. It is unfortunate that CO2 emissions are the only emissions focussed on when climate change is discussed. A country could meet its obligation with regard to CO2 targets without actually reducing its contribution to climate change.
So if natural gas is the wrong fuel to use to halt climate change, why on earth does this government want to frack Britain to extract it? Why is this government so fixated with the extractive industries? Why not strongly support the truly safe, sustainable, jobs-rich renewable energy industries?
Where does one start when talking about fracking? Let us begin with the facts about the process. The BBC defines fracking as "the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside." This is a sanitized definition of the process. The water mixture contains a cocktail of nasty, toxic chemicals. An AlterNet article gives us some of the numbers that apply to fracking in the US.
"(a) 40,000: gallons of chemicals used for each fracturing site.
(b) 8 million: number of gallons of water used per fracking
(c) 600: number of chemicals used in the fracking fluid, including known carcinogens and toxins such as lead, benzene, uranium, radium, methanol, mercury, hydrochloric acid, ethylene glycol and formaldehyde."
After doing its job of releasing the gas, at least half of this nasty mixture of chemicals is then injected deep underground. How can such a process be made safe? We really cannot expect people to live anywhere near a fracking site. Have we learnt nothing from the past century where we polluted our atmosphere to the point of endangering our species? Fracking will pollute the ground beneath our feet, and our water. The contamination is described thus:
"A single well can produce more than a million gallons of wastewater, which contains radioactive elements like radium and carcinogenic hydrocarbons like benzene. In addition, methane concentrations are 17 times higher in drinking-water wells near fracking sites than in normal wells. Only 30-50 percent of the fracturing fluid is recovered; the rest is left in the ground and is not biodegradable."
John H. Quigley, former secretary of Pennsylvania's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources described fracking in the US with these words:
"We're burning the furniture to heat the house ... In shifting away from coal and toward natural gas, we're trying for cleaner air, but we're producing massive amounts of toxic wastewater with salts and naturally occurring radioactive materials, and it's not clear we have a plan for properly handling this waste."
For a fuller picture of what a horrendous process fracking is, I recommend people read the AlterNet article.
So to answer the question I asked at the beginning, I don't believe this government believes that climate change is real and is man-made. It seems to me that they only want to be seen to be doing something. It is tragic to see the transformation of this government; they came to power with the slogan "vote blue get green" which has now morphed into "vote blue and get fracking." Shame on you.