Fracking for shale gas has been in the news. Anti-fracking protesters at an exploration site in Sussex are trying to block lorries from reaching the drilling site. The protesters fear that the drilling process will contaminate the land and groundwater and pollute the air in their village.
Conservative Peer Lord Howell was no doubt thinking of attractive villages in rural areas when he suggested that fracking should be confined to what he described as “desolate” areas of the North. Lord Howell (who is Chancellor George Osborne’s father-in-law) recognised that fears about disturbance from fracking were “justified” for those who live in beautiful natural areas. But he said there was plenty of room for fracking in the North, well away from people’s “residences”.
His insensitive comments caused uproar and showed apparent ignorance of the fact that beautiful areas exist in the North of England and that the North is not desolate. But he also got it wrong in assuming that fracking for shale gas would be confined to areas “well away” from where people live.
There is a proposal to explore the potential for shale gas at Barton Moss. At this stage the process is described as “small-scale” and “low key”. Efforts are being made to ensure minimal impact on the community over the 2-3 months of the exploratory drilling.
However, I think people in Barton, Winton and Irlam need to have an idea of the full impact of what might happen if shale gas is found at the site. An international report on shale gas development described it as an intensive industrial process, with a larger footprint on the land than conventional gas development as more wells are needed. The report also said that the scale of development can have major implications for local communities, for land use and for water resources.
It is time for a proper appraisal of what shale gas could mean for all those people who would be affected by the process if gas is found locally. Only then can we balance the possible benefits against the impacts for those living near to the site.
International Energy Agency's Special Report on Unconventional Gas - read report here.