A hard rain’s a gonna fall…….
Countries, such as Britain, Poland and South Africa are trying to introduce gas fracking, in the face of considerable popular opposition.
The Transnational Institute has surveyed moves towards fracking and counts four countries that have started and 18 that are interested, including the major imperialist powers, except France, and all the BRIC countries. In France, fracking was banned in July 2011, following a large national mass movement, based on opposition in areas where sites had been earmarked for exploration. A movement against fracking is developing in Algeria, where fossil fuel companies Shell, Eni and Talisman have interests – particularly because of the tax breaks the government is offering.
China is meant to have the largest on-shore shale gas reserves and is aiming to use the resource for 6% of its energy needs by 2020. Again, according to TNI, Chinese companies have linked up with the likes of Shell, BP, Exxon, Chevron and Total to extract the gas. There is no effective environmental protection and the water demands, often in areas of shortage, will add to all the other harmful effects on local ecosystems and people.
The TNI links the interest in fracking to land-grabbing by multinationals, particularly important, given the large land area “per unit gas yield” the technology requires.
In Britain, after a 1 ½ year delay due to some minor earthquakes near Blackpool, resulting from exploratory drilling, the government in November 2012 gave the go-ahead for fracking test wells. Shale (but not necessarily recoverable gas) is present over 60% of the land mass of England and drilling licences have already been granted (or old conventional gas and oil ones revived) in Lancashire, the South-East and South Wales.
One other technology for which permits have been given in the UK is underground coal gasification (UGC). Interestingly, Lenin wrote approvingly about this technology, describing the benefits that could be gained from it under a socialist system, and its earliest large-scale application was in the USSR in the 1930’s.
Another technology, more closely related to fracking, is Coal Bed Methane (CBM). Planning applications have been sought for this process in the Falkirk/Stirling area and it is likely that this site will be the first to use one of these technologies on a large scale.
The drawbacks described below for fracking largely apply to UGC and CBM as well.
Some environmentalists are starting to claim that fracking will have the benefit of reducing the dependence on coal for generating electricity and thereby carbon dioxide emissions. There are three reasons why fracking is not the answer to this problem. One is the issue of methane leaks. The fragility of old workings has already been mentioned, and there are videos on the internet of people showing flames in their methane-contaminated tap water. Probably more serious are long-term leaks from the new wells, resulting from careless work or poor quality materials. The wells are lined with concrete: the Deepwater Horizon disaster was due to the failure of non-compliant concrete.