This is what fracking is: It has the potential to cause huge harm – but Natascha Engels is upset that she is being prevented from causing such harm.
Here’s another name to add to the list of those responsible for the climate catastrophe and mass extinction we’re all facing: Natascha Engel.
She has resigned after only six months as the UK’s shale gas commissioner – not because fracking is hugely harmful to the environment, but because rules that try to protect that environment are stopping it.
She is upset because she has been prevented from doing harm. Contemptible.
The UK’s shale gas commissioner is resigning after just six months, saying fracking is being throttled by rules preventing mini earthquakes.
The Guardianis reporting that regulations proposed by the Labour Party and approved by the Coalition Government mean fracking will be banned from two-fifths of the land in England.
[Image: The Guardian.]
Labour faced harsh criticism last week, particularly from the Green Party of England and Wales, after it failed to support that party’s call for a moratorium on fracking that would have banned it altogether. Green supporters suggested that Labour had done a deal with the Coalition to abstain on the moratorium in return for support over the 13-point regulation scheme.
In fact, according to the newspaper, “Ministers were forced to accept Labour’s new environmental rules last week to avoid a rebellion by Conservative and LibDem backbench MPs, many of whom are facing opposition to fracking from constituents.”
So there was no dirty backroom deal and 40 per cent of England is free of fracking whereas, if Labour had supported the Green moratorium, none of England would be protected.
The article continues: “Neither the government nor Labour have stated how much of the land available for future shale gas drilling – 60 per cent of England – would be affected by the new bans. But a Guardian data analysis has revealed it is 39.7 per cent, with large swaths of the south and south east off-limits, as well as the Yorkshire Dales and Peak district.
“An independent analysis by Greenpeace also found that 45 per cent of the 931 blocks being licensed for fracking in England were at least 50 per cent covered by protected areas, which it said was likely to make them unattractive to fracking companies.
“Just three per cent of of the blocks have no protected areas at all, Greenpeace found.”
Well played, Labour! That was a good afternoon’s work.
Snouts in the trough: Martin Rowson’s Guardian cartoon goes straight to the heart of the matter – fracking isn’t about ending the energy crisis, or even extracting shale gas in a reasonable way; it is about GREED.
… at least, not without some cast-iron promises about how this gas is to be mined.
According to the Sunday Express(of all places), “The opposition says it will not support fracking without transparency about chemicals used in the process, monitoring of groundwater and environmental impact assessments for all drilling sites.”
“Shadow energy minister Tom Greatrex, who has admitted shale gas ‘may have a role to play’ in Britain’s future energy needs, warned Labour might yet withhold support.
“He told the Sunday Express: ‘If the Government accept our amendments, there will be much more thorough regulation, but there are other issues.
“’The real test for the Government is to move beyond their rhetoric about shale as the silver bullet that will solve all our energy problems.’”
Let nobody say that Labour supports the Coalition on unregulated mining of shale gas by fracking!
Mr Os-bean: As Ed Miliband gave his response to the Budget, George Osborne had a gormless smile on his face that made him look like Mr Bean. This is not him – but it’s the closest image I could find at short notice. [Image as credited]
If a Conservative government is returned to office after the 2015 election, there will be yet more spending cuts and service cuts afflicting hard-working, low-paid families.
That was the message for most people in George Osborne’s latest attempt at a Budget speech today.
There were plenty of groan-worthy moments as the part-time chancellor trotted out the Coalition’s catchphrases: “We will fix the roof while the sun is shining” (groan. The job is taking so long, one has to question whether the contractor is Con-ning the client). “We are all in this together” (groan). Oh really?
Benefit spending is to be capped at £119 billion per year, albeit rising with inflation; public sector pay “restraint” will continue for the foreseeable future. This is from the government whose Prime Minister was confirmed, only minutes previously, as having approved 40 per cent pay rises for his special advisors!
Most significant is the fact that Osborne avoided mentioning ordinary working people for most of his speech; this was a budget for businesses, with the benefits reserved for fatcat bosses.
No major advanced economy in the World is growing faster than the UK, said Mr Osborne; more people are in work. This appears to be borne out by current employment figures (although it should be noted that this is due to a vast and questionable boom in self-employment – the number of employees has dropped by 60,000).
Where is the benefit to the British economy? Why has the deficit not been eliminated? Osborne said it stood at £157 billion in the year he came to office, and would be £108 billion this year, but in fact £39 billion was removed due to measures brought in by the previous Labour chancellor, Alistair Darling. He has cut government spending by something like £80 billion so far, but the deficit has dropped by – possibly – £10 billion. Not a good start to his speech.
There will be further investment in high-speed rail, even though there is no way of predicting whether this hugely costly investment in making train journeys 20 minutes faster will create any economic improvement.
There will be money to fund new centres for medical research – but will these be absorbed by private health firms after the public purse has paid for them?
There will be investment in faster extraction of oil from the North Sea – aiming to get as much as possible out before the Scottish referendum, in order to impoverish the Scots if they decide to go for independence?
And there will be investment in low-cost energy (finally killing the highly questionable green agenda) – meaning money for shale gas companies, and to hell with the environmental cost.
All this investment will go into businesses whose main contribution to the Treasury – Corporation Tax – has already dropped by a quarter (from 28 per cent to 21 per cent) and will go down to 20 per cent this year. This is less than the lowest level of Income Tax.
Up go the profits – down go the tax payments. Who benefits?
Council tax in England remains frozen, meaning fewer public services.
The personal tax allowance is to rise, so people may earn £10,500 before paying tax. This is nowhere near enough to offset the massive drop in living standards that has been caused by the Tory-led Coalition. The cost of living has risen for 44 out of the 45 months of this Parliament – for the whole period, if the earnings of high-paid bankers are removed from the calculation.
The threshold for payment of the 40p tax rate is to rise, so fewer people will pay the higher rate.
Savers are to be helped but – again – this is not a boost for the poor. Most working and unemployed families don’t have any spare money to put into the banks. How does it help them to know they would not pay any tax on savings up to £15,000 in an ISA, when they cannot afford to open one?
And there is a new Pensioner Bond for rich senior citizens (poorer pensioners don’t live long enough to benefit).
As Ed Miliband said in his scathing response, the Coalition can afford to give a tax cut of £200,000 per year to bankers who earn £5 million – but can’t afford £250 per year extra for nurses.
Mr Miliband said the Budget speech was more significant in what it hid than in what it actually said.
Working people are suffering under the Bedroom Tax, under cuts to their tax credits, and they are having to visit food banks if they want to eat.
This is a government that gives with one hand, but takes back much more with the other.
And the Conservatives have the bare-faced cheek to call themselves “The Workers’ Party”.
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Columnist Jill Filipovic hit the nail on the head when she wrote: “I can already hear your objections: ‘But the area under my boobs doesn’t stink!’ or ‘What kind of marketing genius not only came up with the term “swoob,” but actually thought half the world’s population might be dumb enough to buy into it?’ or simply, ‘This is a dumb product aimed at inventing an insecurity and then claiming to cure it.’
“You would be correct on all three points.
“In fact, inventing problems with women’s bodies and then offering a cure – if you pay up – is the primary purpose of the multi-billion dollar beauty industry.”
The simple fact is that you don’t really need to worry about smells down there – a good old soapy flannel will cure any such problems.
That’s not the point, though. The aim is to get you thinking about it and devoting your energy to it, rather than to other matters.
Now let’s translate that to politics.
We already know that all the scaremongering about Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants storming the country from January 1 was a crock. That bastion of good statistics, The Now Show, told us last week that the total number of Bulgarian immigrants in the last couple of weeks was “around two dozen so far”, according to their ambassador. In the first three months after our borders were opened to Croatians, 174 turned up.
Yet the government wanted you to believe they would flood our immigration service in their millions, “taking benefits and yet simultaneously also taking all the jobs”.
My use of language such as “storming” and “flood” is not accidental. By far the more serious threat to the UK in the early days of 2014 was the weather – and, guess what, not only was the government unprepared for the ferocity of the storms that swept our islands, the Coalition was in fact in the process of cutting funding for flood defence.
This would have gone unnoticed if the weather had behaved itself, because we would all have been distracted by the single Romanian immigrant who was ensnared by Keith Vaz in a ring of TV cameras at Heathrow Airport.
Now the Tories are telling us that our take-home pay is finally on the rise for all but the top 10 per cent of earners, with the rest of us seeing our wages rise by at least 2.5 per cent.
The government made its claims (up) by taking into account only cuts to income tax and national insurance, using data leading up to April last year, according to the BBC News website.
“The data used … takes no account of the large benefit cuts introduced by the coalition, such as the real-terms cut in child benefit, the uprating of benefits in line with CPI inflation rather than RPI, and the cuts to tax credits,” writes the Statesman‘s George Eaton.”
He also pointed out that other major cuts such as the bedroom tax, the benefit cap, and the 10 per cent cut in council tax support were introduced after April 2013 and were not included in the Coalition figures.
Once all tax and benefit changes are taken into account, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that almost all families are worse off – and the Coalition also appears to have forgotten the five million low-paid workers who don’t earn enough to benefit from the increase in the personal allowance.
Skills and enterprise minister Matthew Hancock compounded the mistake in an exchange on Twitter with Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR). Asked why his analysis “ignores more than four million people in work (the self-employed)”, Mr Hancock tweeted: “Analysis based on ONS ASHE survey of household earnings data”.
Wrong – as Mr Portes was quick to show: “Don’t you know the difference between household and individual earnings?”
Apparently not. ASHE (Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings) is a survey of employed individuals using their National Insurance numbers – not of households or the self-employed.
So the Coalition – and particularly the Tories – were trying to make us all feel good about the amount we earn.
That’s the distraction. What are we supposed to be ignoring?
Or is it the growing threat of a rise in interest rates, which may be triggered when official unemployment figures – which have been fiddled by increased sanctions on jobseekers, rigged reassessments of benefit claimants, a new scheme to increase the number of people and time spent on Workfare, and the fake economic upturn created by George Osborne’s housing bubble – drop to seven per cent?
It seems possible that the government – especially the Tory part of it – would want to keep people from considering the implications of an interest rate rise that is based on false figures.
As Vox Political commenter Jonathan Wilson wrote yesterday: “If the BOE bases its decisions on incorrect manipulated data that presents a false ‘good news’ analysis then potentially it could do something based on it that would have catastrophic consequences.
“For example if its unemployment rate test is reached, and wages were going up by X per cent against a Y per cent inflation rate which predicted that an interest rate rise of Z per cent would have no general effect and not impact on house prices nor significantly increase repossessions (when X per cent is over-inflated by the top 1 per cent of earners, Y per cent is unrealistically low due to, say, the 50 quid green reduction and/or shops massively discounting to inflate purchases/turnover and not profit) and when it does, instead of tapping on the breaks lightly it slams the gears into reverse while still traveling forward… repossessions go up hugely, house prices suffer a major downward re-evaluation (due to tens of thousands of repossessions hitting the auction rooms) debt rates hit the roof, people stop buying white goods and make do with last year’s iPad/phone/tv/sofa, major retail goes tits up, Amazon goes to the wall, the delivery market and post collapses… etc etc.
“And all because the government fiddled the figures.”
Perhaps Mr Cameron doesn’t want us thinking about that when we could be deodorising our breasts instead.
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Fracked water is set ablaze in the film Gasland: “There is no reason why the process should cause contamination of water supplies,” said Cameron.
“We’re all in it together”, David Cameron scrawled in his Telegraph article on fracking. Presumably this means he personally has invested heavily in the process as the evidence suggests there are appalling drawbacks for the majority of the UK.
Let’s put the alternative view immediately. Fracking would involve drilling large numbers of directional wells at regular intervals – coating the landscape with far more than the eight in the current largest onshore gas field in the UK, at Saltfleetby in Lincolnshire. Thousands would be required to temporarily – that’s right, temporarily – replace just one North Sea field. Production from a typical shale well declines by 70-80 per cent in the first year alone, meaning new wells must be drilled constantly to maintain production.
The method is to inject millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into the wells, under massive pressure. Water consumption and contamination is a major issue, and disposal of the huge amounts of toxic waste produced by the process is extremely difficult – it seems attempts to inject it into the ground are causing large numbers of earthquakes.
Air pollution means high ozone levels, along with carcinogenic hydrocarbon vapours that can be blown hundreds of miles from the source, creating breathing difficulties, cancer clusters, neurological and reproductive problems in humans and animals living in the shadow of these industries. The typical response from industrialists (and government, to judge from Mr Cameron’s comments) is to demand proof from people who have neither the funds nor the health to do so.
Methane gas emissions amplify the global warming effects of burning other carbon fuels.
This is the process Mr Cameron wishes to inflict on you.
“If we don’t back this technology, we will miss a massive opportunity to help families with their bills and make our country more competitive,” he wrote in the Telegraph. He’s clearly forgetting that families wouldn’t have such serious problems with their bills if a previous Conservative government hadn’t privatised the energy companies, giving them to greedy shareholders who have raised prices far above increases in inflation, every year. As for making the country more competitive, he is forgetting that the Conservative government of Mrs Thatcher reduced our competitiveness by closing down the coal mines in order to chase cheap fuels from abroad, that have now risen in price. What a false economy that was!
With such a track record, why should we now believe a Conservative’s claims about this form of energy extraction?
“Labour’s mismanagement of the economy means that many people are struggling with the cost of living today.” To clarify: Labour did not mismanage the economy – the 1997-2010 government recently received a clean bill of health, as reported on this blog and elsewhere. This is a repetition of a lie that Conservatives have been spouting gleefully, ever since they decided on a whim that they no longer support what Labour did to save the economy after the credit crunch. Previously, they backed Labour all the way but this has been retrospectively changed. They seem to like retrospective alterations.
According to the BBC, “the government’s own energy department DECC says it’s not clear whether fracking will bring down bills or not”. So Mr Cameron is contradicting his own experts.
“Where we can act to relieve the pressure, we must.” Fine. Since there are more fossil fuels stockpiled today than we can burn at once, without causing the climate change that has been feared for so many years, the answer is to cut fuel bills by forcing the energy companies to stop being so stupidly greedy and charge realistic prices. Obviously.
“Secondly, fracking will create jobs in Britain.” But these people will then contract fracking-related diseases and be invalided out of work. They’ll go on to claim Employment and Support Allowance and/or Personal Independence Payment, be refused by “Returned To Unit”‘s* Department of Work and Pensions and die. The deaths will go unnoticed because the government has already decided to stop collecting death statistics.
“Thirdly, fracking will bring money to local neighbourhoods.” This sounds enticing, but no reference is made to how this money will be distributed. It goes to communities, not to people. “This is money that could be used for a variety of purposes – from reductions in council tax bills to investment in neighbourhood schools.” Those are both benefits that could be negated by, say, reductions in government grants to local councils, meaning the local levy must increase, and privatisation of the education system, meaning local people will need to find other ways of educating their children.
“I want all parts of our nation to share in the benefits: north or south, Conservative or Labour. We are all in this together.” Does anybody remember the fuss when the route for the new HS2 rail service was revealed to pass through a government minister’s constituency? That was bad for the government’s image and won’t happen again. Expect fracking to be confined to areas away from Tory heartlands, where ministers and backbenchers won’t complain about it.
“Local people will not be cut out and ignored… firms looking to frack should make people aware of their plans well before they apply for a permit…. if residents express specific concerns, then companies should take them on board.” None of this guarantees that firms will be prohibited from fracking if sufficient public objection is raised; they’ll just say they’ve taken those concerns on board and carry on regardless.
Look at Balcombe, in West Sussex, where the firm Cuadrilla is facing determined opposition from protesters who were horrified when permission for drilling was granted last December. It seems likely that the firm will have to seek – and will receive – the necessary permits for fracking, but the community may receive no benefits as the oil targeted will be in rocks that are “not shale”.
Objections have been raised and ignored. That is what will happen to you.
“International evidence shows there is no reason why the process should cause contamination of water supplies or other environmental damage, if properly regulated,” said Mr Cameron, leader of the Party of DEregulation. Conservatives do not know how to regulate anything and it is against their ideology to do so. “If any shale gas well were to pose a risk of pollution, then we have all the powers we need to close it down.” Note that he does not make any mention of exercising those powers.
Plenty of independent information is available on fracking – certainly on the Internet – and readers are encouraged to look it up and decide for themselves.
And tell other people to do the same – otherwise we all stand in danger of having our land raped by a money-grubbing liar whose political party caused the problems he claims this environmentally-disastrous process will resolve.
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