Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Yeah, But No, But Yeah, Labour Loves Fracking, Per Hazel Blears MP

Hazel Blears, MP for Salford and EcclesIf you're a carping malcontent like me, you will occasionally speak your mind, and possibly even  work towards getting what you want in some way. I'm serious about my dissent; I start petitions (here's one I made earlier) and take part in campaigns on those issues I deem serious enough to fight about.

Do you? While some people attempt to fight the power and end up in prison over it, I prefer the more gentle route of writing to my MP. It's actually a lot more effective and, in an election year, it's a great way to get things done. 

We stopped the Snooper's Charter from being inserted into an anti-terror bill on Monday 26th January 2015, not with DDoS, but by writing to the Lords and kicking up a stink online. Fracking is another of my concerns, and I'm going to talk about my battle to get it banned from Britain while working within the law.

The Labour Party's take on fracking, sporked by yours truly

When the opportunity to attempt to influence a vote on a moratorium on fracking came up, I wrote to Hazel Blears MP, my local representative, to complain that fracking is a very bad idea. I then got into an argument with a fracking fanboy who thinks fracking is the dog's {redacted} because there is no alternative apart from coal, which I agree is bad. Dangers? What dangers?

The fact that there's a lot of misinformation floating about doesn't help. Anyway, Ms. Blears responded in record time and this is what she sent me by snail mail.

 Dear Mrs. Cockcroft,

I am writing to thank you for your recent email with regard to the Infrastructure Bill and fracking. It is an election year, after all.

I believe that shale gas extraction (fracking) should only be used in the context of robust regulation, comprehensive monitoring and strict enforcement, and in a way that is consistent with decarbonising our electricity supply by 2030. Though that's not likely to happen if we're trying to get there via fracking.

Gas is a fuel which remains vital to the operation of our homes, services and businesses in the UK. 80% of our homes now rely on gas for heating, while around 30% of our electricity comes from gas fired power stations because renewables are for tree-huggers. While low carbon power generation will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels over time, we will still need flexible power to help manage peaks in demand. Microgeneration and landfill methane capture are not on the table because we're in hock to fossil fuel corporations. Projections from the National Grid expect gas to continue to play a vital role in our energy system for many years to come because we're so slow on the uptake where renewables are concerned.

While demand for gas continues to be high, our availability to source this fuel from within our own borders has been steadily declining. In 2004, the UK became a net importer of gas for the first time since North Sea extraction began
because we're not willing to make more of methane from our own landfill sites. For those reasons, the possibility to source gas from the UK should not be ruled out without careful consideration of biomethane, etc.
Shale. Source: WikimediaThe Government's Infrastructure Bill proposes changes to the regulations on fracking for shale gas to benefit their corporate cronies at your expense. Conventional oil and gas exploration and production mostly involves vertical or near-vertical drilling from one spot on the surface. A well for shale gas, however, will usually run vertically down and then extend horizontally for some distance — this could be as much as two miles, or even more because shale gas is trapped in tiny bubbles between thin sheets of slate-like rock. It doesn't occur in big pockets. They're looking for gas-rich rock. This would mean that companies would have to seek permission from a large number of landowners. As it stands, the existing legislation allows coalmining, water, sewage, and gas transportation pipelines to have underground access without needing the permission of the landowner, but not shale gas or deep geothermal because the others aren't quite as polluting or dangerous. In reality it would provide an effective block on fracking activity and deep geothermal in the UK because we conflate clean and dirty energy to such a degree people don't know what to believe.

At the end of May the Government published a consultation on changes to trespass regulations and confirmed their intention to legislate in the forthcoming Infrastructure Bill whether you like it or not. These changes will mean that while shale gas companies will still need the permission of landowners for surface access and still require local planning consent, underpinned by environmental impact assessments until TTIP kicks (you) in (the teeth), they will not need permission for underground access at depths of 300m or more even if some peoples' houses end up being destroyed by fracking activity. However, the issue of underground access rights is separate from the environmental and safety framework. Only by fully addressing legitimate environmental and safety concerns about fracking with robust regulation, which will be quietly ditched when TTIP takes effect, comprehensive monitoring and strict enforcement, not to mention the whole new litigation industry that will doubtless spring up, will people have confidence until they realise they can't get insurance, that the exploration and possible extraction of shale gas is a safe and reliable source that can contribute to the UK's energy mix. Hah! Just kiddin'. We get all our information from this guy.

I will therefore continue to push for the environmental framework to be strengthened until otherwise advised by the Establishment. In 2012 the Opposition set out six tough environmental conditions which should be in place prior to any shale gas extraction taking place in the UK. While the Government accepted four of the six conditions in December 2012, we still believe that the regulatory framework is not sufficiently robust, but we weasled out of voting in favour of a moratorium on fracking nonetheless. The level of methane in groundwater is clear but we're not really bothered about contaminants from holding ponds, so it is important that robust baseline information exists to monitor activity against. And by "robust" we mean whatever we can get away with foisting on you, sucker!

Further, all monitoring activity should take place over a twelve month period, to allow sufficient time to gather all of the evidence required to make an informed decision on whether to proceed with exploration, which we will do anyway because of the investor-state provisions in TTIP and CETA, which you have no say in, peasant. Please rest assured that the Opposition will continue to push for the environmental framework to be strengthened in these areas and for assurances that the responsibility for clean-up, costs, and liability for any untoward consequences rests fairly and squarely in the industry, not with taxpayers or homeowners. Please bear in mind that these assurances aren't worth the rather fancy paper they're printed on due to our obligations under a raft of free trade agreements that are none of your business even though you're footing the bill for their wish lists.

Many other concerns remain, particularly regarding the effectiveness of monitoring process [sic] and the capacity of the relevant bodies to undertake monitoring and enforcement regulations, which must will be addressed undermined.

I do hope you find consider this helpful not overly patronising and thank you for taking the time to write to me on this important issue. Please be sure to vote for my complacent carcass in the election this year.

Yours insincerely,

Hazel Blears.

Dissent to my dissent

Look, when the only opposing arguments are, "You love coal, you fake tree-hugger, you!" and "Renewables are too expensive and require subsidies," and "These people I agree with say it is no more dangerous and polluting than other industries," and "People who oppose fracking are obnoxious, biased gits," and "You cherry-picked your facts, ma'am," I'm not going to be convinced, am I?

For the record, I don't like coal either but we're stuck with it until we can get more energy out of a mix of renewables including geothermal, biogas, landfill methane capture, solar energy, wind and wave power, and microgeneration. And that's not going to happen while we're clinging like grim death to fossil fuels that are becoming increasingly hard to get at.

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