England smashed open with fracking auction

Whilst there were those that knew that this was coming whether they liked it or not, there were many English citizens who did not see this powerful knockout blow-to-their-dreams coming.

Yesterday (August 18th 2015), in their 14th Licencing round, Westminster Government successfully opened up the auctioning gates to 27 plots of land to the Oil and Gas companies for purposes of Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction (USGE).

The areas up for purchase include several areas across the north of England and Midlands including Middlesborough, Scarborough and the Historical City of York.

Each individual auctioning block measures 10km by 10km, bringing the total area of land to 2,700 sq/km for these particular licensed areas. It is not entirely clear whether or not areas of special scientific interest and environmentally sensitive areas are going to be protected.

Why has this move come as a shock for so many?

In my own opinion, there were three events over the last 14 months that lead the English into believing their land would not be fracked:

  • The collective moratoriums in Wales and Scotland.
  • The (temporary) stalling of fracking in Fermanagh, N.Ireland
  • The ban of USGE in New York.

The success of those three peaceful, law abiding campaigns seemed to build a momentum within the consciousness of many, not just the English, but the Irish, N.Irish, Welsh, and Scottish also, that the practice of USGE was something that could be stopped.

The bottom line here is that as a result of those three successes, people really did feel that if a local area felt opposed to the environmental and health risks of fracking that this meant that fracking wouldn’t go ahead.

However those that could look at the facts properly, and without emotion, could see clearly that this wasn’t the case, in particular when you take into account that David Cameron’s strong Pro-Fracking views.

Further to this, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Teresa Villers has previously backed fracking in Northern Ireland and only 8 months ago FFAN reported that the Minister of State for Environment and Climate Change Matt Hancock expressed his desire for Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction to proceed despite the fact that recent drastic diminishing oil and gas prices may make the energy extraction process even more unprofitable for both government and corporations.

This support for fracking by our collective Government Officials comes despite the fact that The British Medical Journal (BMI) criticising the technical, economical and health deficiencies of USGE and Australian medical journal the LANCET highlighting the health risks of fracking via water, air and soil transport systems.

Yet, fracking can only go ahead, subject with local planning consent by local councils. However, Westminster can over turn this.

As a result, many English citizens have woken up this morning with proverbial bloody noses as the stark reality hits them in the face that their area is now up for grabs, and they will have felt bad for not seeing it coming sooner.

Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Wales should take heed.

Below is the 14th Onshore Round of Licences that are up for auction.

14th round

Environment agency pension’s investment in fracking: ‘conflict of interest’

An independent investigation compiled by national newpaper, ‘The Independent’, has found that the Environmnetal Agency (EA), who are held responsible for regulating unconventional shale gas extraction across the United Kingdom of Great Britainaa nd Northern Ireland, have in fact invested their pension funds in the very energy extraction process that they are held responsible for regulating.

What has resulted from the investigation, is an accusation by the Independant of a conflict of interest between the Environmental Agency’s duties as environmental regulators, and the investments of their pensions in the industry it is charged with regulating.

The Independant report:

In the UK the EA’s pension fund – worth a huge £2.3bn – invests in companies investing in fracking, incineration and nuclear power, all of which the Agency is involved in regulating…….The pension details are contained in a response to a Freedom of Information request from the EA, which lists the companies it had a stake in as of March this year, its latest available audited information. And its investments are in marked contrast to the Agency’s public image of being a leading “responsible” investor that integrates “environmental, social and governance considerations into all decision-making.” The Agency champions its commitment that by 2015 “25 per cent of the fund will be invested in the sustainable and green economy”.

The Cuadrilla shale fracking facility in Preston, Lancashire.
The Cuadrilla shale fracking facility in Preston, Lancashire.

 

The Independent further state:

It is with issues such as fracking, incineration and nuclear that the EA is probably at its most vulnerable. Its investments could potentially open it up to legal challenges if the it were to grant permits to companies in which its pension pot has a financial interest.

The fund is investing in two companies financially intertwined with fracking giant Cuadrilla, the company that has been the subject of fierce protests in Lancashire and West Sussex. The first is Centrica, which is investing £60m in Cuadrilla’s Lancashire operations and the second is Riverstone Energy, which owns 44 per cent of Cuadrilla.

To read the article in full, click here.

 

 

Anti-fracking protesters keep up the pressure at Belcoo test site

The Fermanagh Herald has reported:

THE CULMINATION of a week’s’ worth of daily protests was one in which around 400 attended on Sunday evening. Opposition has been growing following the announcement that fracking company Tamboran are to begin test drilling at a site in Belcoo in the coming weeks.

The test drilling, which will not involved ‘fracking’ is the first of two planned by the company and will give them more details of natural gas here. Since the ‘opening day’ protest, held on Monday July 21, where around 300 were in attendance, there have been daily protests at the site – with protesters encouraging a larger attendance for the Sunday night.

Local cross-community, campaign group, Belcoo Frack Free, formed following the first night of protests, unveiled the first phase of its campaign to halt gas exploration works at Creenahoe Quarry near Belcoo. Following a demonstration held on Sunday, a spokesman for Belcoo Frack Free said:

“Our campaign has established, and is maintaining, a continuous presence at the gates since Tamboran moved onsite last Monday (July 21). We are organising daily, peaceful evening protests which are attracting growing numbers and which end with locals and visitors providing a musical performance at the gates most nights.” Over the weekend the group published a code of conduct ‘to ensure that our demonstrations remain peaceful and dignified and keep the focus on what Tamboran are doing at the site’.

A renovated mill is now in use as a campsite, the group said, ‘to accommodate the growing numbers of campaigners coming to support the protest from across Ireland and the UK’. “The population of Fermanagh, from both communities, is highly concerned with the threat posed by this industry and remains implacably opposed to its development,” the spokesman concluded.

To access the article, click here.

N.I. Minister for the environment visits enniskillen

Today, the BBC reported that Minister of the Department of the Environment, Mr Mark H. Durkin MLA, visited the town of Enniskillen, County Fermanagh to discuss topics relating to Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction within County Fermanagh.

Mark-H-Durkan

The talks were held with the Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network, Ban Fracking Fermanagh, Sinn Fein representatives Mr. Phil Flanagan MLA, Ms. Michelle Gildernew MP, Mr. Michael Colreavy TD, and SDLP Councillor Mr. Brendan Gallagher. Further to this, the meeting was attended by concerned citizens of Belcoo, where a proposed exploratory well bore is due to take place.

The BBC report:

Tamboran Resources wants to drill an exploratory borehole in a quarry near Belcoo to find out how much shale gas is in the ground.

Opponents see it as a first step that could lead to fracking.

Mr Durkan said his department would take into account people’s concerns before deciding if drilling can go ahead.

“There were a lot of suggestions today as to what and how my department should be looking at this notification or application from Tamboran,” he said.

“There are a number of environmental concerns, health concerns, economic concerns and all of these are concerns that I have listened to today and that I will certainly consider when assessing this from Tamboran.”

Thomas McCaffrey, of the Fermanagh Fracking Awareness Network, said the test drill should be subject to a full planning application with an environmental impact assessment and potentially a public health impact assessment.

“We consider it to be unconventional gas exploration and extraction as one whole process and you can’t separate out the drilling of an initial exploratory borehole from the whole process of unconventional gas extraction,” he said.

“We impressed upon him the need for the public to see that their politicians are doing something to alleviate the situation, because people are out there camping and, if nothing’s done, they’re going to be there in December, because people are that passionate about it, they’re not going to leave until they’re convinced that something is being done about it.

“We want to impress upon him the public’s anger and concern that they are afraid about what is happening on their doorstep without any consultation from the company at all.”

To read the article in full, click here.

Northern ireland youth forum debate fracking in ennsikillen

On Wednesday 23rd July, thirty youths aged 16-24 discussed the pros and cons of Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction (USGE) in the Enniskillen Hotel, an event organised by the Northern Ireland Youth Forum (NIYF).

NIYF

Representatives from Sinn Fein, DUP, SDLP, UUP and Tamboran Resources were asked by NIYF to attend a panel to debate the pros and cons of USGE to the youth group, yet none had shown up to participate.

However, Donal O’Cofaigh of the Socialist Party, Tanya Jones, a representative for the Green Party, and a representative from FFAN were in attendance for the informed debate. They placed emphasis on the inherent risks associated with USGE, against three youths who had to fill in for Tamboran Resources.

The event provided an opportunity for youths to engage and discuss a spectrum of topics relevant to the subject of USGE in County Fermanagh in a manner that was respectable and informative.

The event, briefly attended by Phil Flanagan of Sinn Fein as an audience member, was also covered by BBC Northern Ireland and aired on the 6:30 news across the nation. To view their coverage, click here.

NIYF2

Medical journal of australia denounces safety of fracking

On March 2014 the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) published a report entitled: “Harms unknown: health uncertainties cast doubt on the role of unconventional gas in Australia’s energy future.”

REDCROSS

In the report the MJA warn of the scientific research already undertaken that highlights the health risks that Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction brings to communities stating:

Fears over the potential health implications of hydraulic fracturing led over 100 medical practitioners to request the Obama administration to halt the construction of new liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals on the basis that “[t]here is a growing body of evidence that unconventional natural gas extraction from shale … may be associated with adverse health risks through exposure to polluted air, water, and soil”. There are also environmental, social and psychological factors that have more indirect effects on health, and important social justice implications arising from the distribution of health burdens.
While there is a dearth of conclusive evidence about the health and environmental effects of fracturing, there is an emerging body of evidence on the areas of greatest potential risk and uncertainty in regards to water, air and social pathways. When taken into consideration along with concerns about the level of fugitive emissions and the potential effect on the development of renewable energy, these health concerns make unconventional gas a doubtful saviour for Australia’s energy needs.

Furthermore, MJA continue by warning that despite attempts to improve the safety of the overall process of Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction, the process itself cannot be made safe:

While the risk of well casing failure, spills and other accidents cannot be dismissed,these can be mitigated (though not removed entirely) by proper regulation and the move towards “safer” fracturing fluids. However, although any exposure would likely be to heavily diluted chemicals, the toxicological effects of some chemicals in their dilute form are not well understood. In particular, chemicals affecting the endocrine system — such as ethoxylated 4-nonylphenol, which has been used in Australian operations6 — can affect humans at extremely low quantities.

This sentiment has already been echoed by world respected medical journals the British Medical Journal, and the Lancet.

The MJA also draw attention to an all too often overlooked aspect of the process – air pollution:

Unconventional gas extraction is responsible for air pollution from diesel fumes from infrastructure development and stationary equipment, gas processing, venting and flaring. Fugitive methane emissions can catalyse development of ground level ozone and combine with PM to form smog, both of which contribute to respiratory disease, among other health effects, and damage to crops — gas- field haze is a well known effect in the US, with such pollution capable of travelling substantial distances. Shale gas extraction can also involve the flaring or venting of “associated” gases, which can become hazardous air pollutants.

The report goes further, and highlights negative social impacts that can in turn bring detriment to human health, such as the increased cost of living, high levels of alcohol and drug use, mental health issues and violence.

In a damning condemnation of the social injustices brought about by Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction, the MJA state:

Inequity can be an indirect cause of ill health, and the development of unconventional gas resources threatens to distribute health burdens in an unfair way. Most of the potential health hazards are likely to be felt by groups such as the elderly, children and the poor because of their vulnerability to the hazards involved, those living in rural, agricultural and Indigenous communities because of the location of operations, and future generations — the same groups liable to bear significant costs of climate change — while the financial benefits will accrue to the predominantly foreign owners of the resources.

Before continuing with the real life threat that climate change will bring, a problem that will be exacerbated by methane emissions:

A further health issue raised by any proposed energy source is its contribution to climate change, which has the potential to reverse gains in global health, for example by exacerbating illnesses and causing deaths through undernutrition, extreme weather conditions and disease.

In conclusion, as a result of negative implications both social and environmental the MJA warn against Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction as a means to secure energy for the future of Australia:

It is clear that Australia must quickly move beyond its reliance on coal for health and environmental reasons. However, when taking into consideration the uncertainties over health risks, the unfavourable comparisons with other energy options, the climate risks associated with fugitive emissions, the moral obligations Australia faces as a gas exporter, the potential displacement of renewables and doubts raised over the claim that gas will prove to be a cheap energy option, the scale is firmly tipped against the further development of unconventional gas.

The MJA report has added to a long list of reports which warn against the risks associated with Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction, a process which is earmarked for County Fermanagh.

Our citizens must ask themselves, in the face of mounting scientific evidence, that once the process arrives within our county’s borders, how can we expect to avoid the social, environmental and economic costs incurred, knowing that communities world wide have failed to avoid them for themselves.

If you wish to read the MJA report in full, click here.

No fracking in Republic of Ireland until EPA study completed in 2016

Today, the Irish Times reported that the controversial process of Unconvenional Gas Exporation and Extraction (UGEE) will not proceed in the Republic of Ireland until a two year study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is completed in 2016.

The all island research, conducted by authorities north and south of teh border, costing €1million is expected to undertake a literature review into the effects of the process on the environment, and may include environmental baseline studies.

You may read the full article here.

Californian almond farm ruined by fracking company operations

In January 2010, a farmer was awarded USD$8.5million damages by an unconventional shale gas extraction (USGE) company that had been found guilty of contaminating local waters that had accessed his farmland.

Farmer Fred Starrh of Kern County, California owns 6,000 acres of farmland that harvested pistachios, alfalfa, cotton and almonds.

Oil and Gas company Aera Energy are estimated to have dumped 2.4billion barrels of ‘produced’ fracking waste water into unlined percolation ponds on the edge of Mr Starrh’s land.

Mr Starrh noticed the environmental damage after he mixed his ground water with local aqueduct water that watered his cotton plants, before they wilted heavily. The water also killed off almond trees that he had managed to farm at 155 per acre.

Mr Starrh had considered that contaminants of the produced frack waste water could have caused the pollution. Well waters within his land were tested and were found to be positive for boron and chloride – two chemicals associated with the USGE callied out by Aera Energy, a joint venture between Shell and Exxon Mobil.

After a nine year court case, Mr Starrh was awarded $8.5million in damages by Kern County Court. However, despite winning his case against Aera Energy, Starrh appealed the court decision, stating that, as a result of the damage caused by Aera, he will need as much as $2 billion to rehabilitate his land and construct terraced ponds to properly “flush” his soil and groundwater of toxins.

Mr Starrh was in court again last year as a jury retired on 8th March 2013 to determine wether Mr Starrh be awarded further punitive damages from Aera Energy in order to fully remediate his land.

As a result of previous findings about Aera’s responsibility for the pollution, much of the case has revolved around the usefulness of Starrh’s native groundwater with regard to irrigation.

Aera’s lead attorney, Stephen Kristovich recalled testimony that the area’s groundwater has long been understood to be too salty and with too much boron to work on crops, hence the farming boom that arrived with the California Aqueduct in the 1960s.

Starrh’s attourney Ralph Wegis countered by referencing studies suggesting that at least 20 different crops can live on Starrh’s native groundwater.

In a practice he called ‘devoid of morals’, Wegis drew attention to Aera’s use of an accounting concept known as “net present value” to make, or help make, strategic decisions. By using the system, Wegis claimed Aera used net present value to determine that it was more profitable over the long run — even in the event of a jury’s award of punitive damages — to let the groundwater pollution continue into Mr Starrh’s farmland, rather than offer remediative or preventative measures.

Kristovich responded by saying that net present value has been just one of many criteria guiding Aera’s decisions, and that the others include environmental responsibility. He added, “There’s nothing wrong with using economics and using that as part of your decision-making process.”

In his rebuttal, Wegis told the jury that Aera decided it was in its best financial interest to wait rather than stop the pollution.

The jury returned 13th March 2013 to deny Mr Starrh further punitive damages, stating that Aera Energy’s contamination of the adjacent aquifer was accidental.

Mr Starrh was dissapointed in the result, “I was totally devastated, that’s all,” Starrh said. “I couldn’t accept it from a personal perspective.”

Mr Starrh and his attourney Ralph Wegis will re-appeal the decision.
Fred starrh
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References

1) Millar, J. (2010). Oil and Water Don’t Mix with California Agriculture. Available: http://www.hcn.org/issues/42.21/oil-and-water-dont-mix-with-california-agriculture. Last accessed 17/04/2010

2) The Bakersfield Californian. (2013). Aera-Starrh lawsuit goes to jury. Available: http://www.bakersfieldcalifornian.com/business/x837007080/Aera-Starrh-lawsuit-goes-to-jury. Last accessed 17/04/2014.

3)The Bakersfield Californian. (2013). Akern grower gets another bumper crop of disappointment. Available: http://www.bakersfieldcalifornian.com/business/oil/x738927654/Kern-grower-gets-another-bumper-crop-of-disappointment. Last accessed 17/04/2014.

Canadian government to be sued over Quebec fracking ban

Oil and Gas company, Lone Pine Resources is currently aiming to sue the Canadian Government for CDN$250million, in response to a moratorium placed on unconventional shale gas extraction (USGE) in the provence of Quebec.

Lone Pine Resources had obtained permits relating to oil and gas extraction in different areas, including underneath the length of St. Lawrence River, an area that Lone Pine have calculated to contain between 1,870 – 3,346 billion cubic feet of thermogenic gas. Lone Pine state that the moratorium is an infringement of their right to conduct USGE under the river.

Canadian flag

Due to public pressure and scientific studies linking USGE to pollution of air, soils and water, the Quebec Government introduced Bill 18 into the Quebec National Assembly, which revoked all permits related to oil and gas under the St. Lawrence River.

The Bill received Royal Assent and a further document, Bill 37 placed a moratorium on the USGE project in June 2011, which was then expanded to autumn 2012. The moratorium banned drilling under the St. Lawrence river until an environmental evaluation of the potential effects of USGE on the environment were in place.
frack-lonepine
Lone Pine Resources responded on 6th September 2013, with a CDN$250 million notice of arbitration under chapter eleven of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Lone Pine Resources also state that the Government of Quebec have violated their obligations under Article 1110 of NAFTA which provides Lone Pine Resources the right to mine for oil and gas under the St. Lawrence River.

Lone Pine claim that not only were they not consulted on the moratorium or revocation of permits, but neither were they compensated for any money invested into the unconventional shale gas extraction project itself.

In paragragh (10) of the lawsuit, they claim:
“The Act is a clear violation of Canada’s obligations under Chapter Eleven of the NAFTA, including Canada’s obligation under Article 1105 to accord U.S. investors with “treatment in accordance with international law, including fair and equitable treatment and full protection and security,” and also of Canada’s obligation under Article 1110 not to expropriate investments of U.S. investors without a public purpose, without due process, and without the payment of compensation.”

Continuing in paragraph (11) of the lawsuit, Lone Pine state that:

“[we] submit[s] this arbitration on bahalf of the Enterprise under Article 1117 of the NAFTA, for the arbitrary, capricious, and illegal revocation of the Enterprise’s valuable right to mine for oil and gas under the St. Lawrence River by the Government of Quebec without due process, without compensation, and with no cognizable public purpose. The Government of Canada is responsible for Quebec’s acts under the NAFTA and applicable principles of international law.”

Furthermore, in paragragh (53):
“Lone Pine Resources hold the Canadian Government to its obligations in under Article 1105 of the NAFTA which obliges Canada “accord to investments of investors of another Party treatment in accordance with international law, including fair and equitable treatment and full protection and security.”

Lone Pine’s lawsuit has been publicly condemned:

“This egregious lawsuit — which Lone Pine Resources must drop — highlights just how vulnerable public interest policies are as a result of trade and investment pacts,” said Ilana Solomon, Sierra Club Responsible Trade Program Director. “Governments should learn from this and other similar cases and stop writing investment rules that empower corporations to attack environmental laws and policies.”
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References

1) The Canadian Press. (2012). Ottawa sued over Quebec fracking ban. Available: http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/ottawa-sued-over-quebec-fracking-ban-1.1140918 . Last accessed 16/04/2014.

2) Bennett Jones LLP. (2013). NOTICE OF ARBITRATION UNDER THE ARBITRATION RULES OF THE UNITED NATIONS COMMISSION ON INTERNATIONAL TRADE LAW AND CHAPTER ELEVEN OF THE NORTH AMERICAN FREE TRADE AGREEMENT. Available: http://www.international.gc.ca/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/assets/pdfs/disp-diff/lone-02.pdf. Last accessed 16/04/2014.

3) The Government of Canada. (2013). NAFTA – Chapter 11 – Investment. Cases Filed Against the Government of Canada. Lone Pine Resources Inc. v. Government of Canada. Available: http://www.international.gc.ca/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/topics-domaines/disp-diff/lone.aspx?lang=eng. Last accessed 16/04/2014.

4) Byrnes, D and Trew,S.. (2013). LONE PINE RESOURCES FILES OUTRAGEOUS NAFTA LAWSUIT AGAINST FRACKING BAN Canada, Quebec, and U.S. Environmental Groups Denounce Case. Available: http://content.sierraclub.org/press-releases/2013/10/lone-pine-resources-files-outrageous-nafta-lawsuit-against-fracking-ban. Last accessed 16/04/2014.