Friday, 28 November 2014

Welsh Government must get off the fence over fracking

It’s time for the Welsh Government to get off the fence over fracking, according to Plaid Cymru.

The Party of Wales has accused Welsh Government Ministers representing areas affected by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of “silent complicity” with the gas-drilling firms looking to exploit shale gas and coal bed methane in Flintshire and Wrecsam. Licences for exploratory drilling for gas cover two-thirds of the Welsh population.

Plaid Cymru’s shadow energy spokesperson and North Wales AM Llyr Gruffydd said:
“Earlier this year, I called for a moratorium on fracking because of the dangers drilling for unconventional gas poses to Welsh communities, the environment and our water. I invited the First Minister to show a lead on this but he and his fellow ministers – many of whom represent constituencies that are being targeted by the fracking firms – have failed to come off the fence on this matter. 
"Staying silent on such an issue is complicity with the fracking firms and shows a contempt for those communities directly affected by this new development.
“The decision of the local planning authority against granting permission to test drill for coal bed methane was made after extensive discussion. That decision was overturned by the Planning Inspectorate. “If the Welsh Government won’t stand up for communities under threat from fracking, even in their own backyards, then Plaid Cymru – both locally and nationally – will continue to do our utmost to reject unconventional gas drilling in Wales.  
"There is growing proof from the USA, where fracking originated, that wells leak, that water courses are being polluted by the toxic chemicals used and that these are causing health problems for both humans and animals. In Texas, the home of many of these drilling firms, towns are now voting to ban fracking due to the risks.
“It’s time for the Welsh Government to get off the fence on fracking before it’s too late”.
Local Plaid Cymru councillor Arfon Jones, who represents Gwersyllt West, has tabled a motion to Wrecsam Council calling to make the county a “frack-free area”.

• These Welsh Government ministers all represent constituencies where PEDL licences have been granted for unconventional gas exploration. The first three represent constituencies in Flintshire and Wrecsam:

Minister for Natural Resources & AM for Alyn and Deeside
Carl Sargeant: Correspondence.Carl.Sargeant@Wales.gsi.gov.uk
Minister for Communities & Tackling Poverty
Lesley Griffiths: Correspondence.Lesley.Griffiths@Wales.gsi.gov.uk
Deputy Minister for Culture Sport & Tourism
Ken Skates: Correspondence.Ken.Skates@wales.gsi.gov.uk
Minister for Economy, Science and Transport
Edwina Hart: Correspondence.Edwina.Hart@Wales.gsi.gov.uk
Minister for Education and Skills
Huw Lewis: Correspondence.Huw.Lewis@Wales.gsi.gov.uk
Minister for Finance & Government Business
Jane Hutt: Correspondence.Jane.Hutt@Wales.gsi.gov.uk
Minister for Public Services
Leighton Andrews: Correspondence.Leighton.Andrews@Wales.gsi.gov.uk
Minister for Health and Social Services 
Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology
Julie James: Correspondence.Julie.James@Wales.gsi.gov.uk


Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Fracking camp gears up for court battle

On Monday, two bailiffs attempted to serve a court summons on "persons unknown" at the Borras and Holt Protection Camp. This consisted of throwing a bit of paper into the mud. The paper gave details of a court hearing in Manchester.
 This is the response of Plaid Cymru councillor Arfon Jones to the news:
Subject: Case No - 830MA971 

Dear Sir/Madam, 
Yesterday bailiffs tried to serve an eviction notice on unnamed camp protectors at Borras, Wrexham. Protectors have set up a camp to protest against exploratory testing for CBM at this location. The protectors believe that the company will exceed their authority granted in the planning application and ignore the conditions thus posing an unacceptable risk to the public and the environment.
The Protectors therefore wish to oppose the issuance of an eviction notice and feel that the case listed for Thursday 20th November, does not allow them sufficient time from unlawful service of the notice to the hearing for them to present a defence (3 days).
Protectors and their supporters will also wish the hearing to be heard in Welsh as is our right and the claim is within the jurisdiction of the High Court Chancery Division in Wales.
I very much hope the Presiding Officer will accept the Protectors request for an adjournment as it's only right that both sides has access to justice.

Yours sincerely,
Councillor Arfon Jones
Wrexham County Borough Council.



Legal advice is also being sought and the camp is digging in preparation for any action to evict.
If nothing is heard from the court, we have to assume the eviction notice will proceed at 10.30am at Manchester Civil Justice Centre, 1 Bridge Street West, Manchester M60 9DJ

For the latest information go to the Facebook page or Twitter account.


Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Dafydd Wigley's speech in the House of Lords debate on the Infrastructure Bill and Fracking 10/11/14

Lord Wigley: My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 115B, 115C and 123, which also stand in my name and are grouped with Amendment 114. First of all, could I say a word about the whole issue of fracking? Noble Lords will be aware that when this Bill was given its Second Reading there was no reference to the provision it now makes in relation to fracking. When we first started in Committee, there was no sign of the amendments we knew were being prepared. Ostensibly, we had to wait until the conclusion of the consultation process in August, before amendments were formulated. But since little notice seems to have been taken of the overwhelming opposition to fracking expressed by the general public, this seems to have been little short of a charade. It is not good enough to take an arrogant and disparaging attitude to those who harbour genuine fears.
Now that we have the amendments in the Bill and the provision for fracking is likely to be confirmed as part of it as we move forward from Report, unless we challenge it rigorously tonight, then the fears that people have will be underlined and reinforced. That is why I have tabled my amendments. But before I address the detailed wording, I will make it clear why I unreservedly oppose the application of fracking technology to extract underground gas. I have grave reservations about this technology. I do not express these doubts and concerns on the basis of a nimby approach. There are no identified areas of potential fracking activities in my home county of Gwynedd, nor do I harbour doubts about any form of modern applied technology.
My university degree, many years ago, was in physics, and I rejoice in the progress of science in making life so much better for millions around the world. But science needs to be applied with a degree of the precautionary principle. We all remember the tragedies of thalidomide, the dangers of radiation exposure, and the potential disaster which was associated with CFCs in the atmosphere. It is just as stupid to blindly accept the application of science as it is to blindly apply a knee-jerk reaction against the wonders of modern science, and what it can bring us. We need a balanced approach, and that means asking awkward questions and challenging glib assumptions. That is what I want to do in regard to our apparent acceptance of fracking technology.
The dangers associated with fracking can be summarised under five headings: first, direct dangers to human health and to animal and plant life arising from the chemicals used in the fracking process and the likelihood of them entering our water supply systems; secondly, the possibility of fracking technology triggering seismic tremors, as we have heard about in earlier debates tonight, and in the extreme, earthquakes, as apparently happened not so far from Blackpool in 2011; thirdly, the implications, by building a cheap gas economy, of worsening our carbon footprint at the very time when we should be putting every priority into reducing our fossil fuel usage and investing in reducing demand for fuels by insulation and fuel efficiency programmes, and re-orientating our energy systems into using renewable low-carbon technologies; fourthly, the highly questionable principle of giving developers carte blanche to enter people’s property or dig under their land under a blanket assumed permission to do so, undermining the checks and balances which have been carefully crafted into our town and country planning systems; and fifthly, the environmental squalor which fracking has left in its wake in so many of those communities in North America which have been blighted as a result of the fracking invasion of their countryside, and now this Bill will allow fracking companies to walk away from their clapped-out equipment, which they leave under the ground after them.
We are told of the economic benefits which will flood into these areas as a result of fracking, but all experience shows this to be a total nonsense. Only a handful of jobs are created, and they usually go to migrant workers who move from location to location as the fracked-out wells are exhausted, leaving behind them the industrial squalor so often associated with the extractive industries. We are told that there will be immense wealth from exploiting these untapped reserves of gas. But that wealth does not go to the communities which have suffered the ravages of exploitation; it goes to the supranational corporations, which are only too ready to respond to the Government’s inducements. Of course, the money will go into the Treasury to bail out a near-bankrupt economy, with the danger of being squandered in the same way as has happened to the UK’s North Sea oil reserves. Local families, local communities and local environment pay the price, and distant pockets bulge with the proceeds.
All these are matters of concern to me. But let me concentrate, in the limited time we have available on Report, on the dangers of chemicals contaminating the water systems of those areas where fracking takes place. In Wales, we provide water not only for our own communities, but for many English conurbations: in north-west England, in the Midlands, and in probably increasing quantities to southern England. The purity and safety of those water supplies have been taken for granted. Let me mention just some of the chemicals used in the fracking process. Each fracking “job” requires between a million and 8 million gallons of water, and each such job uses 40,000 gallons of chemicals, involving as many as 600 different chemicals, including carcinogens and toxins such as lead, uranium, mercury, ethylene glycol, radium, methanol, hydrochloric acid and formaldehyde.
In the United States, there have been over 1,000 cases of contaminated drinking water in locations next to areas of gas drilling, and these have led to cases of sensory, respiratory and neurological damage which have been attributed to ingesting contaminated water. Less than 50% of the fracturing fluid is recovered; the remainder of the toxic fluid is left in the ground. Overwhelmingly, it is not biodegradable.
In the United States, waste fluid is often left in open-air pits to evaporate, releasing harmful, volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere, creating contaminated air, acid rain and ground-level ozone. A whole plethora of legal cases have arisen in the United States. In April, the Parr family in Texas were awarded
$3 million damages against the Aruba fracking company for the pollution of air, water and soil which had seriously impacted on the family’s health. The following month, in May, there was a rig blow-out in Morgan County, Ohio, with a spillage of 184 barrels of toxic fracking fluid, which apparently reached the nearby waterway. In Pennsylvania in June, a fracking company was fined almost $200,000 for a toxic hydraulic fracking fluid spill of over 200,000 gallons into the local environment that led to the evacuation of local families from their homes. In Texas in August, it was reported that in a survey of 100 water wells up to three kilometres away from the fracking locations, over 30% had arsenic levels above the safety limit. A survey by Dale University said that water sources—again in Pennsylvania—showed an elevated level of methane in locations a kilometre or more distant from drilled areas. In some instances, the methane concentration was so high as to be explosive.
Britain is much more densely populated than the United States, with consequently higher likelihood of water sources used for human or animal consumption being polluted. Given this sort of experience, it is of little surprise that states such as Vermont have banned fracking since 2012. They did so, in the words of the state governor, Peter Shumlin, in order for Vermont to,“preserve its clean water, its lakes, its rivers and its quality of life”.
I was told graphically when in America in August by Eluned Jones, Professor of Economics at South Dakota State University, that the economic benefit gained in her state by fracking had been attained at an environmental and social price that was a profound disaster. Other parts of America are waking to the dangers of fracking. Only last Tuesday, as we heard earlier, the city of Denton in Texas—in the heart of fracking country—voted in a referendum to ban any new fracking operations. Civilised European countries that put the safety of life and the environment above commercial profiteering have banned fracking. France has done so since 2011. Both Germany and the Netherlands have placed a moratorium on it. That is what my party, Plaid Cymru, has also called for.
In these amendments I urge the House to take a first step towards a moratorium throughout Britain by refusing to carry forward Clauses 32 and 33. They were inserted in a blind moment in Committee and I urge the whole House to reject them emphatically. If, for whatever reason, I cannot carry the House with me—as I suspect may be the case having heard earlier debates—then I implore the House to at the very least agree Amendment 114. That would allow this clause to be applied in Wales only if it was so approved by the National Assembly, and allows the National Assembly to impose whatever conditions it deems fit on any fracking development. My hope would be that, irrespective of what happens in England, it would say no to fracking in Wales.
However, there are cross-border issues relating to fracking. My parliamentary colleague, Hywel Williams, MP for Arfon, was told in a Written Answer that fracking developments in north-west England may well look to Wales for the enormous supplies of water they will need for those purposes. As noble Lords will be aware, water is an incendiary substance in Wales.
Any suggestion of the drowning of further valleys in Wales to provide water for fracking in England—no doubt without any compensatory payment—will generate a howl of outrage the length and breadth of my nation. Water is to Wales what oil is to Scotland, so let there be no misunderstanding whatever that the exploitation of water resources in Wales, without the sanction of the National Assembly or adequate payment, is a non-starter and will be fought every step of the way. I cannot make it clearer than that.
In many ways, it would be totally perverse not to devolve to the National Assembly responsibility for allowing, banning or putting conditions on fracking in Wales. The Assembly has responsibility for virtually all aspects of town and country planning in Wales, it has total responsibility for the environment and agriculture, and it has responsibility for the healthcare services in Wales. All these are policy portfolios impacted by the effects of fracking. If Wales is to have coherent public policy, then control of fracking must also be devolved. Indeed, the Government have tacitly admitted this in their response to the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee’s report on energy generation in Wales. The committee recommended that the UK and Welsh Governments should co-operate on regulatory and planning matters, including the “environmental risks” associated with hydraulic fracking. The Government’s response was that planning was a devolved matter. That being so, surely the Government must accept the thrust of my amendment.
Incidentally, I would be grateful to the Minister if we could have some clarification as to whether these draconian provisions will apply to Scotland directly, or whether the Scottish Parliament has some control over their applicability. I suspect that if you were to tell Mr Salmond that Scotland will have to allow fracking willy-nilly and by Westminster diktat, there would be such an eruption north of Hadrian’s Wall as to re-open the whole relationship between this place and Holyrood. Yet if Westminster were to allow a Scottish veto over fracking, then on what earthly basis is such a provision to be denied Wales?
My preferred outcome of this debate would be for the Government to withdraw or the House to vote these appalling clauses out of the Bill. In the event of failure to do this, I implore the Government to either accept my Amendment 114 to allow the National Assembly to determine these matters in Wales or undertake to bring forward their own clause in another place for the same purpose. Whichever way they proceed, this issue will not go away. I beg to move.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Milk not Methane... Part 2.

This is a great article in the Daily Post Wales today, very balanced reporting except that the pro Fracking comments are totally misleading:
Supporters of underground drilling for gas in the UK claim it will be far more rigorously regulated than in other countries.
I couldn't let this go without comment, so the following is a letter which I wrote to the Daily Post in response :

Dear Editor, 
Supporters of 'Fracking' claim that the process is more rigorously regulated (here) than in other countries "Protestors Against Underground Drilling... (Post, Nov 7th). That claim is absolute rubbish and patently untrue. 
Planning law is devolved to the Welsh Government, and the Wales Minerals Policy is apparently the policy for 'fracking'. However it makes no mention of 'unconventional gas' or 'fracking' hence the presumption is that the Welsh Government has NO policy on this dangerous industry. 
 Likewise, Natural Resources Wales monitor compliance of Planning conditions and are supposed to enforce those conditions to protect the environment a search of the NRW website will reveal no results for a search for 'unconventional gas' or 'fracking'. The NRW is just another inept regulatory authority like the Environment Agency who roll over and allow these corporate gas and oil companies to do what they want with no monitoring and destroy the environment and its oldest industry, agriculture. 
The Welsh Government need to wake up and realise that drilling for unconventional gas is the 'elephant in the room' and they need to up their game and get a grip of their responsibilities, something that Ministers have abdicated up to now. 
What we want is Milk not Methane. 
Councillor Arfon Jones.  

Thursday, 6 November 2014

An inconvenient truth – Labour closed Plas Madoc


Politicians like to re-write history when it suits them, usually some years after the event.

Ken Skates, the Labour AM for Clwyd South, has decided to re-write some very recent history by claiming that “Potentially, Plas Madoc would never have closed had its future been examined in the context of Flintshire and Wrexham councils merging.”


The Labour Party’s sudden interest in merging Wrecsam and Flintshire councils – now supported by three Labour ministers in Cardiff -  emerged after Labour lost control of Wrecsam Council over the summer. There is clearly a feeling that the merger between Labour-led Flintshire and Independent-led Wrecsam would lead to a larger Labour-led authority.

To try to speed this merger up, politicians like Ken Skates are having to deploy all manner of arguments but the headline grabber appears to be that Plas Madoc Leisure Centre would have been saved if the merger was supported.

There is an inconvenient truth in all this spinning – back in November 2013 it was a Labour-run council that proposed closing Plas Madoc. In December 2013 it was a Labour-dominated executive board that voted to close Plas Madoc and in February 2014 it was Labour  councillors that voted against an Independent group motion to keep Plas Madoc open for another year.

 The Labour group subsequently split and the council is now run by Independents. It’s only now that anyone has had the cheek to claim that merging the councils would have saved Plas Madoc. The truth is that a Labour council failed to listen to the people, failed to respond imaginatively to other options and paid the price. Plas Madoc is in danger of being used by the same party to try to save its political skin.

A notorious propagandist once said “If you’re going to tell a lie, tell a big one”. Ken’s just told a whopper.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

IGas Energy and Barton Moss.

IGas Energy the gas exploration company have today released a statement to the London Stock Exchange regarding the results of its exploratory test well at Barton Moss:
IGas one of the leading producers of onshore hydrocarbons in the UK, is pleased to announce results of its exploration well at Barton Moss and, following the acquisition of Dart Energy,  revised  shale GIIP estimates for the enlarged group.
The Barton Moss well was drilled as an exploration well in PEDL 193 in the North West of England, with the original key objectives of fulfilling the 13th Licence Round commitment obligation, assessing the CBM potential of the area and delineating the deeper Dinantian limestone horizon to better calibrate the pre-existing seismic interpretation which has confirmed our interpretation of the basin and so informed our 14th onshore licensing application accordingly.
The well, which was completed in March 2014, was successful in achieving all of these objectives and the results have helped refine our geological models and are consistent with our overall basin depositional model.  The well encountered 15 gas bearing coal seams in accordance with the pre-drill prognosis.  The well also encountered a Namurian Shale section, consisting of the Sabden Shale and the Upper and Lower Bowland Shales.  Approximately 400 feet of core was recovered, including from the shale section.
...
Commenting on this release, CEO Andrew Austin said "The results of the well are encouraging in respect of the shale potential of the area as they have helped further refine the existing basin models and verify the earlier preliminary prognosis.  The results were employed in our 14th licence round applications. I am also pleased to announce the revised GIIP numbers where more data has narrowed the range and increased the overall potential which, coupled with our funded work programme of $80 million, gives us the ability to demonstrate the commerciality of gas extraction from these prospective areas.
Specifically, our work in the northwest continues with seismic acquisition, site selection and the up-coming well at Ellesmere Port."
They may say they're going for the Coal Bed Methane but it is now clear from Andrew Austin's comments about the shale potential that it is the shale gas and not the CBM and that means 'fracking'. The basis on which the Planning Inspectorate upheld GP Energy's appeal therefore seems to be wrong when he states, "the drilling process is a well established, conventional methodology." Is drilling into the shale 'well established'? I think not.

IGas's statement to the LSE has 'muddied the waters' even further and the Borras application should now be open to further challenge. I await my appointment with Planning Officers with interest.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Plaid Wrecsam backs £7.85 Living Wage for all workers



Plaid Cymru in Wrecsam has backed calls for a Living Wage, which would ensure a pay rise for 250,000 workers in Wales - a quarter of the Welsh workforce.

Councillor Carrie Harper, Plaid Cymru's Parliamentary candidate for Wrecsam, said:
"Figures recently released showed half the children in the Queensway ward in Wrecsam were living in poverty - among the worst in Wales. Most of the recent increases in Housing Benefit claimants are families who are in work - it's the working poor that are being hammered as much as anyone.
"This is completely unacceptable. People who are working should be paid enough to live on and have time to enjoy family life. The Living Wage should be the minimum wage and, if the minimum wage had been linked to inflation, it would now be far higher than it is now. "We should all aspire to a Fair Day's pay for a hard day's work."

Plaid Cymru's Gwersyllt West Councillor, Arfon Jones, has helped create a working group to look at implementing a Living Wage for 1,300 Wrexham Council employees who earn less than the Living Wage, currently £7.85 an hour.

Cllr Jones said:
"When Plaid Cymru councillors were first elected to Wrexham Council in 2008, we called for a Living Wage. This had the support of Unison and TCC, Together Creating Communities. 
"As a result of this pressure, the council agreed to delete the two lowest pay scales which was a step in the right direction but there has been no further progress since then.

"Introducing the Living Wage is a win-win situation not only for the individuals concerned but also for the local economy. An increase in people's disposable income would boost local spending whilst at the same time saving money on welfare like Housing Benefit and Working Tax Credits as families are lifted above the thresholds.

"Despite what well-paid senior council officers say, the truth is that in the long term the cost of implementing the Living Wage for staff in Wrexham Council will be cost neutral as well as bringing many other benefits."

This week is Living Wage week and the exact weekly sum estimated as a minimum to live on has risen from £7.65 an hour to £7.85 an hour.





Saturday, 1 November 2014

Living Wage Week

Plaid Cymru Wrecsam are "Proud to support #LivingWageWeek. Employers who can, should pay the Living Wage. Are you #LivingWage?http://thndr.it/1wTnXHR

Mae Plaid Cymru Wrecsam yn falch o gefnogi wythnos Cyflog Byw.

Ymunwch a'r Thunderclap a rhannwch ar Facebook a Twitter.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

‘Super prison’ is "the equivalent of building a very sick small town on Wrecsam’s doorstep"

New evidence shows that Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board will not know the full impact of the Wrecsam ‘super prison’ on their work until May 2015, this despite an imminent decision on whether to grant full planning for the prison due on 3 November 2014.
 
This latest piece of evidence follows concerns prisoner healthcare in Wales is already underfunded by the UK Government with the additional costs falling on the Welsh Government and Local Health Boards.
 
The information released to the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University under Freedom of Information shows that the health board will not determine the “health requirements”, “cost” or “staffing resource” needed to accommodate the new prison until May 2015, as outlined in the response:
  1. A Health Needs Assessment is being developed and will not be completed until May 2015.  This will be used to develop cost projections for prisoner healthcare at the North Wales Prison.
  2. This will be used to scope what staffing resources are needed alongside any associated training needs.
  3. This will be used to inform Healthcare requirements.
This again has led to calls for the real impacts of what will be the second biggest prison in Western Europe to be properly scrutinised by politicians in Wales.
Responding to the new evidence, Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University researcher Robert Jones said:
 
“While the case to receive full planning permission will once again be put before Wrexham Council Planning Committee on Monday (3 November 2014), what this information shows is that the true cost of the prison still remains unknown to politicians in Wales.
 
“In particular, until a Health Care Needs Assessment is completed, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board will remain in the dark about what requirements and costs the Wrexham 'super' prison is likely to present them.
 
“Prisoner healthcare does not come cheap and given the potential for very high medical costs to the local area from the new prison,  it is essential to ensure that not a single brick of the prison is laid before we know the full impact of the 'super' prison.”
 
Responding to new evidence made public today by the Wales Governance Centre which highlights the lack of information about the full health costs of the proposed Wrecsam ‘super prison’, Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:
 
“Government plans for a 2,000-place ‘super prison’ in North Wales are the equivalent of building a very sick small town on Wrecsam’s doorstep. It would be short sighted of councillors to give the green light to this massive jail without the opportunity to consider its full associated costs and impact on devolved local health services in Wales.”
 
 
 Cllr Arfon Jones, who leads the Plaid Cymru group on Wrecsam Council, said:
“It was only last week that I met with the senior council officer leading on the prison. I specifically asked about the cost of health and he told me that the Ministry of Justice will pick up the bill. The answers from the Health Board do not indicate that. I am at the stage where I frankly don't believe what I'm told when it comes to the prison.'
Carrie Harper, Plaid Cymru’s parliamentary candidate for Wrecsam, said: “More and more evidence is emerging that the prison is being built without any consideration of the impact on local services, particularly health. The Ministry of Justice seems happy for the local NHS to take the strain of catering for an additional 2,100 prisoners without providing any information to either the health board or community about their additional needs.
 “Wrexham is in danger of being dumped on from a great height. I’m not opposed to a smaller prison that caters for North Wales but there’s a huge issue with building the second largest prison in Europe without considering the impact on emergency services that are already stretched to breaking point.”
 

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Milk Not Methane.

Please watch these two short YouTube videos of the experiences of people involved in campaigning against the drilling for unconventional gas or fracking in Bentley, Northern Rivers, Australia and Washing County, Western Pennsylvania, USA.

They are both powerful films of what WILL happen if we allow these companies onto our lands





These films show clearly what will happen if we allow drilling for unconventional gas or fracking to go ahead it will destroy our agriculture which is why we should use the hashtag #MilkNotMethane to highlight the dangers to our food production if water tables are polluted.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

The arguments against Fracking simplified.

This is a guest post by Matt Bryan a local anti- fracking campaigner who took part in a recent debate at the Chester Debating Society on the subject. This was his speech which we consider to be an excellent summary of a complex subject and which we reproduce with Matt's permission:

Good evening, and thank you to Chester Debating Society for inviting me to propose the motion Fracking should be in banned in the UK.

This evening I aim to persuade you that  Fracking should indeed be banned in the UK.  Let me first explain first what is Fracking?

Modern high-volume Hydraulic fracturing, or slickwater fracking, is a NEW technique designed to recover gas and oil from shale rock. Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure mixture of sand, water and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well. The process is carried out vertically and then by drilling horizontally.

So why are we considering fracking in the UK?  The Government established the Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil  in December 2012, to develop and promote the shale gas industry in the UK. Around half of the UK has been opened up and176 Petroleum Exploration Development Licenses granted. A new round of onshore licensing was commissioned in 2014 leading to this dash for gas

Quantifiable evidence exists which clearly shows harmful environmental impacts, including water contamination, air, noise and light pollution, industrialisation of the countryside and earthquakes.  It is damaging to human and animal health, worsens climate change, uses massive volumes of water, increases HGV road traffic and reduces property values.  It will not reduce the price of gas or provide local jobs, it isnt the answer to our energy security and would be disingenuous to call it a cleaner fuel as methane is 30 times more potent as a greenhouse gas compared to carbon dioxide.

Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria and parts of Australia, Canada and the USA have suspended or banned fracking so why has our Government, despite knowing the risks, rail-roaded it through against the wishes of the public in a complete infringement of our democratic rights. No country in the world has proved fracking can be done safely so why do we still seem to be embracing it?

One of the main concerns about the process is water contamination, not surprising given that the British Geological survey shows how many of the shale gas reserves lay under our aquifers.  There are several ways in which contamination can and does happen - through well failure, accidents, leaks or spills, either from fracking fluid or from the gas itself.   Fracking fluid contains a cocktail of proven hazardous chemicals, and the waste water returned to the surface is a combination of both the water, chemicals, heavy metals and what the European Union classify as radioactive waste. There will be huge volumes of waste water which will need to be treated.  There are currently no specialist water treatment plants who could safely deal with full scale production in the UK and would be too prohibitively expensive and complicated to remove many of the contaminants.  It might be worth noting that while 40-60% of the fracking fluid is brought back up to the surface the rest remains underground.

Fracking companies insist that the risk of water contamination is low, but no level of risk is acceptable.  Water is our most precious commodity, far more precious than gas and we cannot afford to get it wrong.  You cannot UN-contaminate an aquifer.   We can survive without gas, but we cannot survive without water.  Gas companies continually deny that fracking has caused water contamination, but this is simply not true there are numerous studies which have shown it has. Fracking company Cuadrilla has been hauled up by the Advertising Standards Authority for making this false claim.  Six years into a natural gas boom, Pennsylvania has for the first time, released details of 248 cases in which companies were found by state regulators to have contaminated private drinking wells.

Industry accepted figures on well failure stand at 7% of them failing immediately and Schlumberger, the world's biggest fracking company, cites failure rates of 60 percent over a 30-year span. All wells will leak eventually.  Industry reports on well failure show that it is impossible to prevent it happening.   Doesnt this mean that some water contamination is not just possible, but in fact inevitable?

Then there is air, noise and light pollution.  During operations drills and compressor stations operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with floodlighting required at night.  Compressors are the equivalent in noise production to jumbo jets taking off continuously and there will be around 50 HGV visits per site per day. Emissions from drilling pads, compressors stations, HGVs and other related equipment can lead to a gas field haze with high levels of ozone and airborne toxic chemicals.

Gas companies cannot keep denying that fracking affects human and animal health there is overwhelming evidence from the US and Australia that it does. As this unconventional extraction method has pushed into more densely populated areas of the States, numerous studies such as the one by Bamberger and Oswald, have begun to show that living near a well is extremely detrimental to human and animal health.  Clusters of ill health have been found around fracking sites including chronic, acute and even fatal conditions from nosebleeds, neurological disorders and breathing problems. Breast Cancer UK have called for an immediate moratorium. Given that the UK is considerably more densely populated than either the US or Australia, the health impacts will surely be far more pronounced.  Wont this put undue pressure on our already struggling National Health Service? These were views echoed by a report made by the British Medical Journal. In parts of Australia they have declared that drilling should not be undertaken within a mile of a property, but in England this would be virtually impossible if full-scale production were to take place.

Unlike conventional gas exploration, fracking shale requires a huge number of wells to make it commercially viable and would see the British countryside littered with thousands of rigs, supported by connecting pipelines, compressors and service roads. If the energy companies undertaking unconventional gas extraction are accurate and truthful in their claims to investors and they delivered the quantities of gas they promise it would mean that the UK would be covered in around 25,000 rigs. The Advertising Standards Authority upheld a claim against Cuadrilla for its misleading suggestion that there were no material differences between fracking in one of its conventional wells and fracking for shale gas.

Shale gas production is known to be very water intensive. Estimates for the volume of water required from start to finish of the fracking operation vary significantly due to lack of reliable data and differences in depth and geology of shale plays. According to the recent Tyndall Centre report the entire multi-stage fracturing operation for a single well requires around 2.5 million 8 million gallons of water this would include 1000 - 2500 tonnes of chemicals per well, per frack. According to the Environment  there are considerable pressures on water resources throughout England and Wales.

Earthquakes There are vast amounts of evidence that fracking and industry related injection wells cause earthquakes. In fact the first frack in the UK, which took place in Lancashire in 2011, caused two earthquakes magnitude 2.4.  According to Scientific American there have been over 230 fracking induced earthquakes measuring over 3 on the Richter scale in Ohio this year alone and 2500 since 2008. According to the British Geological Survey Britain has a more complex and fractured geology, unlike any of the shale plays in the USA. Professor Mike Stephenson of the BGS said that to minimise earthquake risk, it is really very, very importantwhen you decide that you want to hydraulically fracture to make sure there are no faults in the area. Blackpool- home to the UKs only fracked shale gas well - is known to be faulted. 

Is shale gas the answer to our energy security or supply?  This is highly unlikely.  Risk of uncertainty in the international gas markets driven by the shale boom, as highlighted with the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies assessment that there are limited prospects for shale gas in the UK or Europe, call into question arguments that shale gas can enhance UK security of supply.  Even if it could it would only be a short term solution and we wouldnt reach full-scale production for 15 years long after the point at which we will need to have found a solution to our energy crisis. 

Promotion of the shale gas industry I believe, detracts from what we should be doing in terms of energy conservation and renewables.  Surely that is the real answer to our energy security.  And since we can only use less than ½ of all known fossil fuels whilst still retaining a liveable planet, we need to be reducing our dependence on gas not fuelling our dependence to it, diverting our attention instead to improving renewable technology for a long-term sustainable solution.

Lower energy price claims have been refuted by every major financial institution in the world. There are estimates that finding and development costs in Europe are in the region of 23 times higher than the US. The UK has a population density which is eight times that of the US and limited land availability, which combined with the differences described above, indicate that domestic shale gas is unlikely to be able to compete with imports in the future.

It is claimed that the industry will bring with it local jobs, but this is highly unlikely. The Oxford Institute for Energy Study points out that there is currently close to no fracking expertise nor manufacturing capacity in Europe...meaning that they will need to rely on international service providers.  In other words, any shale gas production in the UK would rely on importing both labour and equipment from overseas, probably the US, given its position as market leader.   Any local jobs would be unskilled and temporary. In fact it is likely that the industry would be the cause of jobs losses in sectors such as agriculture, tourism and the brewing industry.  This is in stark contrast with the potential economic and job creation benefits, which low-carbon technologies such as marine renewables could bring to the UK as highlighted by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) in its Building a Low Carbon Economy report.

The Government acknowledges that there have been problems with fracking in the US and Australia but insist that it wont be like that here because we have gold standard regulations.  However a report by the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health found both the European Union and the United Nations Environment Programme have concluded that fracking may result in unavoidable environmental and health impacts even if the gas is extracted properly, and more so if done inadequately. They suggest that even if risk can be reduced theoretically, in practice many accidents from leaky or malfunctioning equipment and bad practices occur regularly.

When profit is at stake corners will always be cut and rules flouted. However, not only can this industry not be sufficiently regulated, but having myself listened to presentations by representatives from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive, I can assure you that our regulatory system is not even close to gold standard and goes nowhere near protecting our communities.  It is my belief that Fracking cannot be carried out safely and Cuadrilla have been in trouble again with the Advertising Standards Authority for falsely claiming that they use proven safe technologies.  There is no such thing as proven safe fracking technology.

The EU study found cumulative overall risk to the environment and health from releases to air and from traffic associated with fracking operations to be high. The UK is already facing potential legal proceedings from the EU as a result of its failure to improve air quality as at least 29,000 UK deaths are caused by air pollution each year. Fracking is likely to exacerbate this problem.

If we are able to extract all the shale UK reserves, and this remains doubtful, Gas companies and their share holders would stand to do well, as would the Government initially through tax revenue, but at what cost?  Is money more important than our environment, our water, our air and our health?

So my view is that Fracking should without question be banned in the UK.  I look forward to listening to the opposition debate and will be happy to answer any questions after her submission.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I have established through referenced research, the following points:

Our dash for gas will increase and bind us to our reliance on fossil fuels and will redirect our attention and investment from alternative energy sources.

House prices would fall as a result of production in the area

Seismic activity would increase

Well failure is an industry accepted eventuality and will lead to water contamination

The UK is simply too densely population for this industry to operate safely

Water supply for the industry is a major issue and aquifer contamination and climate change issues will leave us more open to water shortages and drought.

Fracking is an industry that is fuelled by powerful corporate interests influencing political agenda

Massive industrialisation of our countryside would be. Increased HGV traffic, noise, light and air pollution would be of major concern

Associated risks to residents, workers and livestock pose a huge threat to health and well being. Burdens to the NHS have been noted.

Job promises have been grossly exaggerated and would probably lead to job losses in other areas. Job creation in the low-carbon sector outweigh the fossil fuel sector.

These are the reasons why I propose that fracking should not be allowed in the UK

Anyone more interested in finding our more please visit www.frackfreedee.co.uk www.frackfreeupton.co.uk or simply type fracking into google.

Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this debate tonight.





Sunday, 19 October 2014

Plaid Wrecsam visits Borras anti-fracking camp




There has been huge community support for the new Borras and Holt Community Protection Camp set up in the field where the test borehole for Coal Bed Methane and Shale Gas is planned.
 Among the visitors on Saturday were a group from Plaid Wrecsam who were there to show solidarity and bring food to the first wave of camp protesters. 
 It's very welcoming and open for visitors - and now has some toilet facilities! This is going to be a long haul - please support.

Fracking - it's our future that's in danger
Joanna Parry is 13, her school assignment was to produce a piece of persuasive writing - hence the repetition, alliteration and rhetorical questions. A 13-year-old schoolgirl understands fracking and its consequences better than a planning inspector or London politicians.
"Good morning my fellow class mates, how would you feel if you turned on the news and were told that the last surviving polar bear in the world had just died? How would it make you feel knowing that it was our fault? It’s simple, our grandparents’ generation and our parents’ generation damaged the environment and we are the ones who will have to sort it out. It’s our future that’s in danger.
Where are the proposals to cut down on fossil fuels and increase our use of renewable energy? They have been over shadowed by the recent plans to introduce fracking into the U.K. Fracking is the process of drilling into the earth and pumping a mixture of high pressure chemicals and water into loose stones to release gas. There are proposed fracking sites very close to where we are sitting right now. This is not just the polar bears problem, it’s our problem. Fracking is dirty, dangerous and destructive. These dirty chemicals that it releases into our water supplies may cause cancer or other diseases. The dangerous fracking process has already caused two earth quakes in Blackpool and Cardiff could be next. Fracking produces a fossil fuel which is hugely destructive to the environment because of the large quantities of carbon it releases in the atmosphere. Carbon causes climate change. Climate change will destroy the world as we know it. It’s our future that’s in danger.
The Committee on Climate Change have announced that in the past 100 years the global average temperature has risen so much that sea levels are rising. Polar bears will be gone by 2050. That’s your 50th birthday. It is not just animals that will pay the price. Rising sea levels could cause a threat to lives, property, the livelihood of people living in coastal regions and low lying islands. People will be at increased risk of malnutrition. They will be more likely to get ill from intestinal diseases, heart and lung problems and infections. It’s our future that’s in danger.
You are not the first generation to be confronted with this dilemma. During the industrial revolution south Wales was one of the main providers of coal. The south Wales valleys were blighted and scarred by coal mining. However it was not the local population that benefited from the money it produced. A few very rich landowners became even richer whilst the working class and the residents of the valleys sacrificed their health and, in many cases, their lives. Once again it is our future that’s in danger.
 What have the giant fracking companies offered us this time? Just 1% of the profits for coming onto our land, taking our natural resources and putting our health at risk. This is outrageous! We have to stop the dirt. We have to stop the danger. We have to stop the destruction.
 We live in an age of highly advanced technology where pretty much anything is possible. Research into renewable energy such as solar power, wind power and wave power is already well advanced. If the government invested into further research into this technology instead of supporting fracking then our energy problems and our environmental problems would be solved.
It’s our future that’s in danger. Join me and fight fracking today!"

Friday, 17 October 2014

Breaking news: Anti-fracking camp set up to protect Borras

An anti-fracking camp has been set up on the proposed site for test drilling for Coal Bed Methane at Commonwood Farm, Borras, between Wrecsam and Holt tonight.

For the latest information go to Frack-Free Wrexham on Facebook.

Practical and moral support much appreciated!

More details will be available at the public meeting being held in The Cunliffe Arms on Thursday, 23 October at 7pm.

Governor at Europe’s largest prison: ‘Big prisons don’t work’

An urgent rethink of the size and type of prison planned for Wrecsam is needed, according to Plaid Cymru.

Carrie Harper, Plaid Cymru’s parliamentary candidate for Wrecsam, said: “If this prison is built to current plans, it would be the second largest one in Europe.
 “So it’s interesting to hear that the governor of the largest one – just outside Paris – believes that small prisons are the way forward.
 “Fleury-Merogis prison near Paris was built in the 1960s and houses 3,800 inmates, divided into male, female and youth offenders. The 2,500 adult male section of the jail make it bigger than any single UK prison.
“The Governor Joaquim Pueyo said that, if UK Government officials were to ask him what the ideal size of a prison should be, he’s say 600.
“This is the size of new prisons the French are now building to cope with their own overcrowding issues. So why on earth are we repeating mistakes made by the French back in the 60s and ignoring the views of experts who say prisons of this size don’t work?”

Ms Harper said there was a logic to having a smaller scale prison to serve the needs of North Wales:

“There are lots of reasons to re-think this scheme before it’s too late. The council’s decision last week to defer planning permission gives us a window of opportunity.
  “A smaller prison built for the needs of North Wales would allow women and youth offenders as well as adult males to stay in the region rather than being moved away to prison, with all the resulting extra cost and problems for visiting family.
 “It would also reduce the impact 2,100 adult male  inmates would have on local services such as the NHS, police and housing.
“Plaid Cymru is totally opposed to any prison being privately run by a company such as G4S, which has been proved to falsify records in terms of tagging criminals.
“Our other concerns are that when the government talks of ‘local jobs’ and ‘local firms’ getting contracts, it actually refers to anyone within 50 miles of Wrecsam – that includes Liverpool and Manchester. I’m very concerned to ensure that Wrexham sees the full benefit of any work and contracts otherwise we’ll end up with all the problems and none of the benefits.”

·        Long-term critic of the super prison Robert Jones and Elfyn Llwyd MP, who has visited similar prisons in Texas, will be the guest speakers at a public meeting entitled “Wrexham Prison – pros and cons” to be held at Saith Seren, 18 Chester St, Wrexham, LL13 8BG on Thursday, November 20th. Entrance is free and everyone is welcome.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Councillor calls for fracking ban

Plaid Cymru councillors have called on all 52 Wrexham fellow members to ask them to support a motion against fracking.
Cllr Arfon Jones, who leads the Plaid Cymru group on Wrexham Council, made the call in the wake of the Welsh Government's planning inspectorate deciding to back test drilling for Coal Bed Methane and Shale gas at Borras on the outskirts of the town. The controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has led to mass opposition in some areas due to the danger of contaminating water sources, the risk of mini-earthquakes and other environmental damage. 
He said: "Many councils in England have taken a stance on this important matter and passed motions against fracking, As Wrexham is one of many areas in Wales also facing fracking, we in Plaid Cymru feel we should make a stance and declare our opposition to the process.
 "Many European countries have a ban on fracking and the Australian company involved in this test drilling, GP Energy, would not be able to carry out this work in New South Wales. Why should it be able to here in old North Wales?
 "There is an active campaign locally against this, the council's own planning committee weighed up the pros and cons and came out against it and there's a clear feeling that the dangers outweigh any possible benefits. 
 "I have raised this in the Homes & Environment Scrutiny Committee some months ago and it was agreed to a workshop on fracking but we are still waiting whilst the people of this county are actively campaigning against. Without the right information, councillors cannot carry out their job properly.
 "Officers are concerned about the cost of appeal decisions but the cost in terms of public safety and the environment from mini-tremors, subsidence, gas leaks and polluted water could be much higher."
Cllr Jones, who represents Gwersyllt West, said licences to drill for unconventional gases had been granted by the UK Government to cover the whole of the Wrexham and Flintshire area. It was up to local councillors, he said, to represent local people and stand up to the multinationals seeking to drill under people's homes without permission.