By Donal O’Cofaigh, Fermanagh Against Fracking
Those opposed to fracking – hydraulic fracturing, a controversial and potentially dangerous and environmental destructive form of gas extraction – have met with very different results over the past months.
In England, the Tory government overruled Lancashire County Council’s opposition to fracking at Little Plumpton by Cuadrilla. This is the first time that horizontal fracking has been given the go-ahead in Britain. Campaigners remain committed to halt this development, which defies the democratic will of the local community, parish councils and local authority. Legal appeals may result in a delay beyond the end of the 2017 licence deadline.
Characteristically, opposition from local councillors is weak. They’re already seeking safety assurances from the drillers but no mechanisms exist to prevent or even reduce well-shaft failure below approximately 2% annually – given that fracking involves drilling thousands of wells, this amounts to potential water contamination risks in numerous wells.
In May, North Yorkshire County Council quietly authorised a vertical fracking exploration well in Kirby Misperton by exploration company Third Energy. While the risk from this is lower than with horizontal fracking, any time the water table is penetrated and tonnes of chemically-laced water are used there is a risk of contamination.
Steps forward in the South and Scotland
Elsewhere, there have been victories for environmental campaigners. In the South, a private members’ bill which would effectively bring about a complete ban on exploration and drilling for shale gas in the state has passed its first stage and will now go before committee. The support for the bill reflects tireless campaigning by grassroots activists and communities over five years which has put the establishment under huge pressure. However, the government could still seek to water down or even quash the bill, so we must not be complacent.
In the last month, the Scottish Parliament also voted to ban coal gasification processes, where coal seams are ignited underground and the gas extracted to generate electricity through turbines.
In Northern Ireland, gas and oil exploration remains on the back-burner for now after community campaigns defeated the frackers in Belcoo, Co. Fermanagh, and Woodburn, Co. Antrim. However, one protestor – Mark Chapman – is still facing charges for peacefully resisting drilling in Woodburn Forest near Carrickfergus. He deserves the full support of the labour movement and environmentalists.