Tuesday, 24 May 2011


The House of Commons Energy Select Committee, without waiting until research into the environmental effects of mining shale gas have been fully researched and studied, has come out in favour of developing this energy resource in the UK. Perhaps, considering the potential damage to our environment MPs should have called for a moratorium on shale gas and waited until research into allegations about the technology is complete.

MP's say that any environmental problems associated with it in the US could be overcome by tight regulation and good industry practice here in the UK. Even MPs, despite their haste to develop what is seen as a secure energy resource, have stated the Westminster government would need to be particularly vigilant to ensure the technology did not pollute water or produce excessive greenhouse emissions.

Shale gas is gas trapped in rocks that can be released through new horizontal drilling techniques and by breaking open the rocks by pumping in water and mix of chemicals (or hydraulic fracturing) which is known as fracking. Here in Wales, the initial focus is on the shale gas reserves that may be found some 7,000 feet below the village of Llandow in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Interestingly enough Manchester University's the Tyndall Centre and the Cooperative Bank have released a report on the wider environmental impact of shale gas extraction, which is well worth a read. If you get the chance and watch Gasland, the film is based on the real life experiences faced by communities in the US, who have lived with (and are living with) the consequences of the dramatic increase in shale gas extraction.

In America, the Shale Gas extraction industry was boosted when it was exempted from groundwater protection laws, with some pretty dire consequences for some US communities. US land laws also helped as it grants landowners under whose land the gas is extracted a share of the proceeds, encouraging many of them to ignore wider environmental concerns - in the UK we have the Crown Estates.

Now interestingly enough, there is a resemblance to the headlong ill-thought out dash for gas in the 1980's (for Con Dems read Conservatives) with the possibility of a potential if short term revenue stream that may well be something that's exciting the Conservatives. Ironically money aside what is actually driving this potentially seriously environmentally damaging and polluting shale gas extraction industry are thoughts of energy security.

That aside for the moment, serious questions need to be asked as to who exactly reaps the financial benefits and who pays the price for the rapid expansion of the home grown energy sector? Whether it's relatively remote rural mountain top wind farms, open cast coal mines, large cross country electricity pylons close to some of our communities (rural or urban) or off-shore wind farms established in our coastal waters.

If we have commercial companies moving into Wales; to mop up grants and the incentives to establish alternative energy facilities that take advantage of our natural resources yet deliver scant material or any other benefits to the Welsh people, then we should rightly ask what's going on? And if all of this is taking place with the apparent (or actual) approval of an Uncle Tom Welsh Government in Cardiff then are we merely repeating what happened to us in the nineteenth century? Surely we can do better than this?

All that aside for the moment, one question that the Westminster MP's seem to have largely or deliberately avoided is that, according to British Geological Survey estimates that onshore shale gas reserves in the UK may be able to supply 1.5 years of the UK's total gas needs. So when its gone and we are all living with the potentially grim environmental consequences of the messy (to put it mildly) process then what?

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