‘Fracking firms to push ahead with drilling till money is involved’
Fracking companies drilling for natural gas should be allowed to cause larger earthquakes than the current UK regulations permit, leading academics suggested in a study published earlier this week.
Dr. Rob Westaway and Professor Paul Younger of the University of Glasgow's School of Engineering argue that current limits for earth tremors are discouraging investment in the sector.
RT:Fracking has sparked controversy across the world.What do you make of concerns over its impact on the environment?
George Barda: The biggest concerns are around water safety. Part of the geological formation allows for frackable gas that tends to be very close to the water sources. What we have seen in America is numerous cases of water sources being contaminated by fracking companies. That is a local issue. There are also problems with the contamination of air. Many farmers in the States have seen that livestock dying in large numbers when fracking companies arrive.
But then you zoom out of it you see the biggest problem of all which is climate change. And in this country especially it is very important for people to understand that fracking will not be a particularly viable technology for at least 20 years, it’s at the exploratory phase.
What we are talking about is, on the one hand, the government is saying that the climate changes seriously and we need to move to renewable energy, this is a bridge fuel. But, on the other hand, they are saying, let’s pursue shale gas that we are going to be exploiting 30-40 years in future when we should have really reduced our carbon emissions to almost zero.
RT:A new report by British scientists proposes allowing fracking companies to cause bigger earth tremors for bigger revenues.Isn't this endangering the public for gain?
GB: Absolutely. If you look at the details of that report, what they are saying is: “You should be able to cause earthquakes up to about 3.5 on the Richter scale.” And the only damage they foresee for that is cracked plaster in people’s houses and broken window panels. So what their report is saying that essentially we should allow a level of earthquakes which will cause significant damages to people’s properties.
I met somebody personally that came to one of the fracking protests that lived 20 miles away from the fracking operation in Blackpool, Lancashire that cause the earthquakes originally in the UK and that led to moratorium. As I said, he lives 20 miles away from the site and his house was cracked by those earthquakes. So what the scientists are saying is: “We should have rules that allow fracking to crack people’s houses and break their windows.” And at the time we should be moving away from fossil fuels as fast as possible not embracing new energy frontiers especially ones so very damaging. The other thing that is very important to mention about fracking when it comes to the environment is that there are real problems with methane escaping, and methane is a far worse greenhouse gas than CO2. In the two decades that it is in the atmosphere it is a hundred times the greenhouse gas the CO2 is. So embracing the technology that has a huge short term emissions, it is absolutely crazy while we are seeing worldwide droughts, floods, crop destroying rains, all sorts of terrible impacts from climate change already.
RT:Do you think the British government will listen to this proposal?How would the public react?
GB: It is a very, very interesting situation in this country. The government is trying to push through rules to change the laws that have been existed for about 500 years about what can happen under your own property. There has been polling on this and the opinion poll said that 75 per cent of people are against that change. But unfortunately what we have is this incredibly dirty corrupt relationship between government and corporations and regulators are absolutely a part of that.
The problem is that the government is not going to listen to the protest unless it continues, and ongoing, and increases the pressure on the companies. The good thing from my point of view is that the cost to the fracking companies of people protesting really strongly whenever they try to put down their dirty industrial boot, the cost of industry is significant. And if that carries on then just that will probably stop the industry in its tracks in this country. But there are very powerful interests that are on both sides of the government corporate divide and that are pushing this through very much against the will of the people. To be honest, I don’t need to see any opinion polls to answer the question whether the average person in the UK would like to have a fracking operation that might cause an earthquake that would break their house, their walls, and their windows nearby. It is pretty obvious, the answer to that is “No.”
RT:Romania is one of Europe's main fracking sites but estimates of its shale gas volumes have been revised downwards. Will drilling firms now lose interest in the country?
GB: We see similar situations in the UK that even industry reports say that the future of fracking is very uncertain, that the geology is very different in this country from the US. So whether there will in fact be large amounts of commercially exploitable shale gas even on purely economic terms is very much an open question. Fortunately, things in this country are not quite as bad as in Romania where a whole town was shut down by militarized police to force the fracking industry through. Here we are not bullied so terribly by the police even though some of the response has been very bad.
RT:What about fracking's economic potential? Can it boost national economies?
GB: As long as there is money to be made we can’t rely on the drilling firms to pull out. Especially because there are also all sorts of subsidies provided to fracking firms by governments that are very much corrupted by the influence of fossil fuel money. The fracking firms will push ahead because the government will make it profitable whatever happens. But at the same time going forward, there are very, very uncertain prospects for this technology and in many parts of the world. What we have seen in the US recently is that the prediction of a century of home grown energy from fracking has been massively revised down to the point where a recent survey said that the peak of US shale gas will be probably in the 2020’s.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.