Wednesday, 28 August 2013


I may be mistaken, but I think in England we are on the brink of doing something really bad, from which there will be no way back.

If you live in England you will probably know that fracking sites are proposed for well over half the country.  The first one, at Balcombe in West Sussex, should be starting drilling soon.  This is at present being delayed by staunch and substantial anti-fracking protest at Balcombe; it reminds me strongly of the protest at Greenham Common.

Fracking, whether for gas or oil, is short for 'fracturing'.  There's a good explanation of it here.

The basic deal is that, to release the gas or oil deposits, chemicalised water is forced into places deep in the earth.  This involves poisoning the waters in the aquifers, which means water we could have accessed for drinking will become poisonous.

When I wrote to members of our Hastings council about this matter, I was assured that no fracking sites have been identified for 'our area'.  But when it comes to the aquifers, the air, the rivers, Balcombe in West Sussex is our area.  Airborne gas respects no county or borough boundaries.  Even so, if this is the only means of communicating to the UK civic authorities that we care about this, adding our voices to the protest here is the least we can do.

Here in the South East of England we have just received a leaflet from our water authority, explaining that we are still in serious water shortage - semi-drought - conditions.  All of us soon will be having metered water to encourage us to use less, and the leaflet reminds us of a number of ways we can all use water responsibly, to make it go further and alleviate drought.

Fracking is a very thirsty process.  Not only does it necessitate poisoning (not for a brief temporary period but long-term) water we could have accessed for drinking, but it also requires millions of gallons of water to run the heavy machinery.

They have a fracking plant in Texas, in an area already challenged by extremely arid conditions.  Here's  the result.

Of course fracking, whether for oil or gas, and also oil extracted from tar sands and piped away, will affect the air and the land as well as the water.  Read here about some of the implications for rural America.    You'll notice that ExxonMobil is one of the firms behind fracking in America. Exxon have been extracting oil from tar sands too.  Read about the effects of their work here.

Of course, at least initially fracking will be done in the countryside.  There would be too much of an outcry if towns and roads were spoiled to dig up the area and drill for gas.  So there will be a need to cut down more woodland.  And of course, one of the many benefits of trees is that they slow down the movement of water through the landscape, protecting us against both drought and floods.

Fracking is what's called a 'dirty technology'.  The benefits are not great and the pollution and damage is massive.  The cost in terms of the wellbeing of the Earth is huge for the commodity we produce.

It shouldn't need much explaining for it to be clear to you that the consequences of all this are sombre indeed.  But the urgency and importance of it is made clear in this article about Earth Overshoot Day.

Our life is good.  Our family runs a car, we have a gas boiler for the winter months (our summertime water is heated by solar tubes on the roof).   But I would be more than willing to have our government insist we stop using gas and oil forever and just do without it, rather than seek fresh supplies this way.  I look at the people walking around our neighbourhood, ordinary people, parents with little kids in tow, old folks struggling along slowly with walking frames, many immigrants, many who are very poor.  And I try to imagine what will happen if, just as the government is cutting assistance to people living with disability, fracking in West Sussex gives us here in East Sussex breathing difficulties nausea, asthma.  I try to imagine us turning on the tap to find the water is gone, ordered to let our gardens die because the fracking machinery needs the water, watching our dairy cattle and sheep in the meadows sicken and die because the rivers are poisoned, seeing our orchards perish because the land had been sucked dry and a secret cocktail of lethal chemicals blasted into the deep earth.

Our Prime Minister, David Cameron, is firmly in favour of fracking, saying it will make only a tiny difference to the English countryside.   He says "We must make the case that fracking is safe. International evidence shows there is no evidence why fracking should cause contamination of water supplies or other environmental damage, if properly regulated."  Hmm.

Once this Pandora's Box has been opened, there will be no stuffing back inside what we have unleashed.   In my soul, to the very depths, is such a dread of the future we are creating, such a grieving for the Earth, for the rivers, the hills, the wild creatures, the trees.   This is not the road of blessing.


Anonymous said...

I think they'll be taking water from Keilder reservoir, Pen which will mess with us up here too. The stupidity of man knows no bounds and having seen the programmes on it with people setting their tap water alight I think the government needs sacking! :-/

Ganeidaz Knot said...

In our greed we will destroy ourselves. People really should read their bibles wherein it warns of a 1/3 of the rivers poisoned ~ & the green growing, & the wildlife.

They should look at what a poisoned river looks like ~ & how slowly an unwell river rights itself. Our Murray was dying for years & covered with a green slime, our major water source coursing through 3 states [if you include all tributaries & source] & the main irrigation source for farming. It took the major flooding a few years back that put all of central Australia & a lot of Queensland under water to flush it clean.

We are a water deprived country, even along the coastal regions. Water is more precious than you can imagine. We were on tanks when we first moved to the island & believe me there's nothing so awful as the hollow sound of an empty water tank!

Pen Wilcock said...

['] Lord have mercy.

DaveH said...

Your post really made me stop and think about "fracking." I've spent the past five months fire fighting at home and during these times it is difficult to look beyond one's own backyard.

The links you provided have been helpful and I've asked Dave to look at them. He majored in environmental science at Uni, and with his civils background, regularly reads to periodicals each month and fracking has been debated on both sides.

As for our so called government they are messing up in all areas and I do not trust them at all. Please God they won't get in a second term.

San xx

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

Anonymous said...

I'm new to your blog, having come here from Sarah's Knitting the Wind.

Firstly, I'd like to say how inspirational I've found your pages and what a lovely, peaceful atmosphere they seem to generate.

I completely agree with you about fracking (ugly word). Up here in the Highlands we have no such problems, but I used to live in Buckinghamshire and I always felt then that time was running out in so many ways.
I think there is hope though. People seem much less willing to sit back and let these things happen (e.g. the badger cull). God willing we will continue to make our voices heard and stop that which is so obviously toxic to us.

Anonymous said...

My apologies if this is published twice - my comment seem to disappear after verification!!
Anyway, long story short - I totally agree with what you've said.
Lovely blog - I look forward to coming back. :-)

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Lesley, lovely to meet you.

I wish it were true that where you are in the Highlands there are no such problems. The scary thing about all this is that there is no getting away from it. If our political authorities allow a process to go ahead that contaminates the land and water in a large area of the country, I imagine their Plan B will be to raid the bits they haven't contaminated or sucked dry for the drinking water we shall then be needing.

It is indeed good news that people are now speaking up loud and clear, but I am dismayed that our voices are ignored and over-ruled - the badger cull being a perfect example. They have started killing the badgers now and, exactly as expected, most of them haven't got TB at all. The whole thing is heart-breaking!

I'm so sorry you haven't come in here on a more cheerful topic - I't really good to meet you though! xx

Pilgrim said...

At least you pulled back from the threshold of something else really bad yesterday, in the Syria situation.

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes indeed, thank goodness!

Anekha said...

Fracking is a menace here in australia. Its a massve issue for rural people where the national and state governments have given fracking total freedom, but the local councils oppose it. There is fighting going on in many places. The issue being that the reserves cover massive areas and go over council borders so if only one place or one farmer takes the money and says yes, everyone is affected. They spray salty water over the land (which they haven't paid for, only for access and rights to the oil) the water table is poisoned... the problems go on. environmentalists and farmers have united( this is unusual in itself) on this issue to oppose fracking. Australia is poised on the brink of agricultural disaster but the governement doesn't even think about it. historically mining kills communities (after a boom initially) and these ghost towns with destroyed eco systems and poisoned rivers remain. The mining company moves on and the locals are left witht he problems. We are already seeing fracking 'refugees' that is people who lived in areas where fracking started find they can't afford housing there and are getting sick and so they leave in financial ruin.
Its a sad sad thing.

Pen Wilcock said...

Thank you for this, Anekha - what you are saying absolutely bears out what I suspected. xx

Gerry Snape said...

the first one started quite a while ago up by Blackpool...we don't really know yet what the outcome will be...time alone will tell...

Rebecca said...

Are you OK? I am missing your posts :)

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Thank you, friend. I am well, but between family, church and work commitments have hardly time to think!