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Chapter Four: Fracking Ban is Welcome But We Also Need to Take the Lead on US Shale Gas Imports

Torpedos, napalm, nuclear detonations, kerosene, benzene, toluene, xylene, and formaldehyde…?

No, this is not a list of the UK’s nine best non-EU exports. Incredibly, all of the above, plus millions of tons of sand and water, have been used in the development of state-of-the-art fracking technology, which, in 2014, allowed more than 100 new wells to be opened up every day in America.

The sheer scale of fracking over the past 10 years has basically caused economic mayhem across the globe and, arguably, nowhere has suffered more than Scotland. The world glut of oil and gas due to overproduction forced down oil prices from above $100 a barrel at the start of 2014 to a low of $59. At the current price of $56, North Sea oil and gas production appears to result in repayment of tax to oil companies rather than boosting the Treasury’s coffers.

On economic grounds alone, why on Earth would Scotland hesitate for more than 10 seconds in the face of the clear imperative to ban fracking in the most beautiful part of the UK? Thankfully, the SNP have now taken this decision – to the derision of oil companies and the Conservative Party.

There is a glut of shale gas fizzing out from over one million fracking wells in the US. Up to 40,000 barrels a day of this shale gas in liquefied form is being shipped by Ineos to Scotland.    Large tankers chugging across the Atlantic must – in words Donald Trump might use about almost anything – be bad news. Certainly reducing drastically the volume of shipping across all oceans should be a priority for any nation with pretensions about caring for the environment. Protecting the oceans is as important as stopping climate change. If the US is dumping excess shale gas to any nation who’ll buy it the consequences don’t bear thinking about.

One solution might be to take our lead from the US’s proposed treatment of Bombardier – with its devastating impact on Northern Ireland – and impose a 300 per cent duty on shale gas imports. If other nations followed suit it might constitute a vital step to limiting and eventually stopping the use of fossil fuels.

Fracking in the UK would add to the world surplus of gas – or perhaps not if the research by Edinburgh academics on the unsuitability of the geological formations in the UK is to be believed.    The rest of the UK should consider following Holyrood’s lead and refuse to endorse what might be termed a perversely destructive industrial process that will depress gas and oil prices and be yet another nail in the coffin of North Sea oil.

The shale reserves, if any, won’t deteriorate if they are preserved and should only be exploited when a better use is discovered for them and when Scotland gets some return from that exploitation.

The Conservatives in Scotland may regret giving their support for fracking and appearing to be content at the prospect of villages obtaining the odd new community hall in exchange for being subjected to an endless line of CO2-emitting lorries transporting fracking detritus across beautiful Scottish countryside while the super-rich boost their fortunes from Scotland’s shale reserves. Voters in Scotland will be far from content.

The US and the UK are not hesitant in declaring themselves leaders of the free world and guardians of moral actions. Fundamental to that view is that US and UK production processes set the gold standard for others to follow. Consequently, when the US Energy Information Administration has identified a list of countries with sizeable wet shale gas plays, the clear implication is that these countries should exploit those assets. Or, more likely, that US companies with the technical know-how and experience should be invited in to exploit those resources. That’s how capitalism works. However, in the case of fracking, the quantity of water required for fracking will inevitably lead to water being diverted from cultivation and from social uses in some countries where water is scarcer than oil and gas.

Just how culpable will the US and the UK be if developing countries go down the fracking route and goodness knows what disasters then happen to the population as a consequence?

Arguably there should be a worldwide moratorium or even ban on fracking. So why is the outright ban correct for Scotland?

Unsavoury historical facts

FRACKING started with experimenting with dropping torpedos down well shafts, compressing them with water and detonating them to blast access to oil. It then moved on to forcing water mixed with napalm into shale and then, believe it or not, climaxed in testing the extra output from nuclear explosions on oil and gas plays.

Not surprisingly, these early days failed to match the glory days of recent times for frackers who would be disappointed by the non-commerciality of radioactive oil and gas assets.

Current practice remains controversial. Each well requires the forcing of thousands of gallons of water laced with chemicals into miles of shale beds. The chemicals used are seldom revealed but have been reported to contain kerosene, benzene, toluene, xylene, and formaldehyde. Huge volumes of sand are then injected into the shattered shale as proppants to keep the blasted shale pores open.

Mile-deep vertical drilling can be followed with mile-long horizontal drilling. Most of the water used has to be recovered and decontaminated. Decontamination ponds are a feature of fracking.

Just think what the consequences of flash floods would be to these stagnant ponds. No amount of planning can cater for weather conditions which, in all likelihood, are a result of the oil industry supplying fuel-greedy countries with carbon-emitting fossil fuel.

Environmental and health concerns

AIR and noise contamination is a feature of fracking as hundreds of lorries are routinely used to transport sand and equipment around the countryside. Horror stories abound in the States of the harmful effects of fracking such as increased risk of cancer, water-course pollution, air pollution and even earthquakes.

Apparently, there were more than 60,000 responses to Holyrood’s public consultation of the desirability or not of allowing fracking to proceed with most of them voting in favour of protecting the environment and against fracking. The banning decision is a no-brainer regardless of how many oil billionaires it offends.