Running a Temperature


Reckless ‘extreme energy’ extraction climate apocalypse danger

The extractive and fossil fuel industries are poised to dig up the entire planet to produce gas, oil and coal in an ever more destructive spiral.

Matt Worsdale reports from Camp Frack II held in Lancashire earlier this month.

A drearier than optimal weekend in Lancashire provided a useful networking opportunity between anti-fracking and climate activists in London and the North West. I got up to speed with the expansion of unconventional fossil fuels in the EU and the UK, with a second workshop turning its attention on the burgeoning biomass industry.

The first of these revealed that fracking for shale gas, while dangerous and polluting in itself, is only the tip of an iceberg of a series of reckless extraction methods for low-grade fossil fuels. The biomass industry, meanwhile, is set to replace the coal-based power stations of Britain with something that is even more polluting, while technically qualifying as a renewable source. No joke!

Sunday saw a march from the campsite culminating in a rally close to the site of the Caudrilla-run gas rig, where a mock rig was brought to the ground and replaced by the much-desired wind turbine. Unfortunately, this symbolic move was the extent of protest action on this occasion.

Even a 200-strong crowd of marchers with a large contingent of families and young children, somehow warranted a police patrol for the bulk of the protest route. A surprise meeting with a Caudrilla engineer halfway along mostly bought light relief, though there were rumours of terse exchanges with this individual and activists.

At the genuine site, fracking activities are set to resume following a period of suspension forced by earthquakes in close proximity to a Blackpool site. It may be productive for activists to highlight the parallels with a (draft) report of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US, which establishes a link between fracking and water supply contamination.

The first workshop was informative in terms of setting out extreme energy as the latest frontier in the battle against the oil giants. The accelerating pace of land-grabbing for tar sands in the US (and for biofuels around the world) should leave us in little doubt as to the intentions of these capitalist corporations to wreck ever larger ecological areas and local communities in chasing for a fleeting profit that may never materialise.

Two further monstrous practices, coal bed methane and underground coal gasification, show that there is no depth to which energy giants won’t (metaphorically) sink. The first technique uses a combination of high-pressure water injection and fracking to obtain methane from deep coal seams.

Rocky Mountain Field Test of UCG near Hanna, Wyoming
Rocky Mountain Field Test of UCG near Hanna, Wyoming

As the Frack Off website shows, this could be soon underway at dozens of sites cluttering Northern England. Underground Coal Gassification – terrifying when explained openly – essentially creates an underground furnace of coal that is burned slowly to release carbon monoxide as a product to the surface.

Contamination issues aside, as explained in detail, the overall carbon release is such that adopting the practice on a commercial scale will guarantee climate apocalypse. It is as simple as that. Test licenses have already been issued around the UK – Swansea bay being first in the firing – or should that be burning – line. Sites off the coast mean that the companies can deflect accusations of water contamination, creating another huge unknown for ocean pollution and marine life.

A second workshop illustrated the rapid rise of “renewable” biomass in the UK. In  a spectacular example of how the UK in particular forces the ecological cost of its growth-based economy onto less developed nations, biomass expansion would result in the country burning nine times as much wood for electricity as it produces annually, as this report explains.

It doesn’t take an expert to see that net carbon emissions from biomass are likely to far outstrip those of coal-based power generation, once you include the carbon cost of ferrying suitable wood from Brazil and Canada, and even EU nations like Sweden.

A likely motivation for the biomass boom is that it will allow power companies to keep the UK’s dirtiest stations open for longer. These are the ones that will have to close by 2015 because their sulphur dioxide emissions violate EU air quality standards. This is another way of locking us into a high-carbon energy future.

Naturally, the air pollution impact of biomass has not been properly assessed. In short, biomass is a perfect greenwash, destroying precious ecosystems and reducing biodiversity around the globe all for the purpose of making industrial scale campfires.

The UK will become an important battleground in the fight against fossil fuels, as multinational extraction companies covet large areas of countryside in the North and in Wales. That they have been so easily granted the permission to commence operations, comes as little surprise. The ancient laws of English land ownership concentrate large areas in the hands of a few members of the aristocracy.

In particular, landowners have a right dating back from the Norman Conquest to mineral reserves that are located under the common land of towns and villages. Little wonder that in most cases, planning permission has been given at the drop of a hat by landowners as they rush to cash in.

Elsewhere in the world, the rights to land in a given region are divided between a complex mesh of rights that are constitutional and ordered in some cases by royal charters. In the case of the indigenous people of Canada, the Royal Proclamation of 1763 issued by King George reserved at least the Western Lands as the exclusive hunting lands of the aboriginal people. 

This has led those modern day descendants represented by the Idle No More movement and others to claim the illegality of Canada president Stephen Harper’s recent C-45 bill that transfers the issue of land rights to provincial governments .

To win the extreme energy war on the UK front, we have to unite communities, creating a country-wide gridlock that the gas rigs cannot impregnate. When communities are seen to be saying “no” to a fossil fuel future, the alternative of renewable energy – to which, of course, there is no alternative – must be sold as loud as possible, across all sectors of society. Then the transition can begin.

23 May 2013

An EU vote on Fuel Quality Directives is set to take place likely in October 2013. The legislation would block tar sands from the EU, but there is much speculation the UK is complicit in lobbying by the Canadian government to oppose it. Support Swansea Against Fracked Energy (S.A.F.E) Facebook page. Join the campaign to have ecocide recognised as a crime against humanity. There is a conference on June 8 on the climate crisis.

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