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Dash for gas exposes corporate-state fix

"Baseless economics" underlie the mad dash for unconventional gas, says economist Nicholas Stern. And whilst Cameron and Osborne link their fate to the fossil fuel corporations, Lord Stern has rubbished their claim that fracking will bring down consumer bills.

Gas, he points out, is an international commodity and will be sold to the highest bidder. UK households already experienced this effect when North Sea gas was pumped on to the world market, leaving fuel costs in the UK unchanged. And when the gas ran out, the price to consumers soared.

As we showed in last week's blog [US shale gas bubble is ready to burst], this has been the experience in the United States where gas exports have increased but household fuel bills remain high and subject to volatile market forces.

Lord Stern lashed the Government for making no real impact assessment. Do we have enough water for fracking, especially in areas where supply is already fragile? Would fracking pollute the water supply? Will it release dangerous quantities of methane? “We’ve not had a proper discussion on these serious issues," says the economist whose pivotal 2006 report called climate change "the biggest-ever market failure".

But the Con-Dems don't care about all that. They are a desperate clique pursuing any financial bubble that might keep greasing the wheels of the state. And unconventional gas is a classic bubble with companies rampaging from one drill hole to the next, causing environmental and financial mayhem.

Dart Energy, which is seeking permission for coal-bed methane capture at the former Airth Colliery in the Forth Valley, has seen its share price collapse after its plans were thwarted by local opposition in Australia. Dart denounced new environmental regulations by the New South Wales government and pointed to the Con-Dems as an example of forward thinking on energy supply (yeah, right!).

The company had to stop trading shares whilst they formulated a new plan and yesterday issued £14m worth of new shares on the Australian securities exchange. They told investors it will kick start operations in Scotland, though they don't yet have Scottish government permission.

So this is a company in trouble by any standards, but Alex Johnstone, Conservative MSP for North East Scotland, demanded campaigners stop attacking such "legitimate businesses". He denounced what he described as “some disgraceful scenes south of the border by environmental organisations“ and said that “we need to encourage companies which have a lot to offer Scotland.”

This yawning gap between the ruled and their rulers, is pushing people to start making their own very different plans for the future. Local campaigners in the area around Airth have worked with their Community Council (Scottish equivalent of a Parish Council) to develop a Community Charter. It sets out their "cultural heritage" which they declare to be:

the sum total of the local tangible and intangible assets we have collectively agreed to be fundamental to the health and well-being of our present and future generations. These constitute an inseparable ecological and socio-cultural fabric that sustains life, and which provides us with the solid foundations for building and celebrating our homes, families, community and legacy within a healthy, diverse, beautiful and safe natural environment. This is the basis of a true economy, one which returns to its root meaning (oikos – home, nomia – management).

Now the big challenge is to see how such a new vision can become our future. As an AWTW network member reports from a meeting in Havant (a possible future target for fracking):

People are making the connections between the system that is breaking up lives and communities through austerity, and the shortcomings of a corrupt financial system, and the law-unto themselves that are fossil fuel companies who are continuing to do what they have always done, ever more aggressively. It goes to show you the majority know who is public enemy number one – and they are beginning to see the crucial role the state plays.

Transforming the state to create a real democracy that gives people power over what happens in their communities has to be the way forward.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
5 September 2013

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