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Paying for energy profits in disease and death

The descent of the energy production industry into 19th century activities such as “fracking”, which was last tried in Scotland 150 years ago, and marginal drift mining show that capitalism cannot safely tackle the growing energy crisis.

The tragic deaths of four miners in South Wales last week highlighted one side of the increasingly desperate search for energy sources. Camp Frack, set up by local residents and climate activists on a site near Southport in Lancashire, to protest against plans by mining company Cuadrilla Resources to drill for shale gas, draws attention to an equally dangerous activity.

The camp is opposing plans for “fracking” – hydraulic fracturing – where water with chemicals is pumped into rocks to shatter them, releasing the carbon gas which is piped to tankers and transported to power stations. Cuadrilla, backed by Australian mining money and with BP's former chair Lord Browne in support, is one of a number given licence by the Coalition government to pilot fracking. The company is looking at sites across 437 square miles of Lancashire.

Its first operation was suspended in the summer, when geologists suggested they had caused two earthquakes that shook the seaside town of Blackpool. In the USA people living near fracking operations say it causes seismic shifts and serious illnesses. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently conducting a large-scale study on the impacts, and the Camp Frack protesters are demanding the British government halt all activity until it reports.

As well as the health and geological risks, burning shale gas gives off more CO2 than coal. But the risks to the people, the environment and the wildlife of the Ribble Valley have been simply ignored. The US anti-fracking film Gasland, was nominated for an Oscar last year and you can find out more about it here.

The sum total of possible shale gas deposits in Britain would meet the need for gas for a grand total of 18 months. It is only in the total absence of anything resembling a coherent strategy for energy that such a risky activity could be given the go-ahead for such short-term returns.

Meanwhile, the National Union of Mineworkers has warned that tiny collieries like the one at Gleision where four miners died as a result of an inrush of water, may be operating “under the radar” of mine inspectors. The soaring world price of coal has led to an expansion of small, privately-owned drift and open cast mining in the UK over recent years – operations that sometimes open and shut in response to commodity price fluctuations.

Gleision, which produced smokeless coal for boilers, is one of the smallest and remotest of these kinds of laissez-faire operations. Chris Kitchen, general secretary of the NUM, said:

We have grave concerns about safety standards in these kinds of mines. We fear that safety is often set at minimum standards so that costs can be kept down. They are not generally unionised or easily visited by inspectors.

Britain's five remaining deep-mine collieries, such as Kellingley in Yorkshire, have teams of safety personnel, high standards, and a unionised workforce alert to problems. "You are not going to have that kind of thing in a small drift mine that employs nine people."

As the Energy Bill currently going through Parliament shows, the reality is that government efforts to promote energy saving and efficiency, or local power generation strategies and clean sources, are minimal. The scale of what they plan – lots of advice and fine words but little funding or subsidy – shows they are not serious.

As long as we live in this undemocratic profit-driven energy society, the government will make sure the energy corporations keep the market sewn up. Only by challenging the ownership and control of energy production will we ever be able to put the focus on safety, clean energy and conservation.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
19 September 2011

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Jonathan says:

The speed with which the New Labour man Hain covered for the company – and by extension any company - and supine demonstrated their willingness to allow any procedure even ending in such tragic deaths – and didn't he empathise well – makes the gall rise, or leads to confusion or dumb agreement – signifying nothing. Therefore no political expression or defence to the extractions of souls there then.

As to the comment by David well and well taken: but the political control even of the setting is the stark issue. It is not Thatcher, et al, that left that national economy devastated – in this as in other areas, switching to The City opened the way to Global Capital – with quite distinct interests – interest. David's points to begin with are not outside the 'broad' sweep of this item – in fact the whole of the technical approach is quite obvious to be handed to precisely the work and experience to apply by those he is expressing. That, therefore, brings it back not to any broad sweep but to who hands that over, the political expression of capital or of the communities, the network of communities, from which these workers are drawn.

There is a necessity driving both sides here; capital and labour, and in that there must be political control even of the argument. That necessity will get ever sharper and deeper as both 'their' crisis does and their solutions to that does – and note that even here, the crisis that will arise within their solutions: the communities will be at the butt end of that. And each will feed each in somewhat of a frenzy. If Hain and Co – public listed company, brand, no content, are reduced to that on live feeds where Hain excused the company instead suggesting the miners had access to the maps and knew the risks – implying they were negligent. The essence of this, behind which looms the necessity, is that as a cover for the & Co and not as a political expression of the mining community 150 years is stood on its head. While David may have good reason to close in on Thatcher et al (and note the others in this most notable the TUC General Council) it is the throws of capitalism that drives the owners and the political classes. The NUM knew well enough it was a challenge to The Power as such they were involved in; the logic of that is not hard to deduce. David says on their site: 'the knifes edged of profit and loss make volatile mixtures.' alluding to the mixtures of profit and gas; so we are in agreement on the general, workers have grasped this for longer than 150 years – it is rather starkly obvious to any that sweat. Now that this sounds as if it could have been expressed 150 years ago – in mines, at sea, in canals, and on – well shows the decay in not production as such but the extraction of surplus labour. As this comes in the infancy of the proletariat then also came it union – obviously. Marx started his dedicated work patiently outlining this matter of profit to the First International as a result of his studies into Political Economy and Utopian Socialism. It is this, not coal they were after. To them it matters not a jot whether it is coal, diamonds, or oil – and we haven't even left carbon yet – as long as it is extracted by labour power. But the real profits are in the added labour. In the working up of 'everything'. To work it up draws in science – and then they have to move it. Profits, involving competition or cartels, never stands still. Deaths through the extraction industry, alone, last year were in their tens of thousands.

That is only, only being important here, one aspect of the affair. 'Extraction' of profits is only the surface of the whole, its appearance. For the real driving force in 'the affairs of man' is a contradiction they neither understands nor can get grips on yet twists and turns in the minds – literally in their thinking on all things – and determines them as thinking beings. And so it ought: production is a 'dream' on the rise for those 'in ownership' and is a nightmare at a revolutionary moment, i.e. at the point of a crisis where the whole revolves into the opposite pole, in this case the subject becomes the object, the object becomes controlled by the itself as subject. For those left adrift by the apparent abstraction – in the necessity to lay bare the contradictions of production control must pass to communities to distribute work and maintain control of production by producers – not through devices of ownership devilish in their detail. The contradiction that drives is in the product – which is also you and I.

David Douglass says:

Broadly your right, you can read my extended comments on in the News section, you will also see in the Mining 2000 chapter we wrote a feature on this particular drift ten years ago and noted that control of massive water innundation was a serious problem. However this particular disaster isnt so much to do with capitalisms energy crisis. It is more to do with the poverty and desolation left in the vallies and abandoned northern pit villages by Thatcher and John Major wiping out the modern, technologically well paid mining industry. This has left armies of unemployed miners in abandoned communities desperate for work. This pit was supplying local home fuel markets not big power generators. They mined highly expensive anthracite and managed to earn a decent living for it. But at the cost of primative working conditions, non union standards and ultimatly death. We need the expansion and redevelopment of the nationalised coal industry working to supply clean coal power, under a high degree of workers and consumers and community control.Fracking and similarly UCC which basically sets the seams alight and drains off Methain is all the rage with the Tories as a means of using coal, without mining it or employing miners. It is highly destructive to future coal reserves and environmentally far worse than even traditional coal powered stations. 18 licences have been granted in Yorkshire and Linc's for these operations and no-body is being informed.

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