It seems that, when someone starts blasting the earth’s crust with water, sand and dangerous chemicals, in a bid to fracture the rock and extract fossil fuels, at the risk of triggering earthquakes, contaminating the groundwater and causing major air pollution, all within spitting distance of your home…it negatively impacts on house prices. And fracking, if you live in Scotland, is just about to get up close and personal.
The Westminster government has now issued licenses for fracking across the Central Belt, including Edinburgh, Glasgow, Falkirk and Fife, where 80 per cent of the population live. This vast swathe of Scotland was identified, by the British Geological Survey, as having significant shale gas and oil reserves; alas, you need to crack the ground open to get them out, at a significant environmental cost, not to mention a social and economic one, for those who live nearby.
Not that the companies who are snapping up the newly issued fracking licences care. And why should they? While you were scrabbling about trying to find enough money down the back of the sofa to get through Xmas, and the majority of the House of Commons were propping up a free bar somewhere, the crafty old Tories were shoving through a spot of legislation that ensures it is no longer necessary to seek the permission of every householder before fracking the hell out of them.
Commenting upon this fateful 20 December legerdemain, Nick Boles MP (Tory) opined that it was “unnecessarily excessive” to have to actually ask folk before you wrecked their homes in pursuit of fossil fuel millions. No one else noticed, it seems, because on 13 January 2014, this passed into law without fuss. Then, in June, the Labour Party, the mighty protectress of the poor, the hard-working, and the home-owning, waded in to do battle…and supported the ConDems in removing householders’ rights to object via the trespass laws.
Thus, in the grim morning after the No vote on 19 September, Scotland finally woke up to the fact that our most densely populated areas are now at risk, and we are almost powerless to do anything about it. Almost. But we’ll get to that. Since the 28 July, orders for licences have been flying in, and one of the lucky winners appears to be Ian Wood, the man who said there were only a few wee cans of oil left in the North Sea, and whose Wood Group are red-hot keen on fracking. And Ineos, based in Grangemouth, the company that threatened to shut the whole operation down when the union tried to stand up for itself last year, thereby throwing an entire workforce out of a job.
Yes, they’re doing nicely too, thanks for asking, with a controlling stake in a Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence (PEDL) for 400 square kilometres of Scotland’s Midland Valley, and an 80 per cent stake in a PEDL for the adjacent 329 square kilometres, including Grangemouth itself. Such heavy investment signals a clear intent to pursue this controversial and damaging exploration and, with no legislation to hinder them, why wouldn’t they?
It is extremely profitable, in crude terms, if you discount the harm it causes along the way. The US fracking industry notched up $76billion in profits in 2010, though it also left a trail of destruction in its wake, including endocrine-disrupting chemicals entering the water supply, which could have potentially very damaging implications for human health.
Researchers from the University of Missouri and the US Geological Survey Columbia Environmental Research Center raised concerns on this issue, with regard to fracking, in a report published in the peer-reviewed journal Endocrinology. Unfortunately, this research is in its early stages and further, more conclusive studies are unlikely to be conducted before a fully-fledged fracking industry is up and running. Such is the way of these things.
Other startling side-effects of blasting open the planet’s skin to find things to set fire to include building subsidence—coming soon, perhaps, to Edinburgh’s New Town, Morningside and even the Scottish Parliament itself; earthquakes—the fracking map of Scotland shows that the proposed fracking zone actually falls within two known faultlines, and major disturbances in such areas are know to cause earth tremors; and calamitous house prices (see Daily Mail, all editions).
Not only that, but given we are witnessing unprecedented, man-made, and catastrophic climate change, surely pursuing ever more inaccessible fossil fuels is not the way to go? Even Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, has added his weight to the ‘carbon bubble’ theory that, if a global agreement on limiting carbon emissions is reached, companies who bet heavily on fossil fuels could see their assets rendered valueless.
In effect, most of the gas and oil the frackers seek to extract cannot be burnt if we are, warns Carney, to avoid catastrophic climate change caused by a rise of more than two degrees in global temperatures. So not only is fracking anti-social in the extreme, it is also a potential financial dead-end. Did I say we were almost powerless? The Scottish Government has, so far, failed to make a strong stand against fracking, but it could still oppose it, through planning and environmental regulations, which are devolved to Scotland.
Unlike Mr Former Tory of Tudor Mansionville, we have some powers at our disposal and we can fend of the worst excesses of Westminster, if the political will, and the political pressure, is there. Incidentally, the Mail published another story, on the eve of the referendum, claiming that a Yes vote could burst the ‘housing McBubble’ in Edinburgh by, er, causing uncertainty and, er, something or other. Ironic, really, that the No vote has achieved, in terms of a plummeting housing market, what those wicked Yessers, with their class envy and hatred of success, could only dream of.
• See bgs.ac.uk/shalegas