Friday, 15 August 2014

Shale of the Century


I'm off enjoying the delights of the Edinburgh Fringe, including the excellent 3000 Trees, so you'll have to wait until the weekend for any new material!

To tide you over, since fracking is back in the news with Fergus Ewing opposing (for all that'll be worth) the removal of your right to object to rich bastards blowing up your back garden, here's another piece from the back catalogue, written in December 2012.  It's a bit indyref lite, I'm afraid, but I was living in leafy Berkshire at the time, so I knew nothing about anything.

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As the 2011 census officially proved, in the North the weather is always filthy, no-one can understand a word people are saying and the guacamole tastes alarmingly of peas. This is excellent news for the Government, which can now proceed with its proposals to blow Lancashire up.

Lib Dem Energy and Climate Secretary Ed Davey’s reversal today of the ban on shale gas “fracking” was based on two principles. Firstly, he’d spent the last few weeks tied up in a lonely Westminster toilet cubicle being kneed in the groin by his Tory colleagues. Secondly, according to a hastily-commissioned report, fracking had indeed caused a couple of earth tremors in Blackpool, but it had been an accident and, for God’s sake, it was only Blackpool.

As you’d expect from his demeanour, that of a man swimming in shark-infested waters without wearing any trunks, Ed is a cautious soul. He therefore announced that there would be “strict seismic controls”. If any future fracking activity produces a tremor, the men will knock off for a fag break and dispatch an ice-cream van round the district to appease everyone with jolly tunes and 99s. If, upon resumption, the ground continues to shake, the Government will blame it on an obesity epidemic caused by too many ice-creams. If there are any fatalities, fatuous whitewash inquiries have already been pencilled in for 2019, 2026 and 2033.

There’s little consensus on the effects of fracking, largely because the conversation is being conducted by vested interests, two feet apart, yelling into megaphones. Does it pollute the air and cause headaches and breathing difficulties? Maybe, but so does Jeremy Hunt, whose smirking gob seems immune to even the strongest dose of Ibuprofen. Does it contaminate drinking water? Well, not directly, but perhaps methane naturally present in the rock “finds its way” into water supplies because of vibrations during drilling. Boil it for a week and sieve it through a pair of tights and you’ll probably be all right.

Fracking has been established for decades in the USA, in wide open spaces where, apart from one or two isolated cults awaiting Armageddon in armoured compounds, few people live. Just as well, since the big insurance companies would rather dig out their intestines with a spoon than offer cover to locals. Will UK insurers adopt a more benign attitude when Mrs McDonald’s B&B on the seafront at Crail collapses in a heap?  I’d like to convince you, but you may be enjoying a cup of tea, and if you laugh too much you may accidentally squirt it out of your nose.

One benefit of fracking US-style is that it appears to have brought domestic energy bills down. Naturally, the UK energy industry regards this as shocking negligence on the Americans’ part, and has sweated blood to ensure it can never happen here. As statutory underpinning, look out in the near future for a law that, if your supplier can’t put up prices annually by at least twice the rate of inflation, meter readers will be allowed to rob you at gunpoint, household wiring will have to be made of spaghetti and the only permitted lightbulbs will be in the shape of a pair of testicles.

American fracking installations ain’t pretty, even after you’ve got high by drinking the contaminated local water, so what about the problem of industrial scarring over here? Thankfully, comprehensive surveys have revealed that no-one in the South East actually gives a toss, so the political heat is off. Isle of Man residents have indicated that they may feel compelled to rip out their own eyes rather than gaze on the horror of England's North West coastline, but they have lots of money and can surely afford to erect a giant screen all along their eastern shore, with pictures of flowers and bunny rabbits.

Will today’s announcement affect the chances of the UK meeting its carbon emission targets? Of course not, because when you start out at “nil” there’s nowhere further to go. But I do think the targets have now got to the stage where they deserve their own special soundtrack. Anyone able to lay hands on an old 78 recording of The Laughing Policeman?

In the end, it’s about injecting oomph into the economy as well as sand, water and chemicals into a chunk of rock. If fracking is allowed to flourish, first in the North West, then in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, think of all the engineers who will flood across from Eastern Europe to knock the stuffing out of the landscape! After a hard day at the well-face, they’ll flock to whatever local pubs are still in business and carouse the night away. Across the nation, that represents an opportunity to employ at least two or three extra minimum-wage bar staff, and maybe even an extra cleaner. Perhaps we have to destroy Austerity Britain in order to save it.

There are, of course, sizeable shale gas deposits underneath parts of the Home Counties as well. However, there’s little prospect of things shortly shaking in Surrey, or crumbling in Kent. Reckless, blinkered and slightly vindictive the Government may be, but they aren’t bloody stupid.



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