UK ignites backlash over imported fracked gas

31st Mar 2017
UK ignites backlash over imported fracked gas

Camisea Gas project near the Urubamba River in central Peru is about 60 miles from the historic UNESCO World Heritage Site, Machu Picchu (Photo: Creative Commons)

Hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, has become a contentious form of energy production since a wave of environmental and human health hazards were reported in recent decades.

The energy intensive technique is used to extract gas from shale formations by injecting water, sand grains, and various chemicals at high pressure to keep the fractures open. The UK is due to receive a shipment of fracked natural gas in Kent from the Camisea project in Peru, about 60 miles from the historic UNESCO World Heritage Site, Machu Picchu. Supporters of fracking in the UK believe that the gas should be produced from within the UK, rather than imported from halfway around the world. Environmentalists argue that all fracking is disastrous for the environment and human health.

At this particular site in Peru, indigenous populations within the Amazon were also adversely affected. Survival International, a non-profit organisation dedicated to protecting tribal populations, reported that Shell workers searching for oil and gas wiped out half of the previously uncontacted Nahua tribe, as they were not immune to outside diseases.

Only a few years ago, Lima held the International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature, where activists came forward to express grievances regarding the devastating effects of fracking on their communities, and stated that many of the projects by major institutions, including the UN and World Bank, were putting an eco-friendly label on developments that cause major pollution.

According to the UK Government’s website, “In 2015, just over a third of the UK’s energy came from natural gas, and another third from oil. Coal (13%), nuclear (7%), and renewables – mostly biomass and wind (10%) – supplied the rest. Just over two fifths of this natural gas came from the North Sea and Irish Sea. The rest was imported from Belgium, Norway and the Netherlands via pipelines, and also shipped from Qatar, Algeria, Trinidad & Tobago and Nigeria as Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). The Government predicts that by 2030 nearly three quarters of UK gas will be imported.”

The UK already has many fracking sites up and running, including in Yorkshire, Sussex, Lancashire, and the East Midlands, with more in various stages of the approval process. Domestic energy production is a constant topic of political discussion, with many closer to the right pushing for cheaper, non-renewable energy, and those on the left asking for long-term investment into renewables. Some who support environmental protection prefer fracking to coal or oil extraction, due to the decreased amount of carbon dioxide, some estimate half, that is emitted from burning natural gas. However, the emissions caused by transporting the oil halfway around the world diminishes the gains, and methane, a greenhouse gas that is twenty or more times more potent than carbon dioxide, often leaks from fracking sites. It is clear that the Government is in favour of the technology, while the public has mixed feelings.

Extracting natural gas from such an ecologically sensitive area as the Amazon has environmentalists, and groups concerned with the protection of indigenous populations, up in arms. Projects usually only go so long before there is an accident or a leak is found. Corporations may be held liable for damages and be ordered to clean up the site, but many of the spaces are left irreparably damaged.

The desire for cheap energy is an understandable phenomenon; governments do not want to impose a major financial burden on their constituents, but it is hardly fair to disrupt a pristine area, unparalleled in its biodiversity, for the sake of cheap power, when those same nations claim to be committed to a clean energy future. Fossil fuels are finite, and the desire to extract every last drop before they run out epitomizes humanity’s race to the bottom. Even those who do not consider themselves die-hard environmentalists see the potential adverse consequences of fracking in the Amazon.

Perhaps, the UK should commit to generating a greater proportion of their natural gas domestically, or maybe the public should bite the bullet and pay a little more to invest in a clean energy future, so their kids won’t have to.

Sarah Sakeena Marshall, B.S. Environmental Policy

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