The dust has started to settle. Holyrood has announced a moratorium on all unconventional fossil fuels including fracking. Westminster has just passed legislation adding extra regulations which makes fracking more difficult. Many are hailing this as a victory for both local communities and the climate. It is not hard to see why. Over 200 anti fracking groups have sprung up in recent years – not just hippies, but also groups like ‘Grandmothers Against Fracking.’ What unites these ‘fractivists’ is a concern for people in locally affected communities and the planet threatened by devastating climate change.
Fracking has a serious dodgy record so far. This can be seen in the US where chemicals have contaminated the groundwater leading to extremely detrimental health impacts. It can also lead to a rise in tremors in the ground. Perhaps one of the most frightening things is that the chemical composition of the fracking fluid that is used to blast the rock is unknown. Many people are not aware that there are carcinogenic chemicals in their water supply.
There is also another fundamental reason to oppose fracking. It is simply nonsensical in the age of climate change. If we limit ourselves to burning one third of current fossil fuel reserves to give us a fighting chance at halting catastrophic climate change, then exploring for more toxic oil and gas is hardly rational, let alone acceptable. It makes a mockery of international law and UN climate talks. The UK Climate Act – one of the most ambitious pieces of climate legislation in the world – requires us to cut emissions by 80% by 2050. This is possible, but not if we continue on such a dangerous energy trajectory.
Proponents of fracking have told us shale gas is a ‘bridge fuel’; that we will use it to transition to an efficient low carbon economy. This is due to its status as the fossil fuel with the lowest carbon intensity. However, this is not the whole story. Due to the unsafe and insecure process of hydraulic fracturing, the risk of methane leakage is very high. Methane, another greenhouse gas, is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Moreover, exploring for more gas and oil in the current overabundance is completely illogical.
Instead, we should be investing much more time and effort into renewable energy sector which will create more jobs heralding the new low carbon economy. For instance, Scotland has no need for fracking. It possesses abundant resources of wind and waves; and can provide up to 25% of Europe’s offshore wind resource and tidal power potential. Fracking will not even bring down bills; even Cuadrilla, the UK’s main fracking company has stated that the impact on price will be ‘basically insignificant.’
We must go further, however, than just a moratorium and instead ban all unconventional fossil fuels entirely. This is a dirty and unjust energy trajectory influenced by political short-termism. We must harness the wind for energy not chase after it for an unsustainable and risky future. Fracking is not the answer; not for frontline communities threatened by water contamination, nor for the rapidly destabilising ecosystem we call home, Earth.