Climate talk heats up as campaigners oppose fracking plans

The world is facing an alarming energy problem. There simply isn’t enough energy and too much climate change. This looming problem is fast becoming  a global issue and arguably the most important issue the world faces right now. With our planet hanging in the balance and climate change quickly destroying our path to sustainability, could natural gas and fracking technology be the solution?

The answer is especially relevant in Chester as environmental campaigners, councillors and residents packed out HQ last week to discuss the drilling for coal-bed methane currently taking place at Duttons Lane and Upton.

More than 50 people attended the meeting concerning unconventional onshore gas and oil techniques and heard evidence from representatives of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Ground Gas Solutions and IGas. The meeting was the second of four held by Cheshire West and Chester’s working group in order to develop council policy. The decision to set up the cross party working group came after no environmental impact assessments had been taken before granting consent to undergo gas drilling within the Chester area.

Matt Bryan, a Chester resident, was extremely concerned with the possible effects fracking could have the community. He said:“It is damaging to human and animal health, uses massive volumes of water, increases HGV road traffic and reduces property values. It will not reduce the price of gas or provide local jobs and it isn’t the answer to our energy security.”

In the fight against climate change, natural gas is increasingly becoming eyed as the potential resolution to a carbon-free economy. Fracking involves drilling deep underground and releasing high pressures of mixed water, sand and chemicals to crack rocks and release gas stored. Campaigners fear the process could leak harmful chemicals into the city’s water supply, pollute the environment and even spark earthquakes.

Peter Benson, Chester’s coordinator for friends of the earth, has spent his life fighting for a more ecological world. He said: “Some parts of big business, the media and even parts of the government often portray environmental groups against progress. However, if progress if being made towards the edge of a cliff it’s not a good idea, changing direction is.”

He added environmental campaigners have found there have been various cases near fracking sites around the country of nose bleeding, sore eyes, vomiting, skin irritation and rashes, joint and muscle pains, breathing problems and headaches and most worrying cases of paraseizure which could relate to neurotoxicity.

The energy company IGas is currently carrying out testing between Ellesmere Port and Chester to build up a 2-D geological picture covering 80 linear kilometres. The method they use sends energy waves into the earth to reflect back different rock formations and build a regional geological picture. IGas have said they intend to use this method in order to make better decisions where to explore and has stressed the testing does not require planning permission.

The company currently has a licence to drill for coal-bed methane which sits around 900 metres below ground. However Helen Rimmer, a North West campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said she was concerned as some of the sites have planning permission to drill more than 2000 metres into the ground. This is well below the coal-bed methane layer and typically where shale gas lies which currently they have no permission to drill for.

She said:“The Lancashire sites that are currently being considered will use more than 100 million litres of water for drilling and fracking so will have a massive affect on water resources here in Chester and Ellesmere Port. The other problem is the flow back of water which comes back from hydraulic fracturing and contains high levels of radiation and heavy metals which needs treatment.”

Chester’s University is also getting involved after they announced  its Thornton Science Park near Ellesmere Port is to become a world class fracking research centre as part of a £31m government project. Two sub-surface test centres will analyse the results from hundreds of boreholes across Britain in an attempt to reassure residents that the controversial gas extraction method is in fact safe. This however has not sat well with residents as many believe it is just an avoidance and diverting time and investment away from a possible long term solution for renewable energy production.

Simon Talbot, managing director and founder of Ground gas solutions, said:“We have had a number of reports in the U.S over contamination of water but if we put that into context there has been over one million wells hydraulically fractured in North America and we are talking about only a few hundred cases of contamination, and of those many have been subsequently measured to pre-existing natural contamination.”

Cllr Mark Williams, head of the council body, said:“There were some very informative presentations and a lot of thinking will have to be done over the coming period of time as we will be getting together as a group to mull things over. The next meeting is set to be held 15th January 2015 where the council will be discussing unconventional onshore gas and oil techniques effects on the economy and is open to all members of the public who wish to attend.”

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