'Dash for Gas' Hits Europe as One Country Finds Itself on the Front Lines of the Fracking Battle
This report forms part of a major collaboration between Link TV's Earth Focus programme and The Ecologist magazine, reporting on the spread of fracking around the world. You can view all the film reports and associated coverage in the series here.
Republished on AlterNet in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.
Chris Faulkner is an oil man. From Dallas, Texas. And his company, Breitling Oil and Gas, is a major player in the burgeoning shale gas sector.
Faulkner is in London to give a presentation on whether Europe is the next shale gas hotspot, and to ask whether – if so – it has the necessary infrastructure to cope with a US style 'dash for gas'.
But he's also here to explain how the controversial process for extracting underground shale gas reserves – hydraulic fracturing, or 'fracking' as it has become known – can be green.
Contrary to the myths spread by environmentalists and parts of the media, the oil man contends, injecting – at high pressure – a mixture of water, sand and chemicals deep into the earth to release gas reserves is not in itself bad for the environment.
Instead, Faulkner believes, the oil and gas industry has done a poor job in marketing itself and in managing its public relations. This has, he argues, enabled others to speak for the industry, to capture the media agenda, and to spread alarm.
"The image of lighting your water faucet on fire [a key sequence in the anti-fracking, Oscar nominated film Gasland] has become the viewpoint or the image of fracking around the world. Now the reality is the media loves sensationalism and that has now transcended the entire scientific evidence that says that fracking is safe," he says.
The Breitling CEO does acknowledge that fracking has impacts. But he claims to have developed a programme – Envirofrac – to evaluate environmentally safe fracking procedures, thus helping to combat the problem.
"Fracking can be green. The environmental impacts of fracking can be effectively curtailed through a combination of technology innovation and smart regulation," Faulkner says in the press release sent out ahead of his London visit. "The focus must be on water conservation, earth preservation, and air quality monitoring."
But these are not terms environmentalists normally associate with fracking. In the US, the issue has become a key battleground between green campaigners and the energy industry. One of the biggest – and most bitter – such scraps of recent years in fact.
Advocates say fracking is safe (for people and the environment), secures a domestic gas resource to help boost energy security, provides jobs, and helps bring prosperity to sometimes impoverished communities.
Critics say fracking is dangerous (for people and the environment), unnecessary, and the latest example of corporate America trampling over the rights of ordinary people.
They argue – supported by a growing body of evidence, it seems – that fracking involves an unacceptable level of water usage, contaminates water supplies and spills potentially toxic waste fluids into the environment.
They also say the process uses an unsavoury mix of chemicals – including known carcinogens – and is a cause of air pollution, traffic congestion, noise, and a host of other problems.
Campaigners fear too that the shale gas boom will divert attention away from the search for alternatives to fossil fuels, thus potentially derailing efforts to tackle climate change.
Most recently, media reports have linked fracking to illnesses in livestock in a number of US states, including Pennsylvania, raising fears about food safety.