Christine Dickinson is a host who lives in Lancashire, very close to the Ribble Estuary National Nature Reserve. She has been opposing the introduction of fracking for five years and we asked her to share her experience and thoughts on its likely impact.
I started to become aware of fracking when a rather curious looking rig appeared on the marshland at Banks, the next village but just a little over a mile away. I assumed it might be something to do with gas and mentioned it to one of the ladies at a Northern gathering of Friends of the Earth in Yorkshire.
This all kicked off in 2011, a short time later I was approached by someone representing a selection of groups, such as Friends of the Earth, climate change, Greenpeace, asking me to host a large group of people protesters against fracking. They were planning to hold a peaceful demo here on my campsite, which was going to last for three days. It was to be called Camp Frack. I agreed, the basics of fracking were explained to me.
I looked on the net to find out a little more about fracking and meanwhile I had two policemen, one a detective constable, knocking at my door; they had found out about the protest. I was asked to make a statement. I found out later I could have refused but I had nothing to hide. I was simply hosting these peaceful protesters, on my campsite; I assured them there would be no trouble. Meanwhile police helicopters were flying very low over my property, surveying the area they were going to be patrolling during the time of the camp. Neighbours were coming to me, asking me not to go ahead with it; they were more scared of the protesters and what damage they might cause than of the fracking. I tried to reassure them that everything would be OK, and that there would be no trouble, they said they would hold me responsible if there was any damage .
The three days of Camp Frack did go peacefully; we marched down to the proposed fracking site, there was lots of chanting and around a hundred people took part. There was a heavy police presence both on the ground and in the air. We were prevented from entering the site itself; we were around a quarter of a mile away. I had asked the police to stay away, as I thought a police presence may have provoked trouble.
I was asked to give a few interviews from the perspective of running a business near to what might become a frack site, including Blomberg, Radio 5 Live and BBC 2’s Newsnight. By this time I had learned some details about what damage fracking could mean to us economically, and environmentally.
There was a meeting in the next village and more people attended than the hall could accommodate. Cuadrilla, the extraction company, were hosting the event in order to try to inspire confidence in fracking. I had a question for Mark Miller, the head of Cuadrilla. I had found out about a Method statement, created by Ecology Services UK that had been produced for them to get around the restrictions of fracking in close proximity to the RSPB site at the Ribble Estuary. So my question was, ‘How is your company going to get around the restrictions for SSSI and RSPB nature reserve?’. Needless to say I did not get a satisfactory answer.
Someone else asked what about house prices falling? Oh no, house prices will rise the Cuadrilla team suggested; now I was certain they were lying.
I became a member of REAF, (Ribble Estuary Against Fracking), and we would travel to other venues to help out when the drilling testing started in Manchester. I concentrated on the Ribble RSPB reserve, and got in touch with the head office; at that point they did not realise what was going on and they were most surprised. All we could do was slow the extraction companies down and cost them more money.
This was done quite radically when there was an earth tremor in Blackpool, caused by the drilling there, so then seismic monitors were installed everywhere including our area. We later learned that some of the monitors were fake and had no monitoring equipment inside them. Again, just another publicity exercise.
I attended a meeting, where there was talk of allowing part of the local area to flood, as united utilities could not afford to keep the pumping station open. So they were asking us as landowners to contribute. Well if the marshes were allowed to flood, surely fracking cannot be carried out under water?
One of the major problems with fracking is the disposal of waste water. Water is pumped constantly while drilling, and in that water are hydraulic fluids. I am not going to go into great detail here, but some of these fluids contain carcinogens, trichloroethylene is one of them. So at least 50% of this contaminated water stays underground, and the other 50% is disposed of; in reality in America the water has just been dumped in nearby rivers.
The other problem is the concrete casing that is supposed to protect from any leakage, in most cases it fails within a short time; we in this area are on a fault line so it would only take a small earth tremor to fracture the casing.
Rock, of course, produces natural radiation, when the shale rock is fractured it produces vast amounts of Radium, cancer inducing,
Methane is released in high quantities during the fracking process, and in America where they frack in vast open spaces and not within a mile of built up areas, families and their animals have become very sick, methane gas being one of the main causes. They have been given money to move and to keep quiet. Just watch Gaslands and Gaslands 2: they are not for the faint hearted.
Something which is not mentioned very often is the use of quartz sand which is only available abroad; this has to be shipped in, in large quantities. This adds to the extra traffic.
We already have difficulty getting home insurance because of a higher risk of flooding, so how on earth are we going to get insurance should fracking start? I’m convinced property prices would fall dramatically.
Economically shale gas has plummeted in price, so why bother to extract it? Top scientists say we don’t really need it, we have the potential to harness enough energy by renewable power, yet the government has cut subsidies for wind power. Fracking carries too many risks; I was speaking to an offshore worker in the gas industry and even he said it was far too risky.
It seems the government are going to push fracking through despite local government turning it down twice. They have heavily subsidised it by giving tax breaks. I think we have one heck of a fight on our hands to keep fracking out of Britain. But we must never give up the fight. It is most definitely doable. There is too much at stake for our precious environment and all living beings.
2nd photo: RSPB website
The RSPB’s statement on shale gas is here