Not so long ago it was summer…
And we were swimming in the rivers. Perhaps you were too … standing barefoot on cold wet earth, looking down into the dark depths of the river. Maybe you tested the water for degrees of extreme coldness with a cautious toe. You were sure you wanted to dive … I mean you’ve done more difficult things. The kids, maybe, if you have such things, were already splashing about merrily.
“Don’t splash” you begged. Or perhaps shouted.
The river was clear, stone brown and flowing deep. One dive. That’s all. You raised your arms, for the challenge, forefingers together, up on to your toes … and then paused. Perhaps you would wait till the sun came out from that little wispy cloud. Or maybe a sandwich first. But after another moment, where you nearly gave in, you thought about all the things you would never achieve … and you dived.
Head and shoulders hit the water, cold gripped your heart and when you bobbed to the surface, with hairstyle ruined, you were totally and utterly jubilant. Like an idiot you celebrated. Like a wild thing. That’s what it’s like. Swimming in rivers. It’s another side of life. Not the official, have you paid your bills and filled out the appropriate forms side of life. The other side where nature has no price and is not idyllic, just real and powerful.
And as the kids grow up, celebrate exam results, sign contracts, ease themselves into a jacket for the first job interview, perhaps this wild swimming memory will stay with them too, and somehow see them right.
But now it is autumn …
And here in Britain we have Fracking. Fracking is shorthand for an industrial process called hydro-fracturing. Basically, the oil and gas industries drill deep into the earth down to shale rock. Then they blast water, sand and chemicals between the layers of shale, to break up the rock and release gas and oil.
As oil fields dwindle, this is one way to keep fossil fuels going for a bit longer. Its quite resource heavy and not good for the atmosphere although not as bad as coal, and from a local perspective there is need for debate.
Each fracking operation uses up lots of fresh local water … volume varies depending on geology and location … but a good estimate is between 2 and 6.4 million gallons for each frack. Afterwards the same water, but now contaminated by the powerful chemical agents needed to break up the rock such as Benzene, must be dealt with. If it got back into the water courses there would be a catastrophe, so these millions of gallons of wastewater must be transported somewhere and stored.
Analysis suggests that to match the fuel we get from the North Sea we would need 10-20,000 wells… some above ground on the relatively small ‘drilling pads’ but with underground networks and wells, potentially running for miles deep under land and homes. It’s a big operation.
Communities affected will get paid, as hosts to the hungry fracking industry . On the other hand, rivers are more valuable than money anyway. Not just a place to swim in summer but part of a network that forms the mainstay of ecology and life in general, and in the event of serious spills, that value can’t really be compensated for. For this reason and others, Fracking is a local issue. So local people should be consulted. I really think that.
In the event of local licence applications, we should look to our local councillors to ensure public consultation, to make sure that there is opportunity for fair and democratic process and to make sure the drilling companies, if planning is agreed, can be held to account.
To make good decisions, communities need un-hyped, scientific, technological, complete not cherry picked facts. Sound, proven information should form the basis of our consultation. That’s fair.
And also we need to know if there will be enough water, who pays for it, and what will happen to all the contaminated water. And, yes, we should hear the worse case scenarios and what happens in the event of a spill … there have been spills in America.
Clean water is just as essential as energy. You can’t trade one for the other. And through all of this we should remember there are other options for energy. Decisions like this have to be informed by real facts, not cash handouts, and they must put local ecology before corporate profit. I think we deserve that.