Just when we’re told drought has become endemic in the UK, the Department of Energy and Climate Change has given the go-ahead for a process that will desiccate us more than any we’ve tried before on these islands: hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
High-volume fracking needs between 1.6m and 2.5m gallons (between seven and 11m litres) of water for a single well. All that water is smashing rock. All those millions of litres are giving the shale rock a BTEX injection; BTEX is benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.
If a political cell were to threaten to poison our drinking water by setting off depth charges near subterranean faultlines, and then further threatened to pump in radioactive isotopes, should such a cell be asked to help compile the government report into their activities? It is indeed a bizarre report that the Department of Energy and Climate Change has put out, a bit like an inquiry into Syria focusing on the effect of the pollen count on the dictatorship.
Nary a mention of volatile organic compounds contaminating aquifers, so busily are the authors consumed by counting all the holes caused by fracking in Lancashire – until they triumphantly conclude that fracking poses scant risk of earthquake.
To which I say well, not ones that will topple the Blackpool Tower, maybe. Not seismic tremors you can feel beneath your feet, but earthquakes all the same. Earthquakes by definition, in fact. For fracking works by detonating shale rock thousands of feet underground, and for all that the shale gas industry may say these are controlled explosions, there is, however, no such thing as a controlled earthquake.
The department has overturned the borehole ban while allowing a hosepipe ban to stand. This was a mistake. Never come between a vixen and her cub, nor between the British and their love of gardening and clean water.
Even in the best-case scenario in which the frackers don’t, by some miracle, rupture aquifers and pollute drinking water, the process itself will drain us dry in the vain hope that it might earn us enough foreign capital to pay for the imports of Volvic and Evian that we will need to put on our crops.
And what if fracking does pollute our fragile aquifers, as it has done in Pennsylvania and Wyoming? Well, here the timing of the report happily coincides with another topical emergency apart from drought – and that is debt. The financial crisis. Our skintness.
The words of the US governments’s Environmental Protection Agency should chill every British bone to the marrow when they say that ground water contaminated by fracking is “typically too expensive to remediate or restore”. (And if you want a glimpse of the appalling powerlessness of fracking-afflicted communities in the United States then watch the Sundance-award documentary Gasland.)
In Europe, meanwhile, Bulgaria has became the second EU country after France to ban fracking. The Bulgarians’ indefinite moratorium followed a campaign which ranged across the whole political spectrum.
In any British electoral constituency where fracking is proposed, the issue will be every bit as much of a political earth-mover as in Bulgaria. People will vote against type, and against party loyalty. No MP, MEP or councillor will dare follow the party whip in the teeth of civil ire that will ignite like methylated tap water in a Pennsylvania kitchen, an anger which even the gas firms’ PR teams will not be able to extinguish. In any constituency where fracking is proposed, you can forget about psephology. Fracking will not just undermine the shale geology of Britain but may sink half the recognisable political landscape too. That’s the hope, at least.