The most extraordinary thing happened a few days ago. David Cameron, Britain’s Prime Minister, announced that local communities with a nearby fracking site would be rewarded immediately with a million pounds. Aides hastily scrambled to explain that the figure was actually £100,000.
Well that’s marvellous – I’d put up with the sound of drilling 24/7, the disappearance of my local dawn chorus (which has now happened in Balcombe) and the possibility that my water or air might be contaminated for a share of a million, oh I mean £100,000.
Air pollution – you don’t see that mentioned much in the debate on fracking – but Sir David King, the government’s former Chief Scientific Adviser, spoke on the Today programme (BBC Radio 4) this morning, and said that gas leakage into the atmosphere was a real risk – that it happens in the US, and that this contributes to green house gas levels. He believes fracking should only be considered if regulatory processes to cover the risks of water and air pollution are in place. They are not.
Still, a bit of cash…who cares? And maybe I’ll buy some shares in the fracking companies. It’s a poor investment, but… David King again:
Sir David King, former chief UK government scientist, “noted that production at wells drops off by as much as 60-90% within the first year”. To deflect attention from that rapid decline of profitability, the big US companies involved (eg, Eagle Fox in Texas) are having to drill “almost 1,000 wells in the Eagle Fox shale site every year, just to keep production flat”. In consequence, huge losses are being made in the borrowings of such companies, losses from which the companies and banks involved are making great efforts to deflect attention. (From ‘The Environmental Realities of Fracking’)
It’s a bad investment decision, but look – the UK government is giving the companies massive tax breaks so that means they’ll make money! The tax-payer’s money of course, because the profit will come from this licensed tax dodging, but who cares? It’s cash! Usually governments give tax breaks to ailing industries to stop them from dying.
So here’s a prediction: the financial underpinning of this whole fiasco will become more and more known, more and more discussed, and then the industry will have fracked itself. The cracks will become visible, the shaking will be heard – first in the City and in the boardrooms of banks like HSBC who have invested in fracking companies – and then the pollution of corruption and greed will seep to the surface and will become obvious to even the most cynical ‘person-in-the-street’.
Next step – government discredited, Lord Browne’s influence behind the scenes known to all, Middle England decides it prefers clean air, water, and a protected countryside rather than bribe money, and all those ministers and MPs are out on their ears.