Narrow roads, problems with waste disposal and a lack of research by regulators make fracking impractical in the UK, according to a campaigner who has secured bans on the process in the US.
Wenonah Hauter, founder and executive director of the campaign group, Food and Water Watch, has been visiting sites scheduled for fracking at Preston New Road in Lancashire and Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire.
She told DrillOrDrop:
“My major reaction is the impracticality of fracking with narrow roads in the UK.
“I see no way of dealing with waste disposal in this country if they pursue fracking as the level that they would like to pursue it.
“It seems as though they haven’t really done the proper research even into how they would manage to put all of these wells in an area that’s populated and that has very limited road access to these sites. We know that every fracked well takes about a thousand truck loads of material going into these very narrow sites.”
Speaking during a tour to launch her new book, Frackopoly, Ms Hauter described the work of UK local authorities on fracking as “completely inadequate”
“I think that there’s not a completely understanding from the authorities here about what the level of gas extraction would mean for the countryside.
“One of the first questions I asked when I went to the site near Preston was what will happen to the liquid waste. We know that, depending on the geology, we’re talking about millions of gallons of water. The overall average in the US is 1.7m gallons per fracked well.
“Depending on the geology, much of this waste water and a lot of the materials from deep underground – some of which are radioactive – come back up to the surface and it doesn’t seem like there are any sufficient plans for dealing with this level of waste water.”
Ms Hauter rejected the argument of the fracking industry that shale gas could be a bridge fuel to a low carbon future.
“We see this as part of a large push by the fossil fuel industry to increase and prolong the use of gas rather than having the types of policy that we should have to move off gas, beyond gas, in fact to become more energy efficient.
“I’m struck travelling around the UK, we should see every existing building being retrofitted with new windows as part of energy efficiency measures and that’s where the real job production could be, rather than all of this pressure towards having more gas production and more gas infrastructure.”
Asked whether the US experience could be applied in the UK, she said:
“I think it is completely relevant. I know that the authorities here and the industry has said ‘oh we have much better regulation in the UK’ but it simply isn’t the case.
“This is an industry that can’t really be very well-regulated because when you are drilling a vertical well a mile or two miles deep into the earth and then doing horizontal drilling with all of these fractures, it’s very difficult to regulate.
“I would advise any local authority who is considering going along with this to take a field trip to some of the places in the US where fracking has taken place and talk to the people in the communities whose lives are being impacted by fracking.”
Food and Water Watch was the first US national campaign organisation to call for a ban on fracking. It has since worked to secure bans in New York state and Maryland.
Ms Hauter said she thought anti-fracking campaigners in the UK were up against large opponents. But she was optimistic they would succeed.
“We would never have believed that we could beat these companies in some states in the US and begin to ban fracking there and begin to make a national movement. I hope that happens here before too much damage is done.”
Asked what campaign techniques could be successful, she said:
“What we’ve learned is that you have to reach out to many different kinds of people
“There are many constituencies that will be affected by fracking in a specific area. One of them is tourism. Another is agriculture. Talking to people about the effects on these industries in other places and the concern about them is one of the ways to really take this message to the local authorities.”
She said organic restaurants and food shops in the US refused to take produce from fracking areas. In Maryland, campaigners worked with the tourism industry to establish a political campaign.
“There are a lot of different ways that this affects people in their everyday lives and that’s how you put together campaigns like the ones we’ve had in the US. You’re really looking at people’s self-interest and how this is going to affect their family.
“I think that isn’t quite apparent to a lot of people in the UK yet because there haven’t been the media investigations that there should be into what this really means.
“I can’t imagine someone living in Kirby Misperton, where the roads are so narrow, are going to allow this to happen to their communities once they realise what it means on a large scale. Hopefully they’ll be holding their local officials accountable.”