Anne Power surrounded by police at an anti-fracking protest at Barton Moss, December 2013. Photo: Steven Speed / SalfordStar.com.
Fracking - you are not important
24th June 2014
Why does the fracking lobby refuse to engage in open, public debate? Because, writes Paul Mobbs, it has already got its way, with the uncritical support of all the 'mainstream' media and political parties. You and I simply do not matter. So what are we going to do about that?
The fracking agenda in Britain is forging ahead because - in the corridors of power - no one 'officially' sees, hears or speaks anything to the contrary.
You are not important!
I'm sorry if that's an unwelcome reality, but if we look at some recent developments in the battle over fracking in Britain (and/or the USA, Canada, Poland, South Africa, Australia, etc.) we can conclude little else.
In mid-June I took part in a UK-wide series of events entitled, 'We Need to Talk About Fracking'.
Given shape by Vivienne Westwood and Joe Corre, and supported by a variety of well-known people from Paul McCartney to Russell Brand, the idea was simple: organise a series of public debates between the "pro" and 'anti' side of the argument, and let the listening public make up their own minds.
The final and biggest event, at the Central Methodist Hall in Westminster, was even to be chaired by Channel 4 News' Jon Snow.
Difficulty was, the 'pro' side of the argument chose not to show up!
But then, why should they?
Organisations promoting unconventional fossil fuels, the companies drilling the holes, and the politicians who support them were all invited. And while they made noises about participating to the event organisers, in the end they chose not to turn up for a debate.
Consequently the tour of Glasgow, Nottingham, Manchester, Swansea and London was no longer the anticipated 'debate'. Instead it had to be a panel discussion which, for the most part, was against the industry.
If fracking's supporters did not want to put their side of the argument in public, that's not our fault - we carried on without them.
Of course, the big unstated issue here is - "why should they turn up?"
Let's examine this from their point of view. If:
- you are able to fund lots of positive media coverage;
- you have the Government and leading political figures helping your case;
- your friends in the finance industry can engineer a fracking boom;
- one of the industry bosses, Lord Browne, happens to work as a non-executive Government minister ...
then you don't need to turn up for public debates. You can say what you like because, in the controlled conditions under which they will appear, no one would ever challenge what they say.
In short - the public's concerns don't matter; and that means that your concerns do not matter!
They don't have to defend themselves, to get their way
Irrespective of any evidence which might exist to the contrary about the safety of fracking, they will never have to defend themselves because their economic and political clout mean they don't have to.
Therefore the fracking agenda in Britain is forging ahead because - in the corridors of power - no one 'officially' sees, hears or speaks anything to the contrary.
As an example, look at what happened in Parliament the other day. Energy and Business Minister Michael Fallon - one of those invited to the 'talk fracking' debates - stood up to answer a question in the House of Commons and stated:
"There are no examples from the United States of hydraulic fracturing contaminating groundwater because, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, the fracturing takes place very much deeper than any groundwater levels."
An outright lie - but who cares?
Michael Fallon has misled Parliament. And for that, he should lose his job. But there is nothing the public can do about that unless a group of MPs are willing to press the issue.
And right now, all the parties in Parliament except the Greens are either supportive or non-committal on the fracking issue.
In fact there is now a lot of independent, peer-reviewed scientific information which flatly contradicts Government and industry assertions that "fracking is safe".
- In Australia, the New South Wales Government recently suspended all oil and gas licences pending a review of their environmental and health impacts.
- In Canada, the Council of Canadian Academies recently stated that the process is fraught with many scientific and technical uncertainties, and should not be rolled-out until the impacts can be properly studied.
- Also in Canada, initial studies by the Chief Medical Officers of New Brunswick and Northern Health Board of British Columbia have highlighted the unknown or uncertain impacts of these processes.
- Australia has seen some recent high-profile groundwater contamination incidents as a result of 'coal seam gas' operations (what we over here call coalbed methane).
- Also in Australia, last year the Australian Medical Association passed a motion objecting to the further expansion of unconventional gas operation without detailed environmental and health impacts being undertaken to demonstrate the safety of the process.
- Even the British Medical Journal recently carried an article critical of the Government's policy agenda around unconventional fossil fuels.
- Finally, just a few days ago, employees of the Pennsylvania Department of Health blew the whistle on the official cover-up of the health impacts of drilling in the Marcellus shale.
Supine Parliament, corporate media
Despite this, the Government's hollow arguments are not going to be challenged in Parliament.
In fact one of the few public bodies which might, by now, have carried out an independent scientific review of the evidence - the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution - was (disgracefully!) abolished within the first year of the coalition Government coming to power.
The trouble is that the 'Fourth Estate' - the mainstream media - are also doing a damn poor job of evaluating and critically presenting the Government's arguments. This is something which the public raised during the 'talk fracking' events around Britain.
Many politicians have made statements on this issue which can be shown to be inaccurate, or flat wrong. At the same time we've seen the Government issue 'dodgy dossier'-style reports, making claims which cannot be proven, which justify their policies by getting experts to make questionable claims about the technology.
It's an open goal - why aren't the media on the ball?
We can talk about about our declining democracy. We can talk about corporate power or the manipulation of the media.
But in the final analysis what this mean is that, in their eyes, you are not important to the prosecution of their greater political project. And if they can do this for something as awful as fracking, what else is on their agenda?
Now, what are you going to do about that?
Paul Mobbs is an independent environmental consultant, investigator, author and lecturer. He runs the Free Range Activism website.
More articles by Paul Mobbs on The Ecologist.
A fully referenced version of this article can be found at - http://www.fraw.org.uk/mei/musings/2014/20140624-fracking-the_fact_is_you_are_not_important.html.
Photo: Anne Power surrounded by police at an anti-fracking protest at Barton Moss, December 2013. By Steven Speed / SalfordStar.com.
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