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Hydraulic fracturing - or fracking - has been implicated in pollution incidents across the US, leading to widespread protests. Photo: LT Mayers

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December 2010 Printable Subscribers Newsletter


December 7th, 2010

This month we highlight the potential dangers of controversial hydraulic fracturing as the scramble for natural gas intensifies, we report on uranium mining in the US, probe Egypt's factory farming boom and examine efforts being made by supermarkets to deal with excess packaging waste... To access this exclusive content plus other articles, log in and scroll down to the bottom of the page...

At the time of writing the Cancun COP 16 climate talks are still underway in Mexico, with the now familiar merry-go-round of never-ending discussions, arguments, empty pledges and broken promises. After the spectacular failure of last year's Copenhagen summit – widely agreed to have achieved virtually nothing and at times bordering on high farce – the Ecologist took an editorial  decision to largely leave day to day coverage of its much-hyped follow up to others.

In advance of the meeting we did set out an accessible overview of what's up for grabs, and once the event grinds to a halt and delegates are aboard their jets home we will round up with a similarly informative yet sober analysis of progress made (and presumably opportunities missed).  

Whilst the world's attention is focussed on Mexico, we've drilled into another developing  catastrophe however – the rapid advance of hydraulic fracturing (or 'fracking' as it has come to be known) in the scramble for natural gas reserves. The process is currently used in many natural gas wells in the US, and involves millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals being pumped underground to break apart rock formations and release gas reserves. As our ground-breaking investigation and film released last week show however, the technology is now being linked to serious ecological and social impacts in regions bordering fracking sites.

Experts and ordinary people alike have mobilised in their droves to oppose this fracking that is sweeping across the US at an unprecedented rate. In response, the gas industry has ploughed huge resources into convincing the American public – and politicians – that the technology is clean and safe. Despite this growing controversy brewing on the other side of the Atlantic, we have  established – alarmingly – that energy companies are scrambling to secure licenses to roll out fracking projects across Europe.

Exploratory drilling or other preparatory work is now under-way in, amongst others, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Germany and the UK. Here, a little known company called Cuadrilla Resources has completed a test well in the 'Bowland Shale' formation between Pendle Hill and Blackpool in Lancashire. Other similar developments are in the pipeline.

Perhaps what's most worrying about the arrival of fracking this side of the water is the almost complete lack of coverage and public debate about the issue – that's one of the reasons we decided to send a team to the US to investigate. The timing of our release couldn't be more crucial – the influential House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee have recently announced they are to launch an inquiry into the UK's shale gas potential. Their recommendations will hold much sway in influencing future decisions about hydraulic fracturing – we hope they watch our film.

Sticking with energy matters, we also carry an in-depth report this month examining claims that uranium mining in the US is linked to serious illnesses amongst indigenous communities living nearby. A key fuel for nuclear power, the Obama administration must next year decide between full scale uranium mining, partial mining or a twenty year moratorium. Based on Leana Hosea's report, the decision will not be easy.

This month also sees us investigate the growth of factory farming in Egypt and report on why this could impact negatively on food security and social stability in an already fragile country; we probe the disturbing but little-researched links between deforestation and disease spread; and – closer to home – we report on how some of our leading food retailers are grappling with the sticky issue of food packaging and how to avoid excess waste... 

Read the December Newsletter in full



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