Shale gas extraction and the dire implications for Northern Ireland, Japan & beyond…
With the anniversary of the March 2011 tsunami just a few days away, thousands of demonstrators surrounded Japan’s parliament building on Sunday to protest against the government’s attempt to restart some of the country’s nuclear plants. After the Fukushima nuclear accident, Japan is desperately looking for energy alternatives. However, to the concern of many, one of the solutions being explored is the dangerous gas extraction process known as fracking.
I actually wrote a piece about the worrying increase of fracking in my own country of Northern Ireland a few months back (see below). But the negative implications for Japan actually go far beyond that. In a country that is still reeling from a powerful earthquake and high radiation levels, many experts believe the health risks of fracking are not worth the venture. Japanese researchers have suggested that even without fracking, Tokyo has a 70% chance of enduring an earthquake of magnitude seven or higher within the next four years. Fracking causes and increase in seismic activity, and can produce ‘man-made’ earthquakes. In short, this is not something Japan needs to be exploring.
Here is the piece I wrote about fracking in Northern Ireland if you’d like to know more:
Fracking: the consequences to land, water and community in Northern Ireland.
Romantically referred to as the Emerald Isle, Ireland attracts visitors from all over the world who come to enjoy its unspoiled coastal scenery and patchwork fields of green. Yet despite the fame of these picture-postcard landscapes, it’s what lies beneath the surface that may determine the future of the island’s tourism and agricultural industries – as well as the health of those who live there.
Unconventional Gas Exploration & Extraction (UGEE) is an emerging issue in Northern Ireland that involves high volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of low permeability rock in order to extract natural gas on a commercial scale from unconventional sources such as shale gas deposits, coal seams and sandstone. The dangers involved to both environment and public health make fracking not just an energy issue, but a human rights issue too.
During the process, millions of litres of fracking fluid (water mixed with sand and toxic chemicals, including known carcinogens) are forced into wells under immense pressure in order to fracture the rock and release the gas. However, uncontrolled cracking in the rock layers can also allow previously undisturbed heavy metals and radioactive materials to leak into and contaminate the water table. As a result, an ongoing battle is taking place right now in Northern Ireland between the multinational companies who want to exploit the country’s natural resources for financial gain, and the campaigners who are trying to stop them.
Four five-year exploratory licences have been granted in Northern Ireland allowing for deep test drilling. Alarmingly, one location chosen includes the Rathlin basin, home to Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site – The Giant’s Causeway – an area of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance. Another is Rathlin Island – a Special Area of Conservation in Northern Ireland (SAC), and a Special Protected Area (SPA). It is home to tens of thousands of seabirds which are now potentially at risk. No public consultation was required for these licences.
Of course, those in favour of test drilling would argue the gains of fracking: a temporary boom in jobs and short-term revenue for the UK. But for the campaigners, the public health risk – as well as the risk to the country’s rivers and lakes – is not worth such a trade. They argue that the beauty and tranquillity of Northern Ireland is at risk, as is the reputation of its agricultural produce. Ultimately, as rural tourism is destroyed, revenue will fall.
For every species in this planet there are four basic requirements for a sustainable living: water, food, living space and homeostasis (stable internal conditions and environment). Hydraulic fracturing does not seem to support any of these four requirements. Political differences aside, both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland need to work together to explore alternative, renewable energy solutions for the island as a whole. Only then can a sustainable, environmentally friendly future be secured.