We need water for our survival. At first glance, it may appear to be hugely abundant. After all, seven- tenths of our planet is covered in the stuff! However, 97.5% of this is sea-water. Of the 2.5% of our water which is left, two-thirds of that is locked in polar ice and of the remainder, only 1% is accessible and suitable for drinking. Much of the rest is locked up in soil, or in deep, underground aquifers.
A few months ago, I went to a showing of the film Gasland. This is a shocking and highly personal account of the impact of ‘fracking’ in the US. Fracking and associated technologies such as tar sand exploitation and Underground Coal Gasification are termed “extreme energy”. As oil begins to run short of demand, energy companies are turning to less viable sources of fossil fuels in an effort to extract every last drop of the Earth’s resources. In many cases, precious water supplies are being contaminated in the process. Both fracking and underground coal gasification can pollute nearby water aquifers, with devastating effects on nearby farms, and localised increases in the risk of cancer.
Extreme energy sources are of poor quality and generally they are a grossly inefficient and dirty way of solving our energy needs. The only benefit is to large, multinational corporation. This will not deliver ‘cheap energy’ as our politicians claim. Moreover, this exacerbates emissions of greenhouse gases. It wreaks environmental devastation, involving the wholesale destruction of ecosystems.
Fracking involves the detonation of charges underground in order to release shale gas, which was previously locked away underground. As well as being a potential source of seismic activity, the process uses huge amounts of water, involves thousands of tanker trips and is an inefficient source of energy. ‘Fracking fluid’ contains many known carcinogens, which can find their way into water supplies.
Underground Coal Gasification uses heat, steam and pressure to convert coal to gas underground. The technology of Underground Coal Gasification cannot be tested in the laboratory. Therefore trials need to take place in situ, making us guinea pigs for a technology which is inherently risky. What happens if something goes wrong? Underground, fires can burn uncontrollably and they can last for centuries. In the former coal-mining town of Centralia, Pennsylvania an underground coal fire has been burning since 1962; the town is now almost abandoned, due to the very real risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. http://www.offroaders.com/album/centralia/centralia.htm
One idea put forward to combat global warming is carbon sequestration. However, this is highly speculative – while it may be possible to remove impurities in the gasification stage, no-one has been able to capture and store greenhouse gases post-combustion, despite huge amounts of money being invested in Norway. Surely, it would be more sensible to put the money into developing alternative, renewable energy sources? http://blogs.nature.com/news/2013/09/norway-scraps-large-scale-carbon-capture-plan.html
The counter-argument, that however distasteful these projects may be, it is still necessary to keep the lights on – we need to invest in oil, gas and nuclear power, because alternative energy is unreliable and untested on a large enough scale. However, why are we going into extreme energy sources which are inherently extremely dangerous and untested? Likewise for nuclear power, there is no safe way of storing nuclear waste in the long-term. Surely the money, the energy and the expertise going into extreme energy could be much better deployed in utilising sources of renewable energy? Taken together – tidal, wind, solar, wave, geothermal, hydroelectric power – could safely and renewably meet our energy needs
However, under the present system, companies are only interested in pursuing profit. Objectors to fracking in America have simply been bought off. Politicians of all main parties have been corrupted by energy companies. Dick Cheney, President of Halliburton, signed off the “Halliburton loophole”, exempting fracking from the need to safeguard water supplies. We need to build a party run democratically, in the interests of ordinary people, to break with capitalism and to fight for socialist ideas.
We also need to realise that water is more precious than oil. We need to nationalise our utilities, so that we commonly own our natural resources – they are not there to be exploited for the benefit of a few, but should be used for the benefit of all.