Sunday, 21 July 2013

Fracking and the legacy of the mines...

Harry Stone was a miner born
He worked to win his wages
Riding down the cages
And raging at the seams
He worked his stall from dusk till dawn
Sweet sweat and raw endeavour
Black diamonds bound together
By a strong and simple means

For two-hundred years and more England built its wealth and success, in large part, on the exploitation of its minerals  - as someone said we're an island of coal in a sea of oil. And, for all the machismo of coal-mining, it was a dangerous life and the winning of coal left great scars on the landscape, polluted the environment and created unstable landforms. The blasting of the coalface and the shifting to the tunnel-ridden rocks led to subsidence and even earth tremors.

Yet the coal ripped from the ground was the fuel for our industrial revolution. That coal provided the heat and light, the power to drag us from bare subsistence agriculture to today's warn, healthy and pleasant condition. Those men who rode the cages down into the dark - the ones who died in accidents, the one's who coughed up their lungs - they played a great part us us being wealthy.

Today the land around the mines - 'scarred like the face of the moon' as the Cornish tin and clay mined landscape was once described - slowly recovers. Where once there were ugly, deep-grey heaps of waste and spoil, we now see young woodland, ponds, trails and fields. In places the structures of the minehead are preserved - a reminder of why the town is there and what men did in times past.

Today a new fuel is there for us to win, a fuel that can power our lights, our homes, our industry for a hundred years and more. It's a fuel that doesn't require men to crawl into dark holes, to destroy their health with dust and fumes. It's a fuel we can win from the surface without despoiling the landscape, without any significant - let alone long-lasting - damage to the environment. It's a fuel that can replace the last few coal-powered generators and ensure that we can all keep our homes warm at a reasonable price.

And the fuel is shale gas. Compared to the damage - to society health and environment - that coal-mining causes, the winning of shale gas is benign. Yet people living in places that have gained from the wealth of mining without the costs of winning that wealth would stop us all - including the children of those miners - from enjoying this benefit:

The prospect of fracking is what has unsettled Fernhurst. Towers burning off excess gas and oil wouldn’t fit in with Tennyson’s vision of ‘Green Sussex fading into blue’. Beyond that, there is a terror of toxic and radioactive leaks and long-term pollution of aquifers. Marcus Adams, leader of the Frack Free Fernhurst campaign group, told me, ‘I find it extraordinary that the government allows companies to use this fracking technology when we don’t properly understand it.’ Adams is no environmentalist, merely an ordinary if concerned bloke who has lived in the area for many years. He is convinced that permission to explore will lead to permission to frack, so he and some likeminded neighbours want to thwart Celtique’s initial proposal.

Compared to the cost of mining - a cost that people like Marcus Adams didn't pay although they live with the benefits of that mining - the impact of fracking is vanishingly small. And, short term. Part of me shrugs at the opposition - I'm sure the opposition would be there wherever the extraction took place - but another part is angry.

Angry that the twisting and misrepresenting of the facts by environmental campaigners, the frenetic lobbying of the 'renewable' energy companies and the scaremongering of media results in a risk that the benefit of a 100 years of cheaper energy will be denied us. That we should slide into a world of brown-outs, industrial decline and ever higher energy prices just to protect - for a few years - a few acres of Sussex.

If this attitude had prevailed in times past we wouldn't have dug those mines at Wentworth, at Heanor and in Ashington. Instead we'd have left it there and carried on burning wood and scraping a living - in a good year - from a third of an acre of poor field.  But we did dig those mineshafts and win that coal, it did help make us rich.

And the least thanks we can offer the miners who won that coal is to go and win the shale gas, to provide the fuel to power future generations and future industry.



Anonymous said...

If only they'd discover shale gas beneath Guildford or Tunbridge Wells, then we'd learn about its real balance of value.

But maybe they're too smart to even look for it there ?

Simon Cooke said...

Isn't the Arundel Downs in Sussex classy enough?

Anonymous said...

Cullingworth sits over a part of the lower Bowlend Shale and there is prospect for fracking exploration from Apperly Bridge to across to Queensbury then heading north beyond the borders of Bradford District into Craven. I take it you would welcome a fracking well on Baildon moor, another on Ilkley Moor, Top Withins, Manywells and between Harden and Wilsden then?

Simon Cooke said...

Subject to the usual planning caveats I see no problem - these are temporary installations after all.

The planning guidance sets out all the context (I could quibble with bits of it though). Not sure that, given ability to choose location, either Ilkley Moor or Top Withens would be likely to see approval for this activity.

We shall see.