MOST PEOPLE imagine that their fuel comes from oil platforms far out at sea, or wells in the desert, far away places removed from daily life. Energy companies go to great lengths to paint this picture.
But increasingly this is not the case. Many unfortunate enough to live around the controversial fracking sites know that energy extraction is not always so remote. Indeed their homes are often despoiled beyond habitation. Land and water is poisoned, with people’s homes and livelihoods left in ruins. Occasionally the consequences of the greed for “black gold” are revealed when oil spills bring this poison, sometimes quite literally, to people’s doorsteps.
High commodity prices, new technology and a declining stock of traditional fossil fuels have brought the vultures of the energy industry to our doorsteps in the hunt for carbon profits, exactly when humanity should be doing the opposite.
The main form this has taken is fracking, the firing of water and chemicals into the earth to dislodge natural gas. Energy companies present this as a step away from carbon-based fuels and towards a renewable future. But fracking has been shown to result in 30 per cent greater leakages of methane than in conventional extraction. Methane is 34 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere, that is acting as a greenhouse gas, than CO2.
If this environmental damage isn’t enough to put you off fracking for good, then there is more. Numerous videos online show how communities have suffered at the hands of companies that are so willing to trade our climate for their profits. The process leaves huge quantities of water and toxins running into streams and lakes, leading to flammable rivers and even tap water. This has caused public health disasters, as many of the chemicals used are highly carcinogenic.
The landscape too becomes littered with drilling platforms and heavy goods vehicles. In the US 15 million people now live within a mile of a well, and the volume of railcars transporting fuel has increased from about 9,500 in 2008 to about 400,000 in 2013. Little wonder then that 2013 had more rail accidents involving fossil fuels than the previous 40 years combined (including an oil train explosion in Quebec that caused 47 deaths).
This could become our reality as well. The Tories initially decided to ban fracking after mass opposition and unexpected earthquakes. But they have now reversed this to announce that almost half of the UK’s landmass is eligible for drilling, including in National Parks like the proposed well in Ryedale, North Yorkshire. This was the first to be given the go-ahead, despite the opposition of 4,375 people complaining to the Tory-led council, compared to only 36 in favour.
The whole Labour movement must act to stop this first well being drilled. Environmentalist groups have already challenged the decision in the High Court. But while this may delay things long enough to build further protests, we cannot rely on the courts, which ultimately will defend the interests of profit over those of our natural environment.
Labour Party and union branches must support anti-fracking groups, politically and financially. Activists should be on the front line, blockading sites and disrupting the activities of drilling companies when necessary. We should also bring in activists from other campaigns and explain how the climate crisis relates to housing, jobs and democracy.
Most of all, we need to raise the horizons of the movement. We face an unprecedented ecological crisis at the same time as the contradictions of capitalism are forcing millions into poverty and insecurity. The causes of both are intimately related, and so is the solution.
The fight to stop climate chaos can become a catalyst for a better world. The expropriation of the energy multinationals can provide the finances and the technical know-how to control humanity’s energy production and its environmental consequences. A democratically drawn up energy plan would also involve huge infrastructure projects to create jobs and housing. Only by linking these two in an active, living movement can we succeed in either.