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Fracking: Let's Get On With It

Graham Stringer, MP, on how the Barton Moss protesters have got it all wrong

Published on December 23rd 2013.

Fracking: Let's Get On With It

FEELINGS are running high amongst anti fracking protestors at Barton Moss. Sixteen have been arrested since they set up camp there seven weeks ago. They are angry that energy company IGas has been given permission to drill a borehole, down to 10,000 feet below ground level, in order to search for shale formations capable of producing shale gas.  

I respect the protesters right to demonstrate peacefully and within the law but I have nothing but contempt for the arguments they use. 

I am always cheered up when I see young people campaigning, demonstrating and arguing for what they believe in. This is so much healthier in a democratic society than the lazy and pessimistic view that nobody can change anything.

I admire the protestor’s energy and I respect their right to demonstrate peacefully and within the law but I have nothing but contempt for the arguments they use in support of their objective of stopping this country developing its shale gas reserves.

They make five assertions that are simply false. That fracking for shale gas causes earth quakes, pollutes aquifers, releases more methane than other forms of gas production, involves hundreds of toxic chemicals and uses unsustainably large quantities of water. Five myths that are easily shattered.

Durham University’s definitive study of induced earthquakes concluded that water reservoirs cause bigger tremors and that ‘only geo scientists would be able to detect earth tremors resulting from fracking’.

If fracking caused pollution of aquifers then in the United States - where there has been more than two million fracking operations - there should be evidence of ground water contamination. There is not. Two recent studies concluded that ground water contamination from fracking is ‘not physically plausible’.

Fracking in the US

Fracking in the US

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology study reported ‘it is incorrect to suggest that shale gas related hydraulic fracking has substantially altered the overall (greenhouse gas) intensity of natural gas production’.

The fracking fluid is 99.5% water and sand, the rest is made up of thirteen chemicals found in most households.

In the United States fracking uses less water than is used on golf courses.

Of course underlying the protestor’s campaign is its misguided attempt to stop the use of fossil fuels in this country because they believe this will stop global warming.

In fact the opposite is true.

As we move to more expensive renewable sources of energy our carbon footprint increases because industry moves to where energy is cheapest. This means that we now are forced to import what we once produced. Jobs are lost and extra carbon dioxide produced, both from the less efficient production in the third world and from the transportation of the goods.

In fact we face a double whammy; loss of production to the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) because of lower labour costs and loss of jobs to the United States because of lower energy costs due to shale gas exploitation.

Ineos, the sixth largest chemical company in the world, has already said it cannot sustain its business here in the face of substantial higher energy costs than our competitors.

It is perhaps worth remembering that at the start of the industrial revolution energy costs in this country were one twentieth of those in China. We industrialised and became rich, China remained poor and medieval.

This is a debate between fact and illusion.

The illusion being fossil fuels will run out and become very expensive, making offshore wind farms and other renewables economically viable. The fact is we are not running out of oil, gas or coal and while nobody can predict the future price of fossil fuels the trends are downwards. 

This country will just destroy its economic base if it doesn’t reduce its energy costs. That means exploiting shale gas and using clean coal. This will give us the opportunity to invest in research which may produce price competitive renewables which will really stop the vast quantities of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere.

The demonstrators at Barton Moss dropped a 1.5tonne, 17metre long blade in front of the IGas site. This was meant to represent a clean energy future, based on wind farms, as opposed to a dirty shale gas future. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Wind turbines, in my opinion, are ugly. They are certainly more conspicuous than gas drilling rigs and they cover a greater area. They are inefficient and they only work when the wind blows, producing expensive electricity. They help increase the countries carbon footprint, not reduce it and are responsible for killing millions of bats and birds, many of them from endangered species.

I am sure that whatever support there is for the protestors would evaporate if they had honest slogans ‘oppose shale gas for higher fuel bills, the destruction of millions of birds and more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere’.

I look forward to seeing these placards.  

Graham StringerGraham StringerGraham Stringer is the Labour MP for Blackley and Broughton with a majority of 12,303. He was elected to Parliament in 1997 for the now abolished constituency of Manchester Blackley.

Prior to this he was the Leader of Manchester City Council from 1984-1996. 

He is one of the few MPs to have science experience, as a professional analytical chemist. He is a member of The Science and Technology Committee at Westminster. 

Confidential welcomes columns from all sitting MPs in the area regardless of political party as long as they are able to write interesting articles. 

Thanks to the BBC for the main image on this page.

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47 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Mark GarnerDecember 23rd 2013.

I am in complete agreement with you here Graham. One point; are you sure about the bats/birds argument?

3 Responses: Reply To This...
crisbyDecember 23rd 2013.

It's been estimated in the USA that up to 500,000 birds are killed annually by wind turbines there. This is disputed; but it is also estimated that road traffic kills 50-100 million and domestic cats over 200 million.

crisbyDecember 23rd 2013.

It's a shame he spoils a sensible argument with dodgy facts and some downright untruths. Fracking from shale can cause earth tremors and aquifer pollution. Stringer isn't an engineer or he would understand that the fact wind turbines don't produce energy when there is no wind does not mean they are 'inefficient'. And surely as a chemist he should be aware that lots of liquids that are 99.5% water can make people ill or even kill them? That said, he's right on one thing; the arguments against fracking are generally hysterical and ill-informed, and it should be possible to do it safely.

Marcus EadyDecember 24th 2013.

I thought bats flew using sonar, is this sonar wind turbine exempt??? Seems implausible.

John NuttallDecember 23rd 2013.

The argument is largely academic anyway, in the States if you own a property then you also own all the oil, mineral, gas rights below it however, here, the Crown owns it and local councils grant licences. The energy companies that wish to exploit the gas reserves via fracking will just neutralise the NIMBYs by bribing them with 'donations' to their communities.

AnonymousDecember 23rd 2013.

Another MP in the pocket of big business. Can't wait to be able to set my tap water on fire like in the film Gasland.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Ghostly TomDecember 24th 2013.

If you have gas in your house are you seriously going to light a match?

JimDecember 23rd 2013.

I've got shares in igas so I am hoping they strike "frack".

Peter BryantDecember 23rd 2013.

I stopped my Co-op spending when I realised that they are using some of their income to support anti-fracking campaigners. When I wrote to them to ask why they were opposing experimental drilling they trotted out all of the arguments that Graham has dealt with here. I have no strong views on fracking but I have very strong views on those who protest against the gathering of evidence which is all that is being done at the moment. When the experimental drilling is completed and the evidence compiled, then we should either welcome fracking or oppose it.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AlexDecember 23rd 2013.

I'm afraid that is naive to think that iGas are just 'gathering evidence'. Even if they were, it's not evidence about anything apart from whether they can make money/fracking can happen! Sounds like you do have strong views on fracking if you oppose democratic protest.

AndyDecember 23rd 2013.

It's good to see some positivity finally, a well reasoned balance to the valid if Ill-informed concerns. And to further some of the points raised above. The comment on ownership of below ground resource is what will stop hundreds of wells being drilled in close proximity and should counter the poor contractor issue the states has had. Secondly the issues in the states raised by the 'documentary' Gasland will not be replicated here for many reasons, 1, their issues related to shallow wells not aquifers, 2, the pollution they found, and they did find some, related to poor well head construction, and this is due a massive number of wells being drilled an hence cowboy contractors entering the market, 3, the regulatory framework for drilling on onshore in the states is awful and so got railroaded by but business, ours is vastly superior. Goff to see a debate happening though, the more of this we have the better the systems will be when finally get cracking on this, and if we don't we will suffer as a main because of it. Let's do it but do it right.

LosDecember 23rd 2013.

This is SUCH an irresponsible article. Does Stringer truely know the science behind this? I don't think he can say for sure that water pollution - there IS evidence of water pollution and (as ANON says) people setting their tap water on fire - it's just not worth the risk until we know ALL the facts. Instead the Govt see £££ signs and are letting the companies drill drill drill without a second thought about the impact this will have on our local environments AND not to mention the fact we should be emitting LESS not MORE carbon dioxide (but I won't go there cos the climate change deniers will get all cranked up). Would Manchester Confidential allow for a counter-article to be written? Because quite frankly, this is crazy right-wing US Fox TV/policitians talk. And please don't undermine the protesters cause by patronising their young 'energy'. What a great way for everyone reading to instantly go 'well they're a load of naive idiots, let's ignore them'. Whether you agree with their protest methods or not, at least someone is standing up and shouting when the government and MPs - the ones who are supposedly meant to represent us - spit out this crap.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousDecember 24th 2013.

he does have a Chemical background, so probably a LOT more than you do. (Also he has 70+ thousand constituents, lets not pretend you speak for them all)

AnonymousDecember 24th 2013.

Firstly you have no idea what Los's background is and are in no position to belittle his/her opinions. I have a Science degree, but would not claim to know much about all the issues behind fracking, I don't think a background in analytical chemistry puts Mr Stringer in anything like a "knowledgeable" position. I would want to see link to all the Scientific papers he has read on the subject. He may have 70 thousand constituents, but lets not pretend either that he speaks for all of them.

SoapysudsDecember 23rd 2013.

It is Graham Stringer who is telling falsehoods. The tremors experienced in Fylde were directly attributed to 'fracking' which brought about a cessation of the 'fracking'. The have been plenty of recorded incidents of ground water contamination, that is why the State of New York has banned 'fracking'. As for water usage, is 80,000,000 gallons of water per a well, insignificant? The chemicals used, again in there thousands of gallons are known toxins. Yes, some are used domestically but you are warned not to drink them, so why accept the will do no harm in our drinking water? As for renewables being expensive, why has nuclear received over £50 billion of tax-payers money over the years, and will cost another £50 billion to dismantle the old plant. North Sea gas producers are exempt from corporation tax and 'fracking' operation will receive tax breaks. You are not paying for renewable in your energy bills, you are helping the fossil fuel industries maximize their profits. We need to urgently cut back on our consumption of all resources, especially carbon intensive fossil fuels. Those who are selfish, and think they need not, are the ones who should be treated with the utmost contempt. And Graham Stringer should of stuck at being a teacher.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Emma SmithDecember 23rd 2013.

I agree with you up to the point where you say he should have stayed being a teacher. No one wants someone this ill-informed and self-important teaching their kids!

Craig DDecember 27th 2013.

Emma, why so angry. Do you have more knowledge of fracking than Stringer, do you have any real knowledge? Or are you against anything that touches the environment in this way without any sort of knowledge at all.

Emma SmithDecember 23rd 2013.

After Graham Stringer's last article about how climate change isn't real it's clear that anything he says is influenced by what he wants to believe rather than scientific truths. His opinion about wind farms looking ugly is neither here nor there, for a start. There is no ideal energy source, but surely sensibly located wind and solar is much preferable to polluting coal plants (and "clean coal" is a total misnomer) and fracking. Yes, solar and wind power are expensive, for now, but investment in non-polluting energy now will bring priced down in the future (and let's not forget fossil fuels are heavily subsidised by governments too). Please, Manchester Confidential, stop Graham Stringer peddling drivel on your website.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousDecember 24th 2013.

If they didn't, you'd complain that you never heard from your members of parliament...

Emma SmithDecember 26th 2013.

No I wouldn't. I'd rather he said nothing than peddled dangerous lies.

Simon TurnerDecember 23rd 2013.

"Windfarms are ugly" such a rubbish argument, given that nuclear plants are too, and electric pylons, and motorways and factories that make cars and half the people you see in town on a Saturday night.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Ghostly TomDecember 24th 2013.

I've always liked wind farms, there something about the juxtaposition of high tech structures and wild areas that is attractive. Nuclear power stations are pretty dramatic as well. We all like the benefits of living in an advanced part of the world and we all want the lights to stay on. For that to happen sacrifices are going to have to be made and these fracking sites may have to be one of them. I agree entirely about banning ugly, and drunk, people from town on and Saturday night though...

Jennifer MorrisDecember 23rd 2013.

I live incredibly close to this site and am so concerned about the impact to house prices (if we could sell at all) that we plan to move out in the new year, before any fracking takes place. Whether or not the above information is true, or the benefits outweigh any disadvantage - if you had the choice of living near a fracking site or not, which would you choose? My problem isn't necessarily with fracking itself - I understand that we need to explore options for supplying the nation with the power we expect, however this seems to be moving unnervingly fast at a time when the UK's population does not yet know enough about a process that bears as much concerning publicity as it does positive. Answers concerning the impact to the environment, surrounding community and property have not been sufficiently discussed or provided, and there is a distinct nervousness in the local community (many of whom are not in a position to move home or tackle the iGas PR bods), about a drilling site being implemented within - honestly - metres of their homes.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Ghostly TomDecember 24th 2013.

Living in a city we are all close to things we would prefer not to be; motorways, trains, trams, airport, busy shopping centres, industrial sites.... It's part and parcel of living in a city.

Vincent CosgriffDecember 23rd 2013.

I am a chemical engineer and live in Graham Stringer's constituency. I largely agree with the points made by Graham Stringer. I think the risks from fracking are minor compared with the those associated with the exploitation of other forms of fossil fuels historically. It was energy from coal which powered the industrial revolution and made Manchester the great city it became in Victorian times. Those who oppose exploitation of natural resources because of concern over potential risks do not have the right to stop responsible and monitored exploitation of these resources for the potential benefit of all.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AlexDecember 23rd 2013.

those who support exploitation resulting in the deaths of many across the world and in future generations directly due to climate chaos (check out the WHO figures of 250,000+ each year already) do not have the right to peddle dangerous nonsense.

Danny YatesDecember 23rd 2013.

If you think wind turbines are ugly wait until the british countryside looks like this switchboard.nrdc.org/…/wyoming-jonah-oil-and-gas.jpg…

Emma SmithDecember 23rd 2013.

This is what is really going on here. Blatant corruption. www.salfordstar.com/article.asp…

AlexDecember 23rd 2013.

Always good for a reactionary ill-informed view; good to know we can rely on him for a bit of 'look at me' sensationalism. 'Within the law' - law is not the same as what is right, that's why the suffragettes broke the laws repeatedly to campaign for the vote for women. It is the oil industry itself that talks about 'peak oil' (ie oil production reaching a peak shortly and from then on being more expensive, harder to extract, as less is available). Quoting studies funded by the industry isn't very convincing. Scary that an MP can peddle the laughable lies about wind turbines - unreliable, only when the wind blows blah blah blah! Ignorant nonsense. And if you don't think they are beautiful, trying living next to a fossil fuel power station, huge port or refinery, or is it OK if it's only poor people (where they're generally sited) who have to deal with pollution and ugliness!!

1 Response: Reply To This...
SmittyJanuary 2nd 2014.

I think his article raises some interesting points. I totally disagree with him on climate change and renewables, but why shouldn't we see if we can exploit this natural resource in a responsible way? But Alex can you please explain one thing - how is it a "laughable lie" to say that wind turbines only work when the wind blows? That seems to me to be basic physics and suggesting otherwise is, well, alchemy. Unlike Graham, I think their lack of effectiveness when there's a lack of wind doesn't mean they're a busted flush, and far from them being ugly I think they are beautiful, but saying they work when there's no wind is just a little silly.

Marysa VeerDecember 23rd 2013.

I'm no academic, nor a scientist. What I do know is that there are numerous facts in this article that are open to dispute, to put it mildly. A. Fracking has been proven to cause earthquakes, not least of which in Groningen two weeks ago where 39 national monuments were damaged, B. the pipes leading down below the aquifers have been proven to degrade over time thereby putting at risk by 100% the chance of chemicals escaping into the natural water reservoirs that we have, C. that extremely nasty chemicals have and are being used in their thousand gallon quantities, half of which are being left underground and the other half are being disposed of in by means of treatment works that are not equipped to deal with them, D. that there will be a tremendous amount of burning off of fuels from chimneys every mile or so between drill sites, E. that there will be a major industrialisation of our country including the National Parks, F. that air pollution arising from frack burn off will exacerbate conditions such as asthma etc, G. that the fractures deep underground containing the chemicals will leach up into the ground as has happened in many places that have been fracked causing cattle to die. H. that people, children, pets have had no clean water in some fracked areas due to water supplies being polluted. And not to mention household insurers not wishing to insure properties in frack areas for fracking damage, house prices plummeting in potential frack zones. Perhaps someone could uncover whether or not this gentleman has ties with the oil and gas industry?

AnonymousDecember 24th 2013.

It would be interesting to know if the protesters at Barton (or Balcombe, or anywhere else) are the same self-righteous contrarians who fought the police and demonised Thatcher for closing down the coal mines. Presumably closing old, dangerous and defunct tunnels under most of the North West (still affecting house surveys/ water supplies / subsidence etc. to this day and forever) was WRONG..... but now they decide that one skinny hole drilled with computer-controlled accuracy is also WRONG...... even though it would bring wealth, jobs and cheaper energy to this and other struggling parts of post industrial Northern England. This is the coal mining of the 21st century.... make your minds up... or are you the kinds of Sixth form politicians who think you can make an omelette without breaking an egg...

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousDecember 24th 2013.

This occurred to me as well. I seem to remember some pretty nasty situations when they were trying to keep open far more disruptive and environmentally damaging coal mines. And now they are objecting to far less intrusive fracking sites. It may not be the people who demonstrated in the 80s but could be their kids....

Charlie ButterworthDecember 24th 2013.

The north west was at the heart of the industrial revolution and post industrialisation needs money and jobs. Stringer is right. We should see what testing concludes and if there is minimum risk go-ahead. Luddites, nimbys and do-gooders shouldn't be allowed to halt it. The most contemptible of the protesters are those who would protest anything 'corporate' or 'big-business', who aren't really concerned with fracking at all but are simply anti-capitalists. These dangerous sorts would have us all impoverished for an incoherent political credo fed by bitterness and envy.

AndyDecember 24th 2013.

Some worryingly ill-informed people commenting about something they do not seem to come close to understanding. I speak as a mechanical engineer involved in the energy industry and someone who is keeping an eye on developments. For those that think fracking will affect aquifers please explain how, try starting with the stating the depths of both the actual fracture events and the drinking water aquifers. Then try on why the BGS has signed off on fracking after publishing extensive research on specific issues. Then try finishing with the fact that there has been fracking going on in the UK since the 80's.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Marysa VeerDecember 27th 2013.

If you are a mechanical engineer and you have not researched the difference between the 'fracking' of the 1980s and the tracking of now I suggest you do your homework, it's a completely different technology altogether.

Vincent DaveDecember 24th 2013.

It is this statement that makes no sense to me: "The illusion being fossil fuels will run out and become very expensive, making offshore wind farms and other renewables economically viable. The fact is we are not running out of oil, gas or coal and while nobody can predict the future price of fossil fuels the trends are downwards. " fossil fuels are finite, there wouldn't be fracking otherwise, and the price trend is certainly not downward - or certainly the cost past on to the consumer is not.

Mick ShawDecember 24th 2013.

May i suggest Mr Stringer does his homework a little better , before he spouts on behalf of the capitalist movement , it really is depressing to read comments such as fracking is safe from him, may i remind him of what happened here just in case he missed it . www.independent.co.uk/…/exclusive-fracking-company--we-caused-50-tremors-in-blackpool--but-were-not-going-to-stop-6256397.html…

AnonymousDecember 24th 2013.

Astounding, ill-informed pompous nonsense from Mr. Stringer. He has just lost my vote.

Marysa VeerDecember 27th 2013.

To all those who live in the Salford area - I urge you to write to MP Stringer from whatever your persuasion and ask him on what authority he bases his statements. This is a very important question. It is vital that people understand the process of hydraulic fracturing in order to make educated decisions about whether they support or oppose it. There are far too many people, seemingly oblivious to the reality of hydraulic fracturing and it's effects who are happy to believe the propaganda that is eschewed by the media and by MPs (some of whom are linked to the oil and gas industry) without properly finding out for themselves. There are voices on this comments page that blindly support the frack process and I would also question them and ask those people on what authority do they base their support? We need scientific data to corroborate the reality of this type of oil/gas extraction. It is a system that was invented just 10 years ago and is invasive, polluting and destructive. I would not want my children, grand children to have to deal with the consequences of it.

4 Responses: Reply To This...
paulsouthernDecember 27th 2013.

The first experimental use of hydraulic fracturing was in 1947, and the first commercially successful applications were in 1949

Marysa VeerDecember 27th 2013.

"Contrary to what some believe, fracking is not a new technology. It's been around since the late 1940s. But Mitchell Energy tweaked it for shale, with much frustration." It is this 'tweak' that is causing so much controversy. www.marketplace.org/…/oil-man-who-figured-out-fracking…

Marysa VeerDecember 27th 2013.

"George P Mitchell was the first to use hydraulic fracking to crack open the Barnett shale field in Texas. He opened the door to development of shales worldwide." He started experimenting in the 1980s with this technique and in 2002 he sold his company and this is when US started to use this method of fracturing. So yes, it's been around but no it's not been around in it's current form for more than 11 years.

paulsouthernDecember 28th 2013.

Thanks, interesting article.

John NuttallDecember 28th 2013.

I was involved in the alternative energy business a couple of years ago and rapidly found out that it was a game played with loaded dice. The more useless a technology the more it was championed by DEFRA and the ecozealots. The two big favourites were wind turbines and solar panels neither of which provide constant energy and hence need another technology to feed the grid when the sun isn't shining or the wind blowing. The most ludicrous was biomass power stations that required cutting down trees ( which both used up energy and destroyed the perfect organism for absorbing carbon) , transporting the wood thousands of miles as the UK doesn't have sufficient trees to feed its biomass generators, turning the wood into wood chips using more energy then watching the lot go up in smoke in about ten seconds. The best technologies, anaerobic digestion and hydropower were just side lined. The grant system was designed to give more subsidies the more inefficient a technology was. Of course no-one ever mentioned anything about upgrading the infrastructure to carry the power from all these wonderful new sources.

Grant ChapmanJanuary 7th 2014.

Mr Stringer is correct on all points. I live not 1 mile from Barton and would it not be great to have a company bring jobs to an area of Salford that needs it !! I bet the vast majority of people in Blackpool wish Cuadrilla would be to drill and help the local economy there also. Common sense must prevail !

Clare GallawayJanuary 15th 2014.

So why is fracking illegal in France, so EDF come and do it in the UK?

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