As 2014 dawns, it could be a very important year for one campaigning mum from Wiltshire.
Becky Martin is the parent behind Frack Free Families which campaigns against the removal of shale oil or gas from the ground – even if it’s for exploration purposes.
Already Becky can be seen handing out leaflets in town centres across Wiltshire, as well as joining forces with other concerned groups. She recently spent the day at a protest at Barton Moss near Irlam, Manchester, where drilling took place in November and December.
“I became interested in this subject some time ago as a scientist. I’m a biologist and had a career in cancer research before having my son.
“I looked into hydraulic fracturing and did what research I could and I was horrified. I just had to do something about it.
“This is entirely outside my comfort zone. I’ve never campaigned about anything before or taken such a strong stance on any issue.”
Becky often takes her two-year-old son Aidan with her when she hands out leaflets to make the point that families will be affected by this search for a new energy source.
“Being a mother has been the driving factor behind this. What are we leaving behind for our children? We could be risking their health with this process.
“Even taking that into account, it isn’t even going to deal with our long-term energy needs. Even if shale gas was magnificent, it isn’t going to solve our energy problems,” Becky said.
The extraction of shale gas and oil – and in some cases coal bed methane – is likely to become a familiar theme here during 2014. It’s a process which has been used in America for many years, but is still in an exploratory phase in the UK. It is just one measure the Govern-ment is looking at to ensure energy sustainability in the future. Renewables is another.
Becky said: “We have to look at, and invest more in, renewable energy such as solar, wind and tidal power. Shale gas is just too risky and we could be spending money on the burgeoning renewables sector. It’s crazy to me that we’re not looking more seriously at offshore wind farms or tidal power. We’re an island, and that could create a sustainable energy future. We must move away from fossil fuels.
“Apart from anything else, shale gas will not help us with our main addiction when it comes to energy use – our cars.”
A licensing round for exploratory work is due to be held in the first six months of this year. These licences could allow boreholes to be drilled and/or well pads to be created in Wiltshire, subject to planning permission and relevant permits from the Environment Agency and HSE.
This means companies involved in this exploratory work – such as IGas, Cuadrilla and Celtique – will be able to bid for the licences.
For Becky this is must not happen. Like many anti-fracking campaigners, she is concerned about the potential for contamination of water sources caused by the process of drilling. She’s also concerned about the long-term health effects for communities living around drilling sites.
“Fracking fluid for the process is an unpleasant mix of chemicals. I’ve been told it contains nothing more than that which is under my kitchen sink. However, these cleaning fluids are incredibly toxic and we’ll be pumping that into the ground in large quantities. Some of the chemicals used are very dangerous, such as oxirane.
“There are also risks around what could be released by the process itself. There are naturally occurring radioactive materials in the earth which we would not want to contaminate our water.”
She wrote to her own MP, John Glen, expressing her concerns. He replied: “It is worth mentioning that the deposits of shale gas identified by the British Geological Survey in Wiltshire are extremely minimal – and located in the north west tip of the county. The majority are in central and northern England.
“I’m afraid that I’m strongly in favour of fracking. I welcome the potential it has to provide a vitally needed new energy source, and to catalyse a new industry in the UK.”
However, Becky disputes that there will be any significant creation of jobs for local communities. She claims that in the Fylde area near Blackpool, where the first UK explorations were carried out, only 11 per cent of the workforce was recruited locally. John Glen also says there is little credible evidence to show that contamination of water sources could occur if proper procedures are in place.
“It’s important to note the differences between water systems here and in the USA. In the UK, most aquifers lie within the first 300m below the surface. Fracking operations will taken place some 2km down – migration of methane or fracking fluids could therefore only occur through fractures in the rock which would allow the chemicals through.”
Becky claims research from America suggests this method of obtaining energy is having adverse health effects on nearby communities – effects which emerge after a period of time. She believes this is not being taken seriously at home.
“There is evidence from Pennsylvania which suggests that children are having frequent nosebleeds, headaches and other problems when they live very close to the drill sites. I would also urge anyone to seek out the film Gasland which looks at the experiences of families living close to sites where shale gas and oil are extracted.”
Becky also claims there are a number of myths around fracking. The most common one, she claims, is that obtaining shale oil or gas will bring down the price of energy.
Many politicians have now openly said that this will not happen, including Ed Davey, David Kennedy and Lord Sterne.
Claire Perry, the MP for Devizes, has a different point of view. She said: “Britain’s energy system will face significant challenges in the coming years.
“The previous government failed for a whole decade to drive the necessary investment in our energy future leaving consumers vulnerable to sharply rising prices.
“I do not think we can afford to be complacent and the reforms this government is making through the Energy Bill and the Gas Generation Strategy are aimed at plugging any gap to keep the lights on.”
She talks about needing a diverse energy mix to meet the UK’s needs and that shale gas should be seriously considered.
A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate change said: "The Government is keen to explore the potential for shale gas in the UK as it could bring major benefits in terms of growth, jobs and energy security.
"According to current evidence, Public Health England considers fracking to pose a low public health risk providing operations are well-run and regulated. The UK has a strong track record robustly regulating the energy sector and any chemicals used in fracking would be carefully risk assessed prior to use.”