A (sort of) overview of where things stand on the global day of action against fracking
19th October (that’s today) is the Global Frackdown. It is the second day of global action against fracking; one presumes that a lot more people have heard of the technique than was the case last year – in large part thanks to the efforts of a worldwide movement that in the last year has, amongst other things:
- Passed more than 336 measures against fracking, wastewater injection and frac sand mining in communities across the United States
- Upheld bans on fracking in Bulgaria and France, despite intensive pressure from industry
- Passed moratoria on fracking in the Netherlands and the Czech Republic
- Delayed fracking in South Africa and the Republic of Ireland
- Forced the European Union to start analyzing the risks of fracking in Europe
Here, as our contribution to Global Frackdown, we attempt to give a roundup of what has been happening on the fracking front in various continents, and what is being done to confront it. We don’t aim to be comprehensive but hopefully it can provide a useful starting point and some signposting for fracktivists out there. A big thanks to the excellent fractura-hidraulica blog, for doing a lot of the hard work for us. From there we learn that the US Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates the following national shale gas reserves:
- North American region (USA, Canada, and Mexico) – 685 trillion cubic feet (tcf)4
- China – 1.115 tcf
- Argentina – 802 tcf
- Algeria – 707 tcf
- Australia – 437 tcf
- Russia – 287 tcf
- Europe – 470 tcf (Poland – 148, France 137, Romania 51, Denmark 32, United Kingdom 26, Netherlands 26, Germany 17, Bulgaria 17, Sweden 10 and Spain 8)
The article also notes that ‘It’s important to remember, however, that the EIA, which has now raised its projections for natural gas by 10% compared to its earlier forecasts in 2011, has a long history of unfounded optimism and overestimating reserves, which it then afterward has had to correct…Other reports by economic analysts have reported that American reserves are overestimated by 400-500%’.
We will presume you are already in the know about the facts and myths behind fracking and the dangers it poses (if not, you could start here, here and here), and instead try and give a snapshot of where it is happening, and some clues as to what’s driving it. On note of which, this microsite on the ‘Shale Bubble’ is a must-see for understanding how the oil and gas industry is selling the fracking fantasy to governments and investors.
We’ll start with the country that is the self-proclaimed leader of the so-called ‘shale gas revolution’…
United States of America
The USA has embraced fracking with abandon. As of 2012 shale gas accounts for 22% of U.S. gas production. The US shouts loudly about this as an economic miracle and provider of domestic energy security, but there is plenty of information out there to challenge those claims, often based on those aforementioned dodgy estimates of reserves. And that’s without going into fracking’s role in carbon emissions or local environmental impacts such as water contamination.
The USA is such a fan of fracking that it set up the Global Shale Gas Initiative to help other countries exploit their own “unconventional” fossil fuel resources (here the nice man who founded it explains how he is just trying to help the environment). The EIA reckons shale could provide 14% of global gas supplies by 2030, and the GSGI is there to help that come true. Could it be that the US government is trying to pave the way for American TNCs to get their grubby fingers on other countries extremely dirty energy? We couldn’t possibly comment…
There is a handy map from Sourcewatch which gives the state-by-state picture of fracking in the USA. Some recent news from there includes:
- A moratorium on fracking remains in place in New York State until 2015. North Carolina and Maryland are the only other states to have done this (the exact legislative scenario varies between states).
- Four Colorado cities are seeking fracking moratoria; recent figures show the fossil fuel industry is pouring money in to fighting them.
- Just recently California and Illinois have both introduced fracking legislation, an indication that the path is being smoothed to allow exploration and drilling to take place. In California the fear of earthquakes has been dismissed (the Monterey shale play which companies like Occidental Petroleum are eying up sits rather close to the San Andreas fault) and Governor Jerry Brown is getting in on the action. The Republicans, generally not fans of fossil fuel regulation, have been warning Brown about standing in the way of exploiting California’s “sea of Black Gold”.
Earlier this summer in New Mexico, where fracking is well-established, drought-stricken farmers were selling off water from their land to fracking companies – whose excessive use and abuse of water resources will inevitably exacerbate the drought, but farmers had no crops to make a living from. That is one vicious circle.
The irritating fact of the risk fracking poses to water resources, both through high usage and contamination (including radiation) just won’t go away though. It is worth noting that fracking really got going in the USA only after Congress changed the Safe Drinking Water Act to exempt frackers from disclosing the chemicals used in the drilling process, known as the ‘Halliburton exception’ (for good reason – this was about helping out the US oil and gas industry. In Denver there is a fight on between public and corporation over the right to know exactly what those chemicals are). Now Pennsylvania, which has long been a fracking state, is starting to feel these effects as the water sources in Dimock, PA have proved undrinkable, indeed un-shower-able. While the Environmantal Protection Agency (that’ll be the one meant to protect the environment…) has seemingly been trying to hide evidence of water contamination (it closed down its own investigations into contamination in Dimock, and also in Parker County, Texas and Pavillion, Wyoming), the fracking industry itself has been delivering potable water to families in Dimock – but only to those who have settled with the company and in doing so, agreed not to speak out about the fracking process. Talk about holding communities to ransom…
Other impacts of the industry are starting to be outed as well. Food and Water Watch recently produced this report, which shows how the industrialization of rural America is bringing with it a range of negative social impacts, such as STIs and drug use. And it isn’t just the fracking itself which threatens the health of communities – in Wisconsin the boom in mining for ‘frac sand’ to use in the process carries its own risk of water pollution too.
The other country in North America is also the other one where fracking happens on a large commercial scale (Canada is of course well known as a friend of extreme energy extraction techniques thanks to its exploitation of tar sands oil from Alberta). However two provinces, Quebec and now Nova Scotia, have de facto moratoria on the practice in place until next year. In Quebec one mining company, Lone Pine resources, is attempting to use trade rules agreed under NAFTA to challenge the Quebec government’s (and public’s) decision. See page 10 of our recent report for more on this and other ways in which trade rules are being used to block sustainable development. You can also read more about free trade agreements and fracking here.
Other regions are also attempting to resist fracking. In many places First Nation communities are prominent in these movements, as they have been in standing up to tar sands extraction. In New Brunswick this week heavy clashes took place between police and anti-fracking protestors in areas where the Elsipogtog First Nation is based.
Here is a great video from the UK’s main anti-fracking coordination group, Frack Off, which explains the techniques and impacts for local residents. The site also has a very useful map showing the risks of being fracked across the UK.
Frack Off has spawned dozens of local resistance groups across the country. The big story during the news break of summer 2013 in the UK was the emphatic resistance to fracking in West Sussex, England, by local residents and climate activists. The company exploring the site, the aptly named Cuadrilla Resources, is attempting to lead the fracking charge in Britain. While David Cameron’s government has endorsed a ‘dash for gas’ and promised the most generous tax regime in the world for shale exploration, Cuadrilla has been beset by public opposition and inconveniences such as broken drills and earth tremors in Lancashire, the other area under most intense scrutiny for shale exploitation. Exploratory drilling is currently suspended in both areas, and key figures in the science industry are casting doubts on the government’s claims for shale energy. Even the conservative press in Britain is now forecasting gloomy prospects for fracking there.
Other major environmental groups are also now focusing their efforts on preventing fracking. Inspired by the Lock the Gate movement in Australia (see below) Greenpeace UK have created a new website – wrongmove.org – encouraging communities and individuals to put a ‘legal block’ on the fracking industry by refusing to agee to drilling on their property. They hope to get farmers across the country on board, and the initial signs are promising. Friends of the Earth have local groups who, as in the US, are pushing local councils to place bans on fracking before the drillers arrive.
Rest of Europe
In the UK Cuadrilla are already battling to have fracking fluids exempted from the European Union’s Mining Waste Directive. Europe has rejected an outright ban on fracking, but it did put another block on a fracking free for all on the continent last week when the EU Parliament narrowly voted to make energy companies carry out in-depth environmental assessments before fracking is carried out. The updated rules apply to all use of hydraulic fracturing across the hydrocarbon industry – though not to shale gas extraction that doesn’t use the fracking process.
Also last week, the supreme court in France upheld a law passed in 2011 banning fracking, dismising claims by Schuepbach Energy that the law was unconstitutional.
The other European country to have a de facto ban on the technique is Bulgaria, whose parliament voted in a moratorium in January 2012. See our profile on the citizen campaign there which brought this about. The Bulgarians, who are said to live with the most polluted air in Europe, have recently been expressing solidarity with anti-frackers in Pungesti, Romania, where local protestors this week forced Chevron to suspend operations following an ongoing blockade of their drilling site.
A combination of corporate cold feet and waits for environmental assessments mean that shale exploration is effectively on ice in many European countries, including the Republic of Ireland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark and the Czech Republic. Several regions in Germany are putting the blocks on fracking as well, although a law intended to regulate fracking was postponed until after last month’s elections. In Lithuania Chevron have recently announced they are pulling out of a shale oil exploration tender
As noted above, Argentina is thought to have significant shale gas reserves, and it is here that fracking is most taking root in the region (along with Mexico, whose Petroléos Mexicanos predicts operating 6.500 fracking wells in the coming 50 years). In late August the parliament of Neuquén province ratified a profit-sharing agreement between Chevron and YPF, Argentina’s nationalized oil and gas company. It didn’t go off peacefully however, and resistance means that 15 local governments have banned fracking in five provinces so far. You can find out more here. This all takes place in the context of concerns over Argentina’s economic policies and currency reserves, and critics claim that Chevron has got far the better of the agreed deal.
Argentina’s YPF is also looking to get its fingers in shale exploration and fracking licenses elsewhere on the continent, including Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and Bolivia. Civil society in Bolivia (where YPF has signed exploration agreements with the Bolivian state oil and gas body YPFB) held a meeting yesterday to discuss strategies about resisting fracking there, timed to coincide with Global Frackdown.
Resources in Spanish
For our Spanish speaking friends who are gearing up to fight fracking in Latin America, here are a few resources:
In recent years Australia has been touting its mining boom, especially its enthusiastic production of coal – one of the most climate polluting fossil fuels. Fracking has been used during coal seam gasification (another “unconventional” fuel source, along with shale gas and tight gas) in Australia in both Queensland and New South Wales. There have been widespread calls for a ban on fracking in Australia – a moratorium was in place in NSW but was recently lifted. In the process some Orwellian language-shifting has been attempted, as this piece in the Christian Science Monitor points out:
“Coal seam gas used to be called coal bed methane. Then the government realized that people who Googled ‘coal bed methane’ would see all the horror stories associated with fracking in places like Colorado.”
Even ‘coal seam gas’ has now been judged to have too risky a reputation, and “[t]he federal Standing Council on Energy and Resources wants the terminology changed to “natural gas from coal seams” as part of what it calls a “national harmonization initiative.””
Such tactics illustrate the successes of the anti-fracking movement in Australia at giving the practice a bad name. The Lock the Gate movement there, which has inspired activists globally, has seen grassroots action across the country holding off the fracking industry by forming strong local alliances, often with farmers and other landowners. By blocking the legal process and asserting landowner rights, and following up with direct action if necessary, Lock the Gate has scored many local campaigning successes.
Repsol (the Spanish oil corp that used to own Argentina’s YPF) recently declared that North Africa could be “the next big opportunity” for shale fuel production. An industry conference takes place in Tunisia this week. As noted above, Algeria is believed to have some of the world’s most significant shale gas reserves. A generous tax regime is in place there to attract investment, and Repsol is developing three areas. Shell and Exxon Mobil have also expressed interest. The Algerian Energy Minister has said that Algeria’s oil and gas output should double over the next decade. Protests were held by Algerians living in London in April 2013 to challenge the lack of transparency about the government’s fracking plans, and the CNLC collective are a key resistance force – here is a very recent interview with one of their campaigners. Next door in Libya (where Repsol is also involved) a new petroleum law is being drafted and the country is considering inviting companies in to assess the available shale reserves. Morocco, and Tunisia are also looking to exploit shale reserves. This article from Egypt is an interesting demonstration of how fracking has only recently become a focus of concern, although the method has been in use for many years.
Meanwhile in South Africa (also believed to have major shale reserves), a moratorium in place since 2011 on fracking in the Karoo desert region was lifted last year. Opposition focused on the threat to the fragile Karoo ecosystem had managed to convince the government to put a ban in place after Shell had applied for a number of exploration licenses. There is now a wait for environmental assessments before drilling takes place, hopefully enough time for antifracking activists there to win the argument definitively.
In the Democracy Center’s profile of anti-fracking activism from 2012, key lessons of the campaign successes in Bulgaria, UK and New York State were to do with the emphasis on the local context and local impacts of fracking. This writer in South Africa makes a very interesting point about the relationship between fracking resistance and population density, worth quoting at length:
Major fracking operations take place (with population density by people per km2 attached) in: Australia (3), Canada (4), Russia (8) and the US (35). Argentina (14) and Mexico (60) are putting policies in place to speed up the roll-out of drilling. South Africa (43) has recently approved draft regulations for the use of fracking.
The procedure has been banned or placed under temporary and renewable moratoriums in France (117), Bulgaria (66), Luxembourg (208) and the state of New York (160). France is considered to have one of the largest extractable reserves of shale gas in Europe but public protest over the environmental concerns has led to a prohibition of exploration. The same motives are stated in all countries where fracking has been prohibited. The Netherlands (497), Denmark (130) and Switzerland (195) are exploring the feasibility but face opposition from the public.
While exceptions do exist, such as Germany (225) and Poland (123), an interesting relationship emerges: where fracking can be done in a way that brings benefits to the majority of the people while only harming a minority, opposition groups are not strong enough to convince governments to seek alternative sources of energy supply.
Links to and for Activists
- Global Frackdown homepage
- You can get lots of information and resources to use in Global Frackdown social media activity on this page.
- And find out about local Global Frackdown events on this page.
- The documentary Gasland was important for raising awareness about fracking. Director Josh Fox recently made a sequel, Gasland II.
- Food and Water Watch are a key campaigning force on all things fracking.
- Frack Off is first point of call for UK activists – check here for local groups.
- They have an excellent links library on their website, and a selection of short films to use in local meetings etc.
- The Sierra Club in the US have a current campaign targeting the EPA.
- The fractura-hidraulica blog is a great source of info in Spanish, and also with lots of links to the English articles it translates. It is a project of Ecologistas en Acción.
- Lock the Gate in Australia has been a formidable and inspiring resistance movement for other activists. Also has loads of handy resources.
- Also started in Australia, and now global: the Knitting Nannas, an anti-fracking phenomenon.
- The Democracy Center did a profile of anti-fracking activity in 2012, identifyng lessons for campaigners.
- Schiste Happens gives the lowdown, in English, of what has been happening in France (not currently being updated).
- New Yorkers Against Fracking have been a key mobilizing force in the US.
- wrongmove.org is Greenpeace’s legal block campaign against fracking in the UK.
- Ireland has a very active anti-fracking community – see Fracking Free Ireland
- Idle no More is a Canadian Indigenous mass movement and a key player in fossil fuel resistance.