Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Fracking: testing the grounds

On Wednesday, while a packed hall at the Wills Memorial Building was in thrall to a powerful talk from George Monbiot, down the road at St Mary Redcliffe another audience was learning about just one of many threats to the climate.  Fracking for shale gas.

Prof Peter Simpson of Imperial College promised an unbiased, fact-based appraisal of the scientific, environmental and economic factors in the Great Fracking Debate. 

Much of his evidence was based on the useful, if arguably limited “Shale Gas Extraction in the UK” published in 2012 by the Royal Academy of Engineering.  Limited because it looks primarily at the engineering risks of fracking, not the wider issues.

The talk offered plenty of insights that the industry, and its supporters in Downing Street and the DECC, wouldn't want to highlight.  It's not going to provide cheaper energy.  It's nothing like the US situation, where fracking has boomed because of vast reserves, a market that pays landowners for fracking rights, and a geology that provides much greater depths of rock between clean water and the shale than is the case in the UK.   Even so, there's plenty of evidence from the USA that fracking is bringing many local problems, and there (as here) its development may be as much to do with geopolitical dominance as with securing essential energy.

Put in persective, the UK gas resource is miniscule as part of global reserves – by far the biggest are in China, followed by the USA. 

It turns out, too, that if it is exploited, only around 3% of the shale gas will be put to use.  The rest will stay in situ as the extraction pressure drops, or else over the years seep out to the surface, perhaps via the water supply.

That seepage, and a host of other 'legacy' impacts, would of necessity become the responsibility of a new publicly funded quango, much as the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority has the impossible task of dealing with radioactive waste for centuries to come.

For Stockwood Pete, whose default position is to challenge anything that might increase fossil fuel burning and consequent climate change, the talk tended to confirm that position.  But it didn't get round to addressing the big claims made for fracking in the UK – that by displacing coal fuel, it will reduce net greenhouse gas emissions, and that it will improve our energy security.  OK, in an hour and a half that would have been too much to ask!

Here's a coal train, heading out this week from Temple Meads en route from Portbury Dock to EoN's Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station in Leicestershire.  The coal might have come from Colombia or from Australia, Russia or the USA, but it's just one of hundreds of trains from Britain's ports constantly feeding the huge Midlands power stations – allegedly to keep the lights on.  (Sorry, that's a stock political soundbite term, like 'hard working families').
Will fracking actually reduce carbon emissions?

Not in my book.  Or at least, only if internationally there's some kind of agreement to cap global fossil fuel emissions.  It's inconceivable that without such a deal, rigorously applied, the coal will just find its way into some other market, and finish up just the same spread through the planet's atmosphere.

At the end of the British Science Association's event at St Mary Redcliffe, someone pointed out that the choice of energy sources won't depend on any rational assessment of safety, emissions, or price; it will be a matter of political horse-trading, ideology, and influence.   Our votes on May 7 just might help with that.

Much more about the background and the local impacts on the excellent Frack Free Somerset pages

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Neighbourhood Partnerships in partnership

A good day at Circomedia looking at ways to make Neighbourhood Partnerships work better.  Plenty of NP members and councillors there - Labour Green and Tory.  For the Stockwood/Hengrove partnership, there were two of us Stockwood residents, but no sign of any of these wards' councillors.  Pity.

Clearly some Partnerships are already very proactive and forward-looking, and it's intended to expand the role of NPs later this year (a cynic might think we can do little more at present than decide which road repairs won't get done - and get the blame for it!)  So there's hope even for NPs like ours that rarely - if ever - stretch beyond the bread-and-butter workload prescribed by officers.

To work, though, it's got to attract a wider range of residents, not just the narrow demographic broken down by age and sex that we saw today and we see at NP meetings.  And can it break free from the local authority stranglehold by a bit of 'arms-length' creativity, or with urban parish councils?   Though even with that independence, a top-down austerity agenda will emasculate them from the start.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Rus in Urbe

Wedged between the consumer palace of the Brislington's giant Tesco Extra store and the non-stop traffic along Callington road, there's a short quiet stretch of Brislington Brook and a brookside path.
The kingfisher has been a regular patroller recently – though it's very camera shy!