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Issue No. 51 - March 1, 2015

1. Update: UK Infrastructure Act waters down fracking restrictions

Cameron Fracking
The last two issues of the SGBI (Nos. 49 and 50) have featured articles on the UK Infrastructure Bill. The original government bill proposed various legal changes to facilitate shale gas exploitation in the UK. For example, it proposed to allow fracking companies to put "any substance" into the ground and leave it there after the completion of the gas drilling, and to change the trespass law to make it impossible for landowners to prevent fracking under their land.

There was considerable public and political opposition to the government's proposals, and a number of amendments were put forward in the House of Commons to restrict fracking. These included a proposed fracking moratorium, and amendments to prohibit fracking in sensitive areas, such as sources of drinking water and national parks. The moratorium was defeated, but a number of the proposed fracking restrictions passed. These restrictions would have reduced the area made available by the government for shale licensing by 40%.

A number of these restrictions were watered down at the last minute, however. For example, although the amendment prohibiting fracking in national parks had been passed, the final Infrastructure Act allows horizontal fracturing that would pass under national parks. A detailed discussion of the Infrastructure Act in its final form, as well as its history, can be found on the Drill or Drop website.

The following are some of the features of the Infrastructure Act, discussed in further depth on the Drill or Drop website:
  • Maximal economic recovery of UK petroleum is a principal objective of the government.
  • Landowner consent is not required for deep petroleum extraction.
  • Oil and gas companies may leave land in a different condition than they found it and leave infrastructure or substances in the land.
  • Fracking is prohibited in protected areas (to be defined). Fracking is not prohibited under these areas.
  • There is no explicit requirement for an Environmental Impact Assessment.
  • There is no requirement that well inspections be unannounced.
  • There is no requirement for landowners to be notified individually of fracking applications, or to give consent.
"If it wasn't clear before, this shows for definite that the only safe fracking is no fracking. Regulations can always be weakened."

2. Analysis of fracking wastewater reveals chromium, mercury, arsenic, toluene, ethylbenzene...

Fracking Wastewater Ponds
Researchers from Rice University in Houston, Texas have published a new study in the journal Environmental Science which analyses the content of fracking wastewater from three fracking sites, located in the Marcellus, Barnett, and Eagle Ford shale plays. The research is summarized in the following two articles:

The research focused on identifying the chemical composition of the wastewater samples, as the composition must be known before effective treatment methods can be considered.

The scientists identified a wide range of metals in all the samples, although the composition varied with the local geology. Chromium, mercury, and arsenic were all found at levels exceeding US maximum contamination levels for drinking water in at least one sampled well. In addition, they identified over 50 different organic chemicals, including the carcinogens toluene and ethylbenzene.  They also found halogenated hydrocarbons in all samples. These compounds contain elements such as chlorine and bromine and are known to cause damage to the nervous system and liver. The study's authors suggest that the halogenated hydrocarbons were generated by the reuse of fracking wastewater that had been treated with chlorine-containing antibacterial chemicals. The authors highlight the problem of developing a wastewater treatment process that would address all of the toxic chemicals found in fracking wastewater.

A separate analysis, by the Center for Biological Diversity, of fracking flowback water in California reveals that benzene has been found at levels over 1,500 times the national limit, and that chromium-6, another carcinogen, was found at up to 2,700 times the recommended limit. Toluene exceeded federal limits for drinking water 118 times.

3. Burlington, Vermont becomes first US city to run on 100% renewable electricity

EcoWatch reports that Burlington, the largest city in Vermont (pop. 42,000) has become the first sizeable US city to run entirely on renewable electricity. The city's power is supplied by a publicly owned utility, the Burlington Electrical Department (BED), which uses biomass, hydroelectric, solar and wind resources to generate electricity. In addition, the biomass (wood chip) generating station is fitted with air quality control devices that limit particulate stack emissions to one-tenth of the level allowed by the state, and one one-hundredth of the allowable national level.

BED has also implemented energy efficiency programs that it says have reduced its electricity consumption to below its 1989 level. In this NPR interview, Ken Nolan of BED reveals that the switch to renewable energy sources has been motivated by economic considerations and will likely save Burlington $20 million over the next decade.

There are a large number of "100% renewable" initiatives underway at local and national level around the world, details of which are provided by the website

Here are a few examples from the site:
On the site there is not a single project for the entire island of Ireland

However, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI)  provides the following renewable energy targets for Ireland
  • 16% of all energy from renewables by 2020
  • 40% contribution of renewables to gross electricity consumption by 2020 (ROI and NI)