What the Frack
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of creating fractures in rocks in order to extract natural gas. It’s also called coal seam gas exploration.
By drilling kilometres into the earth and setting off explosions, pockets of gas reserves can be extracted in the fractured rocks. Like all mining of this type, large amounts of water and chemicals are required for the process.
And despite it being around since the 1950s, it has been given recent prominence by a documentary called Gasland. The doco examines the environmental damage fracking causes, most notably the poisoning of water tables. There’s amazing footage of a water tap being lit on fire due to the gas being mixed with a water supply.
Fracking is being developed by a company in the Northern Rivers region. Metgasco has been granted a licence by the state government to mine using this technique, a spokesperson confirmed this week.
He said the area that they are exploring covers 43,000 square km, and stretches north from Coffs Harbour to the Queensland border. Funnily enough it was hard to extract more information from him due to his reluctance to speak, however the area is called the Clarence-Moreton Basin. Exploration for coal seam methane in the Basin is in its infancy, according to the Department of Primary Industries, with the first well being drilled in 1997.
The controversial technique has had hit and miss results – alarming levels of toxicity in water samples have been discovered in Queensland fracking ventures for example.
‘The Queensland government suspended Cougar Energy’s underground coal gasification project near Kingaroy, in the state’s southeast,’ says www.dailyexaminer.com.au/, ‘after underground water was contaminated with benzene and toluene.’
So the press on fracking isn’t great, but an interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart this week produced arguments in favour of fracking.
Founder and chairman of BP Capital, T Boone Pickens told Jon Stewart that the US is the only western country without an energy plan, and he is pushing to replace oil imports with a national model. In complete contrast to environmentalists, he claims fracking is safe and can enable the country to have energy self-reliance. With natural gas, he wants to demonstrate that the trucking industry can replace oil with gas in seven years. There’s support from industry, he says, just not the political will to make it happen yet.
Jon Stewart wants to know what the catch is. ‘So it gets us out of foreign entanglements, it weakens our enemies, it’s cheaper, we have an abundance of it and we have the technology to do it.’
‘We just got addicted to foreign oil’, says Pickens.
Energy companies don’t want to see self-regulated fracking either, according to Pickens – technology is available for individuals to use compressors to extract their own gas, which is a major threat to the outdated business model of supplying energy en masse from corporations.
As usual, Stewart has the final say: ‘People who owned horses wished that cars didn’t show up, but they did. And then they had to get out of the way.’
Our insatiable hunger for energy usage isn’t going away, and to replace the combustion engine will take much more than fracking. With all the tax breaks and free utility (ie water) usage mining and gas companies receive, it’s unfortunate our elected politicians won’t pass legislation to encourage localised energy self-reliance.
The news shit filter
At the helm of the mothership Echo, email onslaughts are the most time-wasting aspect of what should be an exciting job.
Press releases from various organisations and businesses all compete for the limited space within the front news pages of any publication. Some have legitimate news value; however, most fall into a category that is best described as ‘advertorial’.
They claim to be newsworthy articles and are usually written by someone who is all too aware that, if published, they just scored themselves a free plug and legitimised their product/service as ‘news’.
There are educational courses available that provide tuition for such disingenuous promotion, and the line between what is real news and advertising is becoming harder and harder to defend and delineate.
As a result of this, editors are human shit filters. Anything that lobs into the inbox must be treated with suspicion; they are brown papers bags filled with an unknown smelly substance.
Since this is a recent position, I am learning a lot about shit.
Depending on readership, all news – especially at a local level – should contain ‘soft and ‘hard’ elements. Exhibitions, festivals, accolades, milestones and the like provide the community with a sense of connection and achievement, however ‘hard’ news can result in a change of public opinion and perception.
Spanking the corporate shill
Hard news and the resulting public perception battles are often pushed by the loudest voices and the most money.
We are still being told that climate change science is incomplete and that it’s ok to build nuclear power plants. It’s like saying the earth is flat and it’s ok to eat paint.
Complex topics such as these are often given equal weight by journalists attempting to provide balance; however, when an overwhelming number of scientists say climate change is man made – and a few scientists on a corporate payroll say it’s not conclusive – the credibility of the argument suffers.
Other topics, including tobacco, acid rain, the ozone hole, glob- al warming, and DDT are all examined by authors Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway in a new book entitled Merchants of Doubt.
It explains how a loose-knit group of high-level scientists, with extensive political connections, ran effective campaigns to mis- lead the public and deny well-established scientific knowledge over four decades.
The book claims to demonstrate how the ideology of free- market fundamentalism, aided by an all too-compliant media, has skewed public understanding and education.
‘The US scientific community has long led the world in re- search on public health, environmental science, and other issues affecting the quality of life,’ say the authors, and at the same time they say, ‘a small yet potent subset of this community leads the world in vehement denial of the world’s most pressing issues of our era.’
A fascinating lecture is available on YouTube by author Naomi Oreskes and it describes, among other things, how credible scientists knew since the 1960s that climate change would result from human activity. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2T4UF_Rmlio
Volume 25 #31
January 11, 2011
The developments I have witnessed over 20 years while growing up and going to school here are marginal compared to what has happened in other parts of the country in that time.
Through appropriate planning, we have resisted the pressures of developing for the sake of the bogus economic need and this is why Byron Shire doesn’t look like the Gold Coast.
The price of over-development however, is that on my wage I can’t afford to own my own home. Everyone wants to live here. I could buy up the coast, but shudder at the thought of living in a small stuffy concrete box built by a baby-boomer.
That pressure of development and affordable housing has been brought into focus by the current DA for the old Bruns gym/squash courts. It’s on public exhibition until January 12.
The proposal has attracted much concern and anger from neighbours in the township. It’s being touted as ‘affordable housing’, – one of those buzz words like ‘sustainablity’– and M and J Stebbing’s plan for a 33 unit bed-sit building strikes me as an inappropriate use of that building. It also points to the the new owners being completely out of step with the ethos of Brunswick Heads.
I have yet to see an altruistic vision and follow through from a developer in this Shire. Understandably developers, as in all business, require return on investment (ROI) and the thought they they are somehow providing housing to someone struggling on a meagre income deserves scrutiny and examination. Always.
As students at Mullum High we would travel to that gym on sports day. The gym was available, along with the swimming pool and squash courts, and despite it being a small building, it was a useful amenity. As an adult I have also used the facility, and it’s sad to see it go.
Let’s hope that the new sports complex being built at Ewingsdale will be world-class. That’s the promise anyway from Byron Shire Mayor Jan Barham.
The Shire needs this for the local residents, not the tourists. It might have a welcome tourism follow-on effect, but I for one would rather see improved amenities supportive of the Shire’s inhabitants rather than its visitors.