My fracking piece for the Scotsman – some further reading

At the weekend I wrote a column for the Scotsman which repeated some already widely reported safety concerns about fracking, underground coal gasification and coal bed methane extraction – all of which, in an unprecedented scenario, are to be rolled out simultaneously along the Firth of Forth, one of Scotland’s most heavily populated coastlines. The Scotsman piece was a shorter, more focused version of my recent Possible Worlds blog.

There is, currently, a moratorium on fracking and coal bed methane extraction in Scotland, but it is only temporary and could well be overturned given the intense pressure to do so from powerful companies like Ineos. The moratorium does not currently apply to UCG, although there has been pressure from campaigners for this loophole to be closed. It was Cluff Natural Resources’ belligerent reaction to this that prompted my Scotsman piece.

The response to the piece on the Scotsman’s website was mostly hostile. I was labeled a ‘buffoon’, a ‘luddite’ an ‘eco-warrior’, ‘Swampy’, and, once again, an extremist – ironic given the nature of some of the comments. One argued that fracking could be an effective way to oppose the Islamic ‘global caliphate’ who want to ‘conquer us all’. Another suggested Friends of the Earth and the BBC were allies in a ‘groupthink bubble, constantly reinforcing each other’s biased opinions’. This is the same BBC that simultaneously stands accused of consistent bias toward the unionist establishment in Scotland’s independence referendum (while a new academic study suggests the organisation “tends to reproduce a Conservative, Eurosceptic, pro-business version of the world“). And I’m the extremist in this scenario?

Yesterday the Scotsman printed a letter from Professor Tony Trewavas, describing my column as a ‘rant’ and claiming that ‘hundreds of thousands of world-wide investigations have shown underground coal gasification using deep seams and fracking using deep shale are entirely safe technologies that provide enormous benefits to the communities that use them’.

I would love this to be true, given that I live in Portobello and don’t want my house to collapse or my drinking water to be poisoned. Sadly, Trewavas didn’t directly cite any of these investigations. Nor – despite accusing me of representing a ‘loud but bit uninformed minority’ – did he identify any factual errors either in my piece or in the sources I was citing.

Trewavas’s name, it turns out, is familiar to many environmental activists. In 2001 he was successfully sued for libel by Greenpeace after claiming the organisation was ‘deliberately spreading unfounded fears about GM foods to further their own financial interests’. Environmental activists I know have also drawn my attention to this article listing other attacks – rants, you might even call them – by Professor Trewavas. Make of it what you will; I’m linking to it here merely to illustrate that, despite his academic credentials, he is clearly as partisan in this debate as I am.

For the benefit of people who are still sitting on the fracking fence, I thought it would be helpful to post a list of links to various sources I referred to while writing my Scotsman piece. It makes for an illuminating reading list.

Andrew Nunn of Cluff Natural Resources describes community groups expressing concern about fracking and UCG as “increasingly extreme”, with “no democratic legitimacy”. 

Cougar Energy drops $34 million lawsuit against Queensland government. 

Cougar Energy fined $75,000 for contaminating groundwater with benzene.

Linc Energy charged with environmental damage.

Richard Anderson, BBC business reporter, describes UCG as having ‘potentially disastrous’ consequences for climate change.

Warwickshire County Council rejects Cluff Natural Resources’ UCG plans.

Fracking is the cause of alarming rise in earthquakes in Oklahoma, according to US Geological Survey.

Full list of places across the world that have banned fracking.

Californian water supply study shows ‘off the chart’ levels of contamination as a result of fracking. 

Health concerns over coal bed methane (referred to as coal seam gas in Australia).

UK government changes trespass laws to allow companies to frack under people’s homes without their permission – despite 99% of 40,000 respondents in public consultation being against it.

Growth in tourism is ‘critical’ to Fife economy.

Ineos offers 4 per cent of profits to councils that allow fracking.

Landowners lose right to know their land is being fracked. 

Fracking to be allowed under national parks (despite the infrastructure bill initially proposing to ban this).

Poll shows clear majority of British public is against fracking under national parks.

More jobs would be created by renewables than by fracking, say Friends of the Earth.

Finally, a few facts about myself, just for the record. You can judge for yourself whether any of what’s below makes me ‘extreme’.

I am a member of the Green Party – as someone will probably point out any minute now – but only since 14 January this year. I joined that day because – in addition to my growing concern about a major environmental issue right on my doorstep – I’d just read a report in the New Statesman that Green membership was about to overtake that of UKIP and I thought it’d be a good thing to help that along a bit.

Before that, the last time I was a member of any political party was over 20 years ago. I was, briefly, a Labour party member, mostly out of a personal admiration for John Smith. When he died I quit. Apart from attending the occasional demonstration, my overt political activity since then has mostly been restricted to expressing opinions on cultural issues as an arts journalist.

In general I’m too contrary to join any club for very long – while I am definitely liberal and left of centre in my political views, my instinct, whenever I hear a strong opinion about anything, is to seek out the opposite side of the argument. My motivation in joining the Greens, while absolutely sincere, is a little bit rooted in this. I like that they are proposing ideas that none of Britain’s other political parties will touch, like a citizen’s income. I like that, in a time when the supposed ‘centre ground’ of British politics has shifted so far to the right that the demonstrably racist UKIP is increasingly regarded as respectable, the Greens are trying to push things back the other way. It is fascinating to me that, when people do a ‘blind test’ of what political party they should support, in which their decision is based on reactions to individual policies rather than tribal loyalty, far more people than you’d expect support the Greens.

I attended my first Green party meeting at the end of February, just after writing the piece for the Scotsman. Slightly to my surprise, I was elected to carry out ‘external comms’ for its Edinburgh branch. Later I decided not to take up the post, after a critic of my fracking column in the Scotsman tried to cause trouble by telling the editor who commissioned it that as ‘an elected Green spokesman’ I should have declared an interest. Since I filed the piece before I was elected, I couldn’t have done that, but it made me nervous. One of the things about political tribalism is that it makes it easy to dismiss an argument based on who is making it. But I didn’t write that piece because I’m in the Green party. It wasn’t propaganda. It was my own personal view – just as absolutely everything I write is – and I wrote it because I live in a part of Scotland that will be directly affected by fracking, and I’m very concerned about it.

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