Poll shows fall in level of support for shale gas extraction in the UK in September following summer protests at Balcombe
Protests against fracking by thousands of people in Sussex over the summer appear to have reversed the growth in British public support for shale gas for the first time.
Polling by the University of Nottingham has shown support for shale gas extraction in the UK steadily rising for more than a year, peaking at 61% in favour in July. But that number fell in September, to 55%.
In August, more than 2,000 people marched against fracking at an oil drilling site run by Cuadrilla near the village of Balcombe, in West Sussex. Dozens of protesters were later arrested, including the Green party MP, Caroline Lucas. They cited concerns over water use by fracking, which involves pumping water and chemicals underground at high pressure to release gas from shale, and said the controversial technique would divert investment away from renewable energy.
Professor Matthew Humphrey from the university's school of political and international relations, who worked on the Nottingham study, said the reverse suggested such high-profile protests could hit public support for fracking: "This may have important implications for the politics of fracking in the UK, if the anti-fracking lobby come to believe that highly visible forms of protest at potential sites for hydraulic fracturing are the most effective means of changing the public mood."
David Cameron said in his party's conference speech on Wednesdaythat he wanted Blackpool, an area where Cuadrilla has fracked before and says it will be announcing further plans soon, to become "the centre of Europe for the shale gas industry".
The Conservative energy minister, Michael Fallon, also said on Wednesday that up to 40 shale gas wells could be established in the next two years. "I think we're going to see maybe 30, 40 wells drilled over the next couple of years to see what the real potential is - whether this gas can be got out easily as they have been getting it out in the United States and whether they can get it out as cheaply as they have got it out in the United States," he told the BBC.
Friends of the Earth's energy campaigner, Tony Bosworth, said: "With experts saying shale gas won't lead to cheaper fuel bills and scientists warning about the climate impact of fossil fuels, this is not the solution to Britain's energy challenges."
A Guardian poll published this summer found the public were evenly split for and against fracking.
Scientists have for the first time found dangerous levels of radioactivity and salinity at a shale gas waste disposal site that could contaminate drinking water. If the UK follows in the steps of the US "shale gas revolution", it should impose regulations to stop such radioactive buildup, they said.
The Duke University study, published on Wednesday, examined the water discharged from Josephine Brine Treatment Facility into Blacklick Creek, which feeds into a water source for western Pennsylvania cities, including Pittsburgh. Scientists took samples upstream and downstream from the treatment facility over a two-year period, with the last sample taken in June this year.
Elevated levels of chloride and bromide, combined with strontium, radium, oxygen, and hydrogen isotopic compositions, are present in the Marcellus shale wastewaters, the study found.
Radioactive brine is naturally occurring in shale rock and contaminates wastewater during hydraulic fracturing – known as fracking. Sometimes that "flowback" water is re-injected into rock deep underground, a practice that can cause seismic disturbances, but often it is treated before being discharged into watercourses.
Radium levels in samples collected at the facility were 200 times greater than samples taken upstream. Such elevated levels of radioactivity are above regulated levels and would normally be seen at licensed radioactive disposal facilities, according to the scientists at Duke University's Nicholas school of the environment in North Carolina.
Hundreds of disposal sites for wastewater could be similarly affected, said Professor Avner Vengosh, one of the authors of the study published in Environmental Science & Technology, a peer-reviewed journal.
"If people don't live in those places, it's not an immediate threat in terms of radioactivity," said Vengosh. "However, there's the danger of slow bio-accumulation of the radium. It will eventually end up in fish and that is a biological danger."
Shale gas production is exempt from the Clean Water Act and the industry has pledged to self-monitor its waste production to avoid regulatory oversight.
However, the study clearly showed the need for independent monitoring and regulation, said Vengosh.
"What is happening is the direct result of a lack of any regulation. If the Clean Water Act was applied in 2005 when the shale gas boom started this would have been prevented.
"In the UK, if shale gas is going to develop, it should not follow the American example and should impose environmental regulation to prevent this kind of radioactive buildup."
The study also found elevated levels of salinity from the shale brine, which is five to 10 times more saline than sea water, that were 200-fold the regulated limit. Shale brine is also associated with high levels of bromide, which is not toxic by itself but turns into carcinogenic trihalomethanes during purification treatment.
The US Geological Service has previously reported elevated levels of radioactivity in "flowback" water that naturally occurs in the rock. But the Duke study, called Impacts of Shale Gas Wastewater Disposal on Water Quality in Western Pennsylvania, is the first to use isotope hydrology to connect the dots between shale gas waste, treatment sites and discharge into drinking water supplies.
From January to June 2013, the 4,197 unconventional gas wells in Pennsylvania reported 3.5m barrels of fluid waste and 10.7m barrels of "produced" fluid. Most of that waste is disposed of within Pennsylvania, but some of it is also went to other states, such as Ohio and New York despite its moratorium on shale gas exploration. In July, a treatment company in New York state pleaded guilty to falsifying more than 3,000 water tests.
Earlier this year, Vengosh published another report that found higher methane, ethane and propane concentrations in drinking water within a kilometre of shale gas drilling at 141 sites where drinking water samples were taken.
After a week spent meticulously agreeing the exact wording, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just released a summary of the first part of its major report reviewing the science of climate change.
Known as the ' Summary for Policymakers' (SPM), the document describes the physical science behind climate change - whittling down the latest findings about how and why earth's climate is changing to just 36 pages.
Read the article
26 February 2013
By David Maxwell BBC News
Ballymena's millennium project cost £10m to build but is it still fit for the 21st Century? What to do with Ecos? That is the question Ballymena Borough Council has been trying to answer recently.
The environmental centre was built as a millennium project at a cost of £10m.
Its purpose was to educate school children and the public in Northern Ireland about renewable energy and increase awareness of environmental issues.
More here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-21582264
The National Trust has lost a legal attempt to block construction of a £100m golf resort and hotel near the Giant's Causeway in County Antrim (World Heritage Site).
Ten years after the disaster, the trial kicks off this week. Read more here
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