Uk farm concerns at fracking for gas

Fracking’ has been in the news a great deal recently.  Developed in the US, fracking is the process of hydraulically extracting shale gas – a natural energy source.  In a culture of diminishing natural energy resources that might, at first, be seen to be a good thing.  However, it is the process itself that is controversial.  A mix of chemicals and water are plunged at high speed into the shale rock, in order to break it up or ‘frac’ture it, and thereby release the gas contained within.

shale gasResulting environmental impact issues have been varied – from minor earth tremors attributed to fracking in the area, to contamination to the water supply (one infamous American documentary appeared to show “flammable” water, which could be ignited like gas).  Such events have naturally set the interests of the environmental lobby against those of big business, concerned more with the fracking rights to areas of the US, and now the UK.  Environmentalists have pitched camps in affected areas, whilst fracking companies have been at pains to assure local people and businesses that the process will have no adverse effects.

This conflict has recently come into particular focus in the North-West, particularly around the coastline.  The earthquakes occurred off the coast from Morecambe, and now nearby farmers around Fylde – including Westby, Singleton and Weeton – have expressed concern at new intelligence around fracking’s impact on agriculture, with gas chemicals potentially escaping from three nearby fracking sites, providing a threat to produce.

The fears are the result of scientific research, also from the States – which warns of contamination to the soil, water and air around heavily drilled areas such as Fylde.  The research reveals a connection between sickness amongst animals in the US and fracking in the area, with six states reporting 24 separate incidents.  The suggestion is that chemicals leach out as a result of the fracking, contaminating soil and water, with a resultant detrimental impact on both crops and cattle.  In one incident, 17 cows died; in another, one herd suffered a 50% stillbirth rate.

Fracking in confidence

Balancing up the discussion, the fracking companies appear confident they can reach the gas without any affect on the farming community.  UK fracking companies, it is argued, adhere to a much stricter safety and regulatory structure and are undertaking the fracking process in a responsible manner, conducting thorough environmental impact assessments, across a range of wildlife and habitats, prior to allowing any fracking to take place.

Of course local farmers are keen to understand the impact of such fracking to their herds, not to mention themselves and their families.  Farmers and residents agree that much more research is needed.  If this American research proves well founded, a similar impact on the local area would have a profound knock-on effect on the farming community, but also the people that live in the area, and consumers of the livestock further down the food chain.

In the UK we know the impact of food crises, having suffered Mad Cow and Foot & Mouth scares.  Understandably, there is a need to tread carefully… especially when unsure of the stability of the very ground beneath our feet.

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