The government’s policy u-turn is far from the “tremendous victory for environmentalists” that the media have described it as. This is an electoral greenwashing gambit that goes nowhere near far enough.
Last night, the government announced it had called a halt to fracking in England with immediate effect. The Guardian hailed this as “a watershed moment for environmentalists.” Nevertheless, this is a small victory in a much larger fight. Unconventional oil and gas extraction in the UK still continues, the largest onshore oil sites still remain unimpaired and the government has just spent millions on fracking exploration in Argentina. This so called “ban” on fracking is greenwashing done at its finest.
Why Fracking will continue under the guise of Acid Stimulation
The Government’s moratorium only covers high volume hydraulic fracturing aka fracking under its remit. It fails to consider other forms of oil extraction, including acid stimulation.
Acid stimulation like fracturing involves horizontal and vertical wells that are drilled hundreds to thousands of feet below the land surface. The process produces a corridor of channels within the rock, that allow for previously isolated pockets of oil to flow into the well.
Whereas, hydraulic fracturing uses mainly a water based fluid to fracture the rock, acid stimulation uses acid to achieve the same results. The two main forms of acid stimulation are known as matrix acidizing and acid fracturing and studies reveal they have similar degradatory effects to fracking.
Under the current legislation acid stimulation sites such as Horse Hill in Surrey (the second largest onshore oil site in the UK) and West Newton - do not fall under the definitions of the moratorium.
The 2015 infrastructure act changed the definition of fracking to only include high volume hydraulic fracturing where the injected fluid volumes meet a certain threshold. Here, acid stimulation falls below the thresholds. This means that these sites can continue unchallenged and unnoticed. The goalposts have been moved to suit the agenda of vested interests. This is what some have described as “fracking by stealth.”
Celebrating this so called end to fracking threatens to make us forget that some of the largest active sites, such as West Newton and Horse Hill in the UK, do not fall under the changed 2015 definitions. In fact, the only active fracking site under current government legislation is Preston New Road. I reiterate my point — this so called fracking ban is yet again, just more greenwashing.
A moratorium is not a ban — it’s an electoral greenwashing gambit
In the Cambridge English dictionary greenwashing is defined as the act of “making people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is.” The so called ban on fracking is greenwashing done at its finest.
For a moratorium is not an outright ban — it is merely a halt to further exploration. Indeed, an election campaign seems to be an interesting time to declare a temporary halt. Especially from a Prime Minister who once declared that the UK should “leave no stone unturned, or unfracked” for shale gas. What is more, a recent expose just revealed that the government has planned to invest 1 billion pounds of its green energy fund into Argentina’s controversial shale gas industry. A fracking ban that covers just one active site and the Government’s continued investment in the shale oil and gas industry outside of the UK is not the radical kind of policy change we need.
We are currently in a climate and ecological emergency and we must remain vigilant to sly attempts at greenwashing such as these. We must continue the fight. If the government is serious about its commitment to net zero carbon by 2050 then they need to do three things:
1) Change the definition of fracking so that acid stimulation is covered in its remit.
2) Make this moratorium a permanent ban and
3) Explain why it has planned to spend 1 billion pounds on the controversial shale gas industry in Argentina while banning fracking in its own country.
If you would like to have your voice heard on this issue please sign Brockham Oil watch’s open letter requesting the government to push forward legal and policy reform on the stimulation of oil and gas wells, including acid stimulation. Follow the link below.