On the Salford front line, there's a daily three way battle between the Barton Moss Community Protection Camp campaigners and the IGas delivery lorries on one hand – and Greater Manchester Police in the middle, seemingly getting more aggressive by the day: eight more arrests yesterday and further allegations of brutality against a woman on Sunday night (see here). That's the physical battle.
But behind the physical battle there's also a war of information which will ultimately determine the future for fracking and shale gas extraction.
While the ConDem Government is resorting to financial bribes for communities and councils in order to win hearts and minds, as a zillion demo placards make clear, you can't drink money and our kids can't live in a poisoned future.
Today and tomorrow, campaigners are taking the information fight out to Salford's community, with a screening of Gasland 2 (the sequel to Josh Fox's Oscar-nominated film on the affects of fracking in the USA) at the Friends Meeting House in Eccles tonight (for details see below), and a Frack Free Irlam and Cadishead meeting tomorrow (29th) at the Nags Head pub in Irlam featuring a talk by anti-fracking expert Ian R Crane (for details see below). Both meetings will feature discussions afterwards where anyone can ask any questions related to anything fracking.
In terms of official information in the UK, the nearest the Salford Star could find was a 174 page report by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, published in December, which was a `Strategic Environmental Assessment for Further Onshore Oil and Gas Licensing'…
This document is full of uncertainties but it does give a colour coded chart for likely effects of fracking on twelve of its Environmental objectives. And nine out of the twelve objectives are on the negative spectrum, ie having either a `significantly negative' or `minor negative' effect on communities and the land. Only two objectives are on the positive spectrum, these being related to perceived economic benefits and new forms of gas supplies.
The report states that there would be a "locally significant negative effect on the population and health", which ranges from "the generation of noise, dust and vibrations during construction, drilling and associated HGV movement" to effects on "biodiversity and habitats" and "greenhouse gas emissions", to the enormous volumes of waste water (flowback) which "will place a substantial burden on existing waste water treatment infrastructure capacity".
It adds that "there is also a potential risk of release of fracturing fluids or flowback water to aquifer sources if, for example, the cementing of a well is inadequate or fails during high pressure under fracturing. This could have a negative effect on human health through the contamination of the water supply", although it adds that "no significant risk to human health from this issue is anticipated".
The report explains that "potential impacts on water resource availability, aquatic habitats, eco systems and water quality is more uncertain" - but further on in the document it lists chemicals found in water emanating from the Preese Hall exploratory well in Lancashire which included "high levels of sodium chloride, bromide, iron, lead, magnesium, zinc and low levels of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM)".
Last night, in the wake of another energy company, Cuadrilla, pulling its applications to frack in Lancashire due to tightened regulations on radioactive water waste, BBC's Inside Out programme revealed that the Environment Agency found traces of naturally-occurring uranium and thorium in waste water from Preese Hall, plus levels of radium ninety times higher than naturally occurs in drinking water.
This would appear to fly in the face of information being given out by IGas, the company that is looking to frack at Barton Moss in Salford.
When the Department of Energy and Climate Change's report came out in December, the Salford Star interviewed John Blaymires, Chief Operating Officer at IGas, who told us… "You measure radioactivity in fluids with something called a becquerel per litre, and if we have water that is more than one becquerel per litre you need a permit.
"If you went into a supermarket and tested mineral water sold in bottles I can assure you there will be a higher level that what we're being controlled to" he added "Yes it's classified as radioactive but its less radioactive than mineral water."
The Environment Agency stated that levels of radium were ninety times higher than naturally occurs in drinking water, so someone isn't being straight here, it seems.
We put to Blaymires a whole list of perceived concerns, from earth tremors to water contamination and asked if any of these were founded. He replied that there was "no evidence for it"…
Water contamination in the States? "It wasn't fracking…they didn't construct the well properly…"
Earth tremors near Blackpool from Cuadrilla? "There was a fault which they didn't realise was there and when they injected the water in it, it got into the fault plane, lubricated it and it slipped…It's not fracking that does that."
Well, we asked, if it's all nothing to do with fracking, are anti-fracking campaigners and anti-fracking experts like Ian R Crane just idiots?
"I'm not commenting on Ian Crane" Blaymires replied "They are people who have read stuff, formed views, and, yes, Ian comes with an industry background and he clearly is opposed to this and he's entitled to his point."
But is he wrong?
"I think the interesting thing is that if he sat down and looked at the facts and looked at the studies that have been done and actually dissected it, the debate would change quite a bit…"
So is he wrong?
"It's not for me to say whether he's wrong or right because he will say typically that we're wrong. He's got a view and he's entitled to express an opinion but what is imperative is that we can only talk about things that are factually based, and all we can do is talk about independent studies that validate what I say. I will only talk about fact based studies that people can go and look at…"
So would Balymires go on a public platform and debate with people like Ian R Crane? If the Salford Star set it up would IGas take part?
"The problem is that it becomes confrontational - something the media loves – you're almost falling into the trap that there are two ends of the spectrum and that's not where the debate needs to take place…"
If there was a public meeting people could make their own minds up…it would give people the opportunity to get more involved…
"…It's fine if you can have a debate, a sensible debate but if you come with a view and an opinion…"
Presumably people will have a view on the platform – it's called things like QuestionTime on tv…
"And that's fine but if individuals are prepared to use the debate as a platform to promulgate their views it loses its affect for people who are in the audience… It becomes a polarised view."
So you wouldn't do it?
"This is about educating people, helping them to understand, what we've found with our open days and surgeries…"
But they are all controlled by you…
"They're not actually… we've been on platforms with Josh Fox who put Gasland together…"
In Salford if someone set something up would you come and debate with the campaigners?
"If it was properly chaired and controlled, because there's little point in getting involved in a shouting match. We wouldn't embark upon that because it's about giving the public the opportunity to understand what's going on."
Which is what the anti-fracking campaigners would argue is what they are doing. Are they all misguided and stupid?
"Everybody's entitled to their opinion and I respect that – and it's good that there are people out there challenging us all the time, it keeps us on the straight and narrow, it benefits us.
"Ultimately if we don't build public trust, if we're not transparent and open then we won't get the social licence and the permissions to do this. We do that by doing things safely and environmentally responsibly, and sharing and being open about things, so having people challenging us all the time…holding a mirror up saying `Are you doing this properly?' is good and beneficial."
You haven't answered the question – are they stupid and idiots?
"No they're not stupid and idiots, sometimes they may not have all the factual information, but then that's part of our job to help give them that. But we certainly don't think they're stupid and idiots – they're clearly concerned about things and are trying to address those concerns, and all that we ask are that they are open as well to understanding the facts of the matter."
The Salford Star today challenges IGas to appear in a public debate hosted by ourselves. Until then, Salford's community will have to attend events by those who do wish to inform people about fracking…
Tonight: Tuesday 28th January
Film screening of Gasland Part 2 – the sequel to Josh Fox's Oscar nominated fracking film Gasland.
7pm – 9:30pm £3/£2
Eccles Friends Meeting House
13 The Polygon, Wellington Road, Eccles M30 ODS
Screening by Manchester Film Co-op in association with the Barton Moss Community Protection Camp
Wednesday 29th January 7pm
Talk by Ian R Crane and short film screening
Frack Free Irlam and Cadishead
Nags Head pub, Liverpool Road
Further details click here
UPDATE: 7pm 28th January
IGAS REFUSE SALFORD STAR OFFER TO DEBATE WITH BARTON PROTECTORS...
A spokesperson for IGas responded: "Thank you for the invitation. We however will not participate in this debate as we are already participating in a number of talks and presentations in February."
See also Part 1 of Salford Star interview with John Blaymires – click here