On Sunday December 4th the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will not be granting the easement to cross Lake Oahe for the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline. Instead, the Corps will be undertaking an environmental impact statement to look at possible alternative routes.
I have been following the news of the DAPL for many months now as it has felt like THE battle between corporate greed and planet earth. It has made me seriously question who it is exactly the police and are paid to protect. So I was shocked and delighted to hear the news that after what has felt like a deafening silence from the Obama administration there is finally a glimmer of light.
And this of course resonates very much for us here in Lancashire where we have a similar threat to our environment and our drinking water, as the government has overturned Lancashire County Council’s decision to not allow fracking in Lancashire.
After the government’s very unsurprising announcement there were then further announcements saying that Lancashire businesses back fracking. Any non-business owner seeing this would be excused for thinking that all business owners support fracking when in fact nothing could be further from the truth.
In challenging that statement I was invited by Lancashire Business View to send my thoughts as to why fracking Lancashire is NOT good for business.
Here is my response;
I was asked to write a response to ‘fracking is good for Lancashire business’.
When discussing some of my points I was greeted with “I’m not buying that”. Well actually that pretty much sums up my thoughts on the decision for Lancashire. I’m not buying that it’s good for business and I present my reasons below.
Firstly though there have been statements made that the business world is pro-fracking and I need to just clarify that there are a lot of Lancashire businesses that
- oppose fracking and
- oppose the way this has been handled by central government.
I know that mostly we surround ourselves with people who think like us, but in all the conversations I have had I have not yet talked to one local business owner who is pro-fracking. I have talked to people who are confused by it, who think it is being handled a bit like the referendum in terms of the information put out can’t be trusted and that people would really appreciate some independent factual information.
I am a Lancashire business owner and previously a community worker. I absolutely understand the connection between thriving businesses and thriving communities. I understand that communities need high levels of employment.
And as a business owner I oppose the imposition of fracking on Lancashire.
- Why I don’t buy it? I can’t silence this niggling voice that says if it’s so good for business I’m pretty sure another region would have snapped it up first. Why didn’t they? Why am I left feeling that Lancashire is the guinea-pig?
I completely accept that it will be good for some businesses, some business are going to make a lot of money from it, but will that roll out into the Lancashire economy?
Shell convinced the Nigerian Delta that oil wells there would be good for business. When people are desperate for investment sometimes they make bad choices.
- Job creation. Absolutely we really need jobs, not short term jobs, but jobs that help to build the communities that have been devastated by the recession and the relentless cuts. We need long term plans that build trust in the economy as that has a positive knock on.
This new fracking site will create jobs without a doubt. BUT the investment that the government has made in this could have been invested in any other industry and would have created the same number of jobs.
It is not an either or situation.
- Business needs cheap fuel.
a) Businesses, like everyone else, have to adapt to the declining resources – adaptability is survival.
b) Across the globe governments are recognising the importance of investing in renewable energy sources, we seem to be doing the opposite.
c) In Nigeria 4 teenage girls have figured out a way to use a litre of urine as fuel to get six hours of electricity from their generator!
d) We actually have no real idea how much shale gas is accessible. My research showed up that we can best guess a supply of 5 to 10 years supply. That means that if fracking starts next year those resources will be depleted before Lancaster’s road plan is complete!
e) What we do know is that the sun will shine, the wind will blow and water will flow – and so will pee! But there is no political will to investment in these industries, industries that we know would provide us with long term, low cost sustainable, clean power .
In this article Keith Barnham, emeritus professor of physics at London Imperial College shows how Germany has brought down the cost of power with renewables http://www.sgr.org.uk/sites/sgr.org.uk/files/SGRconf2015-Barnham.pdf
- Money will be put back into Lancashire. I completely accept that fracking will be good for some businesses. Some business are certainly going to make a lot of money from it. PR companies alone have been paid £millions already. But will that roll out into the Lancashire economy?
Shell convinced the Nigerian Delta that oil wells there would be good for business, that the black gold would make Nigeria rich. Certainly it should have, but if you haven’t seen the devastation there go and do some research. The small business owners have lost their livelihood from the polluted land and water, not to mention the cost of civil unrest.
- Traffic concerns. One of LCCs objections was the expected traffic problems. Even pro-frackers have been clear that will happen.
I live near Lancaster and nearly two years ago we had traffic chaos due to United Utilities work. Many small businesses were severely affected as people went to Garstang or Kendal instead. It’s a lot better but even now people tell me they don’t want to go to Lancaster for events because of their experiences of the traffic issues. The memory of sitting in nightmare traffic lasts even when the issue is fixed.
Larger companies have the resource to ride that, but my experience tells me that small businesses could well go under.
- Lancashire is a beautiful county, we are blessed with a landscape that attracts 60+ million visitors a year, bringing billions of pounds into the economy and creating thousands and thousands of jobs. Again we cannot know exactly but it is expected that those numbers will fall, meaning gains in one industry lead to a loss in another.
- Sustainability. The pro-fracking argument is that we shouldn’t be influenced by the environmental disasters in the US as it will be different here because we are better regulated. Hmmm!
However we also have a different geological structure and the Telegraph Oct 11th 2016 published an article showing the largest reserves in Europe are more than 10 times those thought to be in the UK. And yet the experiences were wells were drilled and gas flowed, but the fractures in the rock quickly closed, causing gas flow to reduce to a trickle. As a result, earlier this year, Italian oil major Eni was the latest to give up on the Polish shale. The British shale industry still has a very long way to go, making any investment extremely high-risk.
That leaves me thinking that in 5 years time we will have abandoned wells and a lot of empty promises.
8. A good leader builds, not buys trust. This decision feels very party political and the impact of the government overriding local democracy in such a spectacular way will surely lead to loss of faith in Lancashire.
In this Ted Talk Simon Sinek talks about why leaders must make us feel safe. We are in a new business era where bullying and being economical with the truth is seen for what it is. I am no expert in fracking but I do know that if a company has to send millions on PR just to try and bring people on side we need to look very carefully at that.
9. And finally, I was told to not talk about the environment and I understand that environmentalists have stated their case very well. However this set off alarm bells for me. It is old school greedy hit and run companies that separated the environment from business and look at the unholy mess we have made over the last 40 years.
Personally I believe that creating earth tremors and polluting our own drinking water is pretty bad for business.
When the rest of us bid for contracts now we are asked for our environmental policy, which would suggest that we do care about the impact that businesses have on the environment after all.
And then there are very immediate practical issues like people being told they will not be able to get business insurance etc etc….
This is not about PC gone mad, this is about sustainability. We have a history of sucking things dry and we now have to understand our impact upon environment and the communities around us. To fail to do so shows a lack of joined up thinking. Businesses that lack joined up thinking have an expensive, but short, life span.
Only when the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten, and the last stream poisoned, will we realize that we cannot eat money.
I had reached the decision with the DAPL fight that the water protectors could never be allowed to win as they are essentially calling out greedy corporations who see only $$$$$.
The pipe line can be diverted, the issue there, and here, is now a battle between long term sustainability and short term profit making.
Seeing the announcement on Sunday night gave me hope that it is possible for sustainability to win, but increasingly I am clear that this will have to come from the people, because whilst we continue to allow decision makers to benefit financially from those with their eye on the huge profit, we can not rely on them to make good long term decisions.
It is not a surprise that it’s the First Nation people that have led the way as they are more connected to the earth than most of us, but this is the just beginning not the end.
Over to you – What do you think? Can we trust decision makers to prioritise long term sustainability or is it down to us?
It’s down to us – Standing Rock is an example of nonviolence in action. And it may be that many of us will have to stand in the face of structural and real violence to make corporations and government take notice.