Dear Mrs May, citizens’ rights first ?

This letter is in answer to Mrs May’s open letter of reassurance to EU citizens dated 19 October 2017.

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Dear Mrs May,

thank you for your letter ‘to EU citizens’.

Putting citizens’ rights first ?

Let me be clear: from the EU referendum itself to stripping South West MEP Mrs Girling of the party whip recently, it is plain to see your party comes first. Yes, we do realise this is politics in a first past the post system. But these negotiations are politics in a changed landscape, not in respect of your country deciding to Leave, but because we can now get Brexit updates directly from the EU channels, giving us both sides of the story.

Blaming the EU for everything is getting tougher isn’t ?

Which does beg the question: how many more voters will you lose if you keep playing this blaming the EU game ? I would not be so unfair as to blame you for treating EU nationals as bargaining chips. To my knowledge chips were never mentioned. Cards and bargaining capital however, were, not by you admittedly but by Brexit Ministers in your Cabinet.

Of course we are all chips or cards, nationals or immigrants, this is politics. 

What has been clear all along, for those who follow, is that EU citizens’ rights have been tied to the trade deal that the UK government wants to strike with the EU, despite you assuring your voters we are a priority, and the latter infuriating some of more right leaning voters, you can’t win can you ? What is also clear is that the words your government uses, and most tellingly the lack of an agreement on citizens’ rights, clarify that the 3 million EU foreigners in your country are not just an asset that contributes more to the British budget than we take out, a fact so seldom reported, but that we are clearly extra capital to try and extract yet more exceptions out of the EU.

Yes, well, you did already have the deal with the most exceptions in the EU.    

Sadly, I do not feel particularly reassured in your confidence that we are “within touching distance of agreement”. At least this is one point ardent British Brexiters and I can agree on.  On 22 October Mr Fox stated that there can be no agreement on divorce bill until there is agreement on trade. As the EU process does not allow for Mr Fox’s wishes to be granted, as he well knows, and as anybody who follows the EU from outside the box of some British Media understands, it confirms to me that this government is slowly but surely paving the way for No Deal. Whatever that may me mean for the UK.

What does No Deal mean for EU citizens ? 

It does seem that for some in your Cabinet and indeed your country, the UK should, by rights, get yet more special deals out of the EU now the ‘we are out’ card has been played. I cannot quite decide whether this card is an ace or a joker. Albion has indeed always been a shrewd negotiator, behind closed doors, so who knows how this European episode will pan out with the EU’s insistence and application of transparency ?

The most troubling proof of the state of play is when the Chancellor of the country I have lived in for 30 years openly calls the EU ‘the enemy’. Apologising or retracting is all well and good, thank you Sir, but it does prove the frame of mind for these negotiations, from this side of the Channel.

It was already plain for all to see, here and abroad, ‘enemy’ spelt out merely confirms it. 

I hope you are confident, as I realise some of your Leave voters are, that this is a constructive approach to negotiate a ‘good deal’ for this country. How this approach can lead to a good outcome for EU citizens stuck in a country that seems intent on sailing the High Seas on its own, is beyond my limited European understanding of negotiations.

Despite your letter of ‘reassurance’ nothing concrete is forthcoming on EU citizens’ rights. We are still unclear what ‘lawful’ actually means to your British lawmakers, and more importantly which immigration laws will govern our future.

This country adopted us as equals under the law, pre June 2016. No clarity has been reached in 16 months. So what will change precisely ?

The biggest obstacle is your bugbear:
the Court of Justice of the European Union. 

Now, let me be very clear. 

This is our concern:

without the CJEU (it is no longer called the ECJ, please keep up) we would find ourselves at the total mercy of any future British government, with no recourse, should we be treated unfairly. Fair enough, we are after all in the UK ? Well, this dramatically changes the contract under which we lawfully settled in the UK: as an equal citizen, the contract under which we paid into the British system. Some may say that there is no risk to be concerning our little heads about, that surely no British government would ever treat foreigners any worse than British nationals.

Maybe. Yet when a few companies have already started to advertise (against the current law) for British only citizens, as if the UK was already out of the EU, which it is not yet, is it far fetched to be concerned that they might get away with it at some point it in the future ?

In days when Europhobe bully boys seem to be pulling the reins of this country in a direction that was not splelt out on the ballot papers, who knows who will be in charge of the UK in 10 years time when I need to get a pension I paid into for 40 years, see a doctor as I get old, or need to change job ?

You may reassure me now these rights will be granted, thank you.

But will they remain when you are no longer in charge ? When in 2017 the President of the closest partner of this country is openly racist, mocks disabled people, does not treat women as he does men, is intent on reversing the little universal health care only just gained, who knows what could happen in 2020 or 2030 in the UK, if this country faces no choice but to get closer still to the USA ?

We do not wish to have more rights than our British friends and family. Neither do we want to have less. 

We have settled here under the terms of a contract you now propose to amend. The very fact that we were not allowed to have a say on this change of contract (though you did let us have a say on the specifically British matter of the future of Scotland) tells us already that we were not considered as equals before the EU referendum (though we were rather handy to get to keep a Union the government wanted).

You cannot now blame us for wanting to ensure our future is regulated under recognised international law when our rights are being amended. If a foreigner has a problem with a British institution, or the British government, how can we trust that a British Court of Law would not favour the British side ?

If we don’t like it we can leave ? Indeed.

But what about that contract, that money we have put into the British system (all my working life in my case, after the French government and my parents paid for my education) ? Will we face the same outcome as some of your ministers are proposing today: refusing to honour the costs of breaking a long agreed contract ?

Should we go whistle ? 

Since you now wish the EU to be more creative in their approach, I hope you can apply your creative mind to understand something that will affect your country more so than it will affect foreigners: ministers calling us bargaining capital, or calling the EU the enemy, or government leaving us in limbo for months, or threatening that we will lose the recourse of the CJEU is not,  in any way, conducive to keeping the very EU citizens you tell your people you wish to keep, or attract: the educated ones your country needs in many fields.

If I have a sought after degree, and I have the choice between any of 27 countries where I will be an equal, and one country where the law sees me as a foreigner with less rights than I do have in these other 27 countries, if I am a clever rational thinker with great skills, which should I choose ?

Ah yes, maybe the one that pays more. 

Well, you’ll sure have to compensate for the lack of sunshine. How much will it cost you to get these good migrants you so seek ?  Will you get the brightest and best, or the more desperate ?

I do not want to be an enemy, but if you corner me and threaten me with less rights, as you have effectively done for 16 months, I need to ensure my own country and its Union do protect me. The EU is the very enemy that allowed me to settle here lawfully 30 years ago, marry and have British children; the enemy this country is now fighting.

Let’s look to the future with history in mind: where does war posturing within Europe lead ?

The fear of war and the scars that it leaves for generations is the very reason the EU is so dear to so many Europeans, the very reason EU countries working and trading together was created after the second world war. Maybe the UK only wants trade.
But for many, Peace cannot be taken for granted.

Just look at the world today.

On a lighter note, may I take this opportunity to ask you to please never call me a citizen of nowhere, ever again. I am French and an EU citizen. It is quite possible to be both, in this day and age, as indeed many British Europeans who have bothered to vote for proactive and pro-European MEP’s of all parties (i.e. except UKIP, and dare I say some Conservatives) will agree.

Thank you for planning to make this new Settled Status easier.

Thank you for promising it will be no more than the cost of a British Passport; this will indeed be a vast improvement on the current situation. Let us hope that the Home Office’s proven track record of inefficiency, and recognised hostile environment that deliberately makes it difficult for non-EU foreigners to settle in the UK does, indeed, improve when another 3.3 million people need to be processed in a country that has never registered EU foreigners in a central or regional database, unlike most other EU countries.

Could you please make it clear to your electorate that it is not ‘the EU’s fault’ that your country chose to ignore the EU rules set up to ease Western European countries accessing the Union, or those enabling an EU country to send an EU citizen back home if after 3 months they have not found a job; or that a Lithuanian family keeps getting British taxpayers’ money into their British bank account and still access it when they have gone back home (as per the comment on your Facebook thread below your letter).

These issues are due to the British system, the problems were created because of British interpretation of EU directives.
Yet the EU gets it in the neck. 

As for the Home Office’s allowed 10% margin for error , it does mean at least 330,000 EU citizens could face yet more mistakes (like deportation letters as have been received in the last year), uncertainty and stress. Stress ? Oh well, we are only foreigners after all, so as some say, if we don’t like it we can go back where we come from. True, though it is worth reminding those in your electorate who so despise paying the EU anything, that this will mean much higher costs to the taxpayer in the UK. And this is a fairly straightforward issue that a computer system and a few new staff should eventually sort out.

Other issues however are proving far more of a costly headache aren’t they?  

So much for saving money by sailing the High Seas,
this is just the first tip of the first iceberg. 

Proposing to register 3.5 million people with your government’s track record for computer systems cannot fill me with much hope that it will be either smooth for us or cheap for the taxpayers (that is us too by the way, so we’ll pay twice for this new privilege). That this government can get a better system for foreigners in two years than it has provided for its own British Universal Credit claimants in five is pretty doubtful. I am glad to see Mrs Rudd acknowledges this concern. My skepticism remains.

So let me be very clear. 

As far as EU citizens’ “Settled Status” is concerned, many EU citizens join me in not being reassured in the slightest. As for Brexit itself, well, that’s not just foreign EU citizens that need reassurance is it, it’s many British ones too.
As you well know.
I would not want your job for all the cheese in France, and I do love cheese, even British.

 

Salutations distinguées.

Nathalie Roberts
French EU Citizen
United Kingdom resident

23 October 2017

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Beyond rural infinity

Hurrah! Fibre broadband has landed in my village. Is this the end of slow Skyping yokels? Or is there a catch?

Hurrah! The Fandango Fibre broadband has landed in my rural village.

BeyondRural_Infinity

No more photos uploading at night to avoid Mr Franglais’s moods over our precious bandwidth when he needs to have a conference call over the net. At least I can upload at night, Mr F is sick and tired of looking like a scary slurring yokel or a frozen pile of pixels.

Scary-Yokel

Hell O . Ha Who Ee Z It Go Ing Too Day In Sing A Poor?

Speed and efficiency on my mind, I contact my supplier, Utilities Warehouse, and ask them to switch to fibre. UW being more of a broker than a direct supplier, I assume they can buy the Fandango Fibre from OpenReach since I know that BT can provide the magic speed.

Only, I don’t want to go to BT.

“Let me see”, says the very polite UW man on the phone, checking the fibre offering at my postcode.
“Sorry, Mrs Franglais, we can’t provide you with fibre. BT may have installed it, but if they have, they have not enabled us to use it yet”.

Oh.
If ?
BT have installed it.
I spoke to the nice man digging the road behind my house.
Or is it OpenReach?
You know, that BTish company that is not quite BT because BT got too big; but kind of still is BT.

BT guarantee 74 megabytes.
Seventy four. GUARANTEED.

I am now perfectly puzzled.

The Mr and Mrs Franglais of the English countryside will sign a 12 months contract, with no superfast alternative. I thought this was called a monopoly. Hasn’t there been some kind of Monopolies Commission in the UK since 1949? Who else will protect these rural households and businesses, busy working hard and making work pay, trying to live within their means, when they are hooked to a contract that will just roll on and on, for months and months, with their easy monthly direct debits coming straight out their bank accounts?

I had sworn I’d never get back to BT.
You too?
I know, there are so many of us.

But I have no choice. Believe me, I slowly searched for hours during the day in between Mr F’s conference calls.

Virgin are not fibre friendly in my village. Sky, even more of a big NoNo than big bad BT in the Franglais household are nowhere to be seen round’ere anyway.

Nor any other supplier that I could find.

Begrudgingly I investigated this Infinity 2 Fandango Fibre Optic. Mr F was not only adamant that he needs this super speed for his conference calls, he was rather keen on the free Sports package. And what a great package it is too. Football fanatics and rugby nuts can equally jump for joy in front of their fibre enabled televisions when England scores. No mean feat.

As we want unlimited access so the whole family can finally jump into the 21st century after five long years at the end of the line on top of windy hill, we have to take the £30 Fandango package. The advertised everywhere £10 BT offer is slower and allows you less download. Oh, and we now need a BT landline. That’ll be another £17.99.

Thank goodness we get a free double ball BT Sport with the Fandango package.

Wait there.
What’s this under the word FREE?
£49.
One off fee.

So I asked Kirstie, who offered her BT help via a chat screen, whether Sport would then be free forever after.
“It is free on a 12 months contract” she replied.
What happens after the 12 months?
“The price could remain the same, and it could change also”

Puzzlement pursues.

Is the meaning of free not quite the same for BT than for others? Do they not have British in their name to help them with language? Does the English word free now mean a one off fee in our free market world?

Never mind. Let me get back to my free to a point £52 per month package that does not facilitate HD nor allow me to use more than one TV at a time (they’re extra) BT tell me that they can change their tariffs when they feel like it, once I’ve signed on the virtual dotted line.

You can leave if you don’t like it.

I wonder, once I’ve tasted the Fandango fibre, and if nobody else offers as speedy a service in my village due to some kind of monopoly, will the competitors’ offers ever taste good enough?

Am no business guru, clearly, but I do understand that BT, who are not a charity. have just forked out millions to enable fibre here, there and pretty much everywhere in England -in a coincidental twist of fate that they should win almost all council contracts in England- have to recoup their huge investment.

But hang on a minute, where did that £1.2 billion come from, and that further £250 million?

Taxpayers’ money I hear you say?
Well. Yes. So it is.

I need to go and do some research.

How did one subsidised company get all the contracts, bar exceptions to confirm the rule, then kept the fibre facilities for themselves in some places? And many more questions.

Great thing is, give me a fortnight or so and I’ll be able to do that research in no time. Mr Franglais will watch his sport. That’ll keep him quiet. Or shouting at the TV screen when England scores. I’ll try not to get distracted by all these new channels I don’t really want, although I can’t wait to watch that American channel I’ve heard lots about: Fox.

Mr F and I can have a shouting at the tv competition.

But hey, it’s a free market, in a free world. If I don’t like it, I can go back to Slow And Stop When It’s Windy Broadband with another provider. Maybe EE (formerly T-Mobile and Orange, formerly part of Deutsche Telecom and France Telecom).  Ah yes, I forgot, it is now BT/EE,  as allowed by the Competitions and Market Authority (the latest incarnation of the monopolies commission).

OK, Talk Talk then (who bought Tiscali UK and AOL UK) BT’s main competitor who dared attack the giant for monopoly practice. Not very safe with your personal details and bank accounts though are they, hacked as they were by 15 year old teenagers.

Weird how when the news of BT/EE came out, we were all busy Talk Talking about scary hackers.

Conspiracy theorist me?
No. Stop saying that. I’m not.
Coincidences amaze me, that’s all.

Anyway, next time I post I’ll have Fandango. I’d love to find an alternative, and maybe I will. My village has an amazing community that runs a community shop. Not sure they’ll go as far as an alternative to BT Fandango though.

But you never know.

Youth, applaud and hope

“Youth”
Grasses and weeds series

What is youth when we get older if not a projection of what we used to think, what we believed in, what we thought would happen, what we hoped would change.

And then life came along, reality stepped in.

Reality.

Whose reality, young people’s, or wise old owls?
Or hawks, grizzly bears, dinosaurs?

Listening to the first British MP to be elected to Parliament aged 20 I applaud. I can applaud so I will, though it is not permitted to do so in such circles. The MP’s who bothered to turn up did applaud. Hurrah.

They displayed happiness and agreement, as normal humans do.

Is now the time to shake the way things are, let young people talk, encourage young women to challenge, hope youth is listened to more?

It is their future we are talking about,
It is their future being fought,
Who says we know better because we’re older?

Well done Mhairi Black, you are a breath a fresh air, a ray of hope, a window into real life, a feminine point of view, an energetic wish to cooperate, a respectful nod to the past and adversaries.

Whatever political beliefs, this is what politics need.

Fracking and renewables in rural England

Facts, figures and findings on fracking in the UK; thoughts on renewable energy and who decides the future of our energy sources. People or governments? From a French incomer living in rural South West England. Links to sources.

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Fracking is a big issue. We’re all busy working, raising our kids best we can and don’t really have time to understand the pros and cons do we? 

Are we being over cautious and blind to our necessities?

I’d say if you are going to put chemicals into the earth, it concerns me and you.

How do we know arsenic is not going to end up in our drinking water? Do we trust the government, the agencies and the energy companies to think long term rather than short term or look after us if it goes wrong? Who decides ultimately what our energy looks like tomorrow?  

I tried to find facts, figures and what the pro and anti tell us; without being hysterical.   

How does it work?

Simplified to bare minimum:

1. Drill further down than we have before onshore in this country
(approx 1km and over)

2. Inject water, sand and chemicals in thick metal pipes
(7 to 15 million litres per well)

3. Contaminated water comes back up, is then recycled or left on site

4. Extract the shale gas (for months or years)

5. Block the well by filling the hole with cement.

Chemicals? What chemicals? 

According to chemistryviews.org three to 12 chemicals are added to the water, 0.5 to 2% of the total amount of stuff that’s injected into the ground. At millions of litres of water per well, that’s large amounts of chemicals into the earth. Forget the worries of big holes we have been accumulating around the earth for years, we now have to think of chemicals coming into contact with layers of soil that have not encountered these chemicals before. I wish my chemistry teacher had warned me I’d need to understand chemical reactions at some point in my life.

From high levels of mercury around the Faroese archipelago to the drugs given to an increasing number of very young children for hyperactivity, some will say our governments have not helped us make informed decisions on what we do, what we buy and what we do to our planet.

It’s not a blame game, it’s a fact. And we’re not stupid or disinterested as we are often accused to be. The vast majority of people in the UK are busy working and are sadly despondent with politicians. But for the first time ever, we can raise our concerns and have a chance of being listened to. It has started, there’s been some U turns, it’s up to us to keep the momentum going. So what are the worries with fracking?

Earthquakes? 

When Cuadrille started drilling near Blackpool in 2011, there were seismic events (highest being 2.3 on Richter scale). According to Cuadrille’s website the British Geological Survey said “The tremors were way too small to cause any damage”. Fair enough. On one site.  What about when you multiply that by an unknown number?

In the US, Nationwide Mutual Insurance stated in 2012 it would not cover risk to farms from fracking (source frackfreedorset.org.uk). Some green organizations say, stop concentrating on earthquakes, that’s only a very small part.

OK, so what’s the bigger picture?

Who are the players in the shale gas market? 

Apart from the governments setting up the rules from the experts’ findings, energy companies will be the ones drilling. Closest to home (in Southern England) is IGas with a license for shale gas in the Weald Basin.

According to their website, they want to play their part in diversifying Britain’s energy mix and have been extracting oil and gas for 30 years. They know what they’re doing. They have not had any catastrophe. Fair enough. We’ve been using their energy to heat our homes for years.

They are working within the new UKOOG charter that will ensure communities will receive a share in the benefits that shale gas may bring.

That sounds good, financially, so how does it work?

What is UKOOG?

UKOOG United Kingdom Onshore Operators Group published industry guidelines to include hydraulic fracturing and the public disclosure of fracture fluid composition. So, fracking will be regulated, and they’ll have to tell us what chemicals they’re using.

UKOOG has also published an engagement charter, they promise £100,000 for the community situated near an exploratory fracking site (whatever the outcome) and 1% of the production revenues (before the operator has accounted for their costs). Evidence will be published and as the industry develops, they are pledging to consult further with local communities. These funds will be distributed via the UK Communities Foundation.

Dorset Community Foundation 

My local one, the Dorset Community Foundation, works with private and corporate donors. It has distributed £10m in charitable grants since 2000. The Bridport Rowing Club received £1,567 in October 2013, the Dorset writers’ network £5,250 in April 2013, the Drimpton Hall £1,000 in 2013, the Beaminster Area Seniors £1,500  in July 2012.

If we had fracking on our doorstep, more money would mean more help. What do financially struggling small charities think about that? £100,000 is very tempting in the least and a tiny portion could mean the survival of a struggling small local charity. Some will see it as a form of bribery, others a necessary evil.

Local impact in an AONB

According to UKOOG, in areas of scenic beauty operations will be screened and the site restored to its previous state once operations are finished. The average site of a drilling rig is 125 ft (38 m) and is needed for an average of 12 weeks. The water needed is 100-300 trucks movements per year per ‘pad’ (area around the well) over 20 years.

As a comparison, UKOOG use the 11 million m3 of milk produced in the UK by dairy farmers representing 370,000 truck journeys yearly. As nobody knows how many pads there will be, nobody knows how many trucks will be driving around our roads.

Exploration sites are preferably 24 hour operations with floodlights. Noise is kept to the minimum possible. Whilst I live in an Area of Outstanding Beauty, these localised nuisances must not detract us from looking at the bigger picture. Sadly they often do. There are questions that will have a far wider and deeper impact.

Will it be safe? 

The Royal Society advised the Government specifically for shale gas. A few extracts from their advice in 2012.

‘It is mandatory for operators to submit reports about accidents and incidents to the UK’s regulators. Reports should also be shared between operators. Reliable data on failures of well integrity, as well as failures or shortcomings in procedures carried out during well construction, operation and abandonment, are not readily available.’

(To be fair, the UK have not been doing this for years -as the US have- so cannot be expected to have these records)

‘These data should not be proprietary to any one company. Commercial confidentiality or the prospect of adverse publicity should not become barriers to sharing data and learning from incident experience. The importance of an open sharing and learning culture is clear from investigations into past oil and gas incidents.’

This, in theory, should enable us to be as safe as possible. I use should as governments and companies use could (provide jobs, provide enough energy for the next 50 years).

But are these the most important questions? What about the long term effects for my kids and theirs? We have to look at that greyest of grey area, climate change.

Policymaking and climate change. 

The RA further advises:

‘Policymaking would benefit from research into the climate risks associated with the extraction and subsequent use of shale gas. Policy making would also benefit from research into the public acceptability of shale gas extraction and use in the context of wider UK policies, including:

  • climate change policy, especially the impact of shale gas extraction on the UK meeting its emissions targets
  • energy policy, especially the impact of shale gas development on investment in renewable energy
  • economic policy, including socioeconomic benefits from employment to tax revenue and from shale gas use.’

Carbon footprint: 

‘There are few reliable estimates of the carbon footprint of shale gas extraction and use in the peer reviewed literature. One US study from Cornell University concluded that the carbon footprint of shale gas extraction is significantly larger than from conventional gas extraction owing to potential leakages of methane’ (Howarth et al 2011). ‘The same study recognised the large uncertainty in quantifying these methane leakages, highlighting that further research is needed’. (Source RA)

The UK government indicate that carbon footprint from shale gas extraction is lower than coal extraction and that methane leaks were mainly due to bad well design or maintenance. The UK therefore will be learning from past mistakes and we can trust risks will be minimised. Research is still carrying on specifically on climate change and how to transform the methane into useable energy.

The best guidelines in the world

The guidelines set out that ‘operators must publicly disclose all chemical additives to fracturing fluids on a well-by-well basis, including regulatory authorisations, safety data and maximum concentrations and volumes. These disclosures meet or exceed all known standards in the global shale gas industry’. (UKOOG)

The government has set out to lead the world on best practice for shale gas extraction. They and therefore we have to rely on the companies that will extract.

Cuadrilla

The pioneer company in the UK is Cuadrilla. Based in the north of England, Cuadrilla is a network of limited companies in different countries, a typical multinational. Cuadrila claim they ‘could create 5,600 jobs in the UK, 1,700 of these in Lancashire’. They also claim that natural gas is an ideal transition fuel and as they receive no public funding, no money is being taken away from funding renewable energy. Cuadrilla Resources Ltd is privately owned by its management team and two investors, AJ Lucas and Riverstone LLC.  

When we deal with companies, we obviously deal with people. Cuadrilla’s Chairman is John Browne, ex Group Chief Executive at BP. He is a member of the House of Lords. He is Chairman at Riverstone Holdings LLC (energy private investment firm with $27 billion of equity capital raised, one of Cuadrilla’s investors), Director at Fairfiled Energy Ltd, White Rose Energy Ventures LLP (both oil and gas), Director at Pattern Energy Group (wind and transmission company). He is also chairman of the advisory board at Stanhope Capital, advises Deutsche Bank on climate change and gets book royalties from Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

According to his autobiography ‘Beyond Business’ he invented the oil ‘supermajor’ and led the way on issues such as climate change, human rights and transparency.

We need energy, jobs and taxes

Companies and governments like to talk jobs. Cuadrilla could create 5,600 jobs although it is not clear whether these are for drilling (short term) or extracting (longer term).

To compare to a company that operates in the energy market currently, IGas employ 170 staff over 100 sites in the UK.

Companies also pay taxes into the Exchequer. In 2012 BP paid $1.1bn in corporate income and production taxes according to their global website. According to a thisismoney.co.uk article BP have 67 companies registered in offshore territories (for 85 subsidiaries) too. Energy and commerce are indeed international but we cannot ignore the energy companies’ share of our national budget.

So, what about the Government then: 

The Government wants investment to come to the UK. They promise English local authorities 100% of business rates collected from shale gas schemes rather than the usual 50%. Cameron claims the process could support 74,000 jobs and reduce bills. Could.

Recently at the World Economic Forum David Cameron has made it clear he does not want the EU to add more stringent rules for fracking companies. Does this means our current rules are stringent enough to safeguard us from companies that will put profit before people’s safety? We can only go on past experience and make up our own mind.

Although undoubtedly welcome, some may find Ed Davey’s timing on looking into British Gas interesting. Our Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change is asking the regulator to look into why British Gas are so expensive whilst holding 41% of the national share of customers. Better late than never some will say; others -as it happens one of the big 6 energy companies- say that he is meddling in the affairs of the regulator and he should not (The regulator are due to give a report shortly. Source BBC). If the government cannot take action when they are told by the people who elect them that there is a problem, then are we safe with these regulators?

It seems to me our Energy Minister had no choice, he will not be able to sell us the idea of fracking without tackling the big issues consumers currently have with the current energy companies. And British Gas has been a bone of contention with many for years. Only with fracking, it won’t be a case of swapping supplier.

What are we dealing with?

Nobody denies that we are dealing with highly toxic and carcinogenic chemicals and a method of extraction that has very little data.  As it stands, we have to trust that the Oil and Gas industry will be more responsible than in the past.

If each well only has one or two people on site, we have to trust that each and every individual working for the company will not try and cover an accident, say an arsenic spill for fear of losing his or her job. Accidents happen and should not stop progress. True. There will be monitoring for levels of chemicals in our aquifer (where our drinking water comes from) of course, but is that enough?

There are still consequences that are unknown:

Drilling more and further still 

Drilling more than a thousand metres below the surface is new to the UK, the US have only been doing it for a few years (they claim they’ve been doing it for a long time but does a few decades give us an understanding of the consequences of fracking for the generations to come?).

Increase of radioactive materials to the Earth’s surface

Nobody denies that there will be increased radon and Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material in the air and the water. It will be monitored locally so it should be OK. When will we know the real impact of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster? If we keep adding even minute amounts of bad stuff internationally, on and on, and on, when will the balance tip to danger or even, let’s go hysterical, disaster?

Unprecedented quantities of water needed 

Where will the huge amounts of water needed come from? This is probably the least of our worry in this country, let’s face it, water source should never be an issue, although sometimes it is. Water bans in the UK have always puzzled me but we’ve had them.

Contaminated water needs to be stored 

It is not clear yet how flowback water (with its toxic chemicals) will be recycled, the US have had open pits (with obvious problems), containers above ground (a potential temptation for a wicked mind?) or put it back underground. Can we be safe in the knowledge that the ground layers around these contaminated waters will not react to the new chemicals that have been injected? Listen to whichever specialist you want, they don’t agree anyway. I can’t help but worry.

Who invests in green energy? 

If companies invest in shale gas will they invest in green energy or research into better methods? Lord Browne assures us that one does not take away from the other. That’s as it may be, the big world of commerce is beyond my understanding.

It is worth noting nevertheless, that in June 2013 Centrica Plc (aka British Gas) paid £40 million in cash and became an investment partner in Cuadrilla in Lancashire. Big companies won’t put all their eggs in one basket, I understand that much, but if one basket disappears, then maybe investors will put their money into other baskets; maybe the ones that are investing in cleaner energies. Their return may not be as high, but where have high returns led us in the past?

Companies are there to make money. People who are lucky enough to have money to spend, have enough education to be informed and are free to choose help create the markets companies will want to invest in. As more and more people realise this and share information, we can only hope we all make better informed decisions. We do have a choice.

Climate change,
of course it exists,
what will be the impact from fracking? 

Do we really understand climate change? I don’t. Sorry. The problem with climate change, for most of us, even the ones who have gone to Uni but did not study maths or science, is that it goes beyond our every day understanding. Did you know that physicists started warning us about greenhouse effect in the middle of the 19th century?

All over the world scientists have been warning us ever since with new findings to back up their theories. And to this day, loud voices still spread doubt.

Is it now time to help the big hungry machine of western society say stop?

Breathe.

Think.

Learn from our mistakes.

We are in the middle of devastating floods.

Why?

Will our floods teach us anything? 

Let’s look at where we are now and what we (Joe Public) know. We’ve built on flood plains, we’ve taken the hedges away, we’ve put concrete and tarmac all over the show and we know that when the ground is saturated, water will find its course to the lowest point. Joe Public have been saying this for years. Country folks sure have.

So why did we build in the flood plains in the first place? Did the scientists not warn us? Was it the cheapest way out of a housing crisis? Whatever the reasons, we probably felt we had no choice.

Flood defenses may be the answer to dealing with this crisis now. But who listened to the country folks who said stop taking our hedges away or the top soil will disappear into the rivers? Who listened to the scientists who said monoculture is dangerous for the future of the ground? Did farmers have any choice? How many farmers who tried to go organic early on survive? How many small farmers have survived full stop. These were choices made for housing and eating. Yes I know industrial revolution, feeding the world and all that. We’re now being convinced that we need shale gas to heat our homes and cook for our children. Do we?

What will be our flood defenses for shale gas, if in 75 years we realise we have gone too far? Will we merely be shut up and told ‘this is not A Level chemistry’?

We have a choice, and the British Government is telling us to use common sense. Things are changing.
The internet is changing things.

We know that there were snippers in Kiev.

If history was written by Kings’ scribes in the past, current history is being written and filmed by everybody. We can reach our governments, they cannot keep ignoring us.  If we don’t make the most of this, then what next?     

Who decides? 

At the moment, I’d say the UK government is realising that its people and their petitions cannot be ignored all the time. Not all ministers have clocked social media feedback yet but fact is they’re flocking to twitter (almost flocking and definitely yet to understand how it works but you know, one step at a time), some still think that people who sign petitions are stupid, but then where I live Town Council voted against monthly meetings’ information being sent by email in 2013. Yes. Seriously. Let’s keep printing reams of paper, collate, staple, deliver and pay somebody to do this. And increase our Council Tax. I digress but I had to tell you. You need to know these things. How else will we ever evolve?

Back at national level, it is a good thing British Gas is finally being investigated. It is a good thing we have a government that does listen to us -as well as the lobbies of course-, whether you call it a U turn, vote swaying or listening. And no, I am not a member of the Conservative party. I don’t care who is in government, they’re all individuals who have to make decisions. And like us, they need the information to help them decide. Forget the bad apples, they’re everywhere and distracting us from taking action. Let’s not use them as a good excuse for apathy, we’ve been doing this long enough on too many subjects.

Decisions, decisions

We do not have enough information yet to understand what we are doing to our finite earth. We may never do. Meanwhile, we need to decide what to do with the information we have. Renewables are not perfect but if I have to choose between unsightly and arsenic, I’ll choose an ugly turbine. If I have to choose between unspoiled grassland and solar panels, I’ll choose solar because when a better solution is found, the solar farm can be dismantled and the grassland won’t have disappeared forever. And yes, I realise that we need to extract minerals or metals for renewables’ engineering and that there are consequences there too. This is what we have to play with at the moment, whilst our government tries to convince us that fracking is a good idea.

I cannot help but get increasingly frustrated in my rural heaven by all the No to wind turbines, No to solar farms, No to anaerobic converters, No to fracking, No to emails.

Yes to what then?

Scotland getting the North Sea Oil?

That decision is in somebody else’s hands. A few months away, it may be Goodbye North Sea Oil, Bonjour EDF who in forty years have still not found where to safely store nuclear waste. If we know that one thing is, to the best of our knowledge, more dangerous than the other which one should we go for?

Bonne chance England.

——

Sources: 

http://www.ukoog.org.uk/community/benefits
https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-myths-and-realities-of-shale-gas-exploration

http://www.dangersoffracking.com
http://www.energyfromshale.org
http://www.psg.deloitte.co.uk/NewsLicensingRounds_GB_ON_0806.asp

http://royalsociety.org/uploadedFiles/Royal_Society_Content/policy/projects/shale-gas/2012-06-28-Shale-gas.pd

http://www.hpa.org.uk/webc/HPAwebFile/HPAweb_C/1317140158707

http://www.cuadrillaresources.com/news/cuadrilla-news/article/cuadrilla-welcomes-centrica-as-new-investment-partner-in-lancashire/

http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/lords/lord-browne-of-madingley/2172

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8285247.stm