Yorkshire stands at a crossroads this summer.
Not only over membership of the European Union but over the industrialisation and exploitation of our beautiful countryside.
I attended the Onshore Energy Services Group, conference at Scarborough Spa and was confronted by two different groups of people.
Outside in the cold, singing and waving colourful homemade banners, were about 160, mostly middle-aged people, concerned about the future of Yorkshire’s countryside, its drinking water and its tourism.
Inside were approximately the same number of people, mostly middle-aged men in grey suits, promising wealth and job creation with no risk to anyone!
So what are we to make of this situation?
A bit like Brexit, we have two sides with very different views of the future. The one thing that both sides want is a happy successful outcome for ourselves and our children. Mr Lee Potts, Onshore Energy Services Group’s chief executive, said ‘If we don’t shoot our dinner, we don’t eat!’ This could be true but we may also risk shooting ourselves in the foot by erecting fracking drilling rigs in the middle of our pristine countryside? Yorkshire’s tourism attracts 200 million visitors a year, employs 250,000 workers and brings in £7 billion a year. Can we afford to risk losing that?
You can spend hours online reading horror stories from the USA about fracking causing drinking water pollution, methane gas escapes, earthquakes and human health issues.
The exploration companies in the UK will tell you that we have much higher regulations and standards here so this will not happen. But let us not forgot the ‘heavily regulated’ oil industry where the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico happened in 2010 and the Shell oil spill disaster in Nigeria happened in 2012.
I am also rather concerned about the need for a radioactive waste licence to dispose of the used fracking water that requires a special permit from the Environment Agency.
The waste water will have to be carried away in dozens of trucks to a special disposal site. As for the remaining ‘sludge’ removed during the fracking process, it contains quite a few chemicals and it will all be put into landfill. Does that sound like a good thing to you?
The government has issued dozens of fracking licences for Yorkshire and the Environment Agency has approved the first site in Kirkby Misperton, in the Vale of Pickering. The planning application decision will be taken by the county councillors on May 20 and Yorkshire, by default, could become the fracking guinea pig for the UK.
Squeezing and dissolving underground rocks to extract gas sounds like a last ditch desperate action to me when we know we have to cut fossil fuel use by 80 per cent in the next three decades. The decision should surely now rest with us, the public. Are we sensible enough to choose between wanting more gas, more heat and more consumption at the cost of our natural environment, or, can we reduce our consumption and keep our beautiful countryside safe for future generations?
If we spent the hundreds of millions of pounds fracking will cost on home insulation, we may not need the extra gas at all. We call Yorkshire ‘God’s own county’ and we are proud of it. Are we prepared to risk the beauty and tranquillity of it all to be the guinea pigs for profit?
Cllr Mark Vesey