The mainstream narrative leads us to believe that unconventional gas extraction is solely an environmental debate. Like most media fuelled political narratives, this did not manifest accidentally. Framing the debate solely on the environment is a deliberate attempt to wrongly decouple our environment from our lives and communities. Consequently, the scope of opportunity to raise legitimate concerns over corporate ascendency, power relations and civic ruin is squeezed, silenced and ultimately undermined.
Austerity has been portrayed and interpreted in a similar vein. In both cases, right wing, corporate orientated agendas are pushed forward so fervently that they ensue with minimal backlash, leaving little to no scope for creative alternatives. Thus, instead of questioning the obvious failure of austerity, Westminster parties pettily deliberate over what kind of austerity we should have. In this case, instead of pondering whether or not allow fracking in our society, all of our mainstream parties have accepted it, opting instead to place minimal restrictions on how unconventional gas extraction is carried out.
The conventional wisdom is as stands; fracking provides a possibility for immediate economic growth so is ultimately perceived a worth compromising. It is my firm belief that this naïve narrative not only ignores systemic problems but also represents a growing trend of damaging short-termism politics. There may well be an instant economic benefit, but long-term implications are highly damaging.
The first main problem with unconventional gas extraction is the obvious one, environmental dilapidation. Fracking and shale gas extraction use millions of gallons of water and hundreds of toxic chemicals, huge amounts of which are left to contaminate nearby groundwater. Already, there have been over 1000 documented cases of contaminated water near areas of drilling. These toxic chemicals have been linked to sensory, respiratory and neurological harm. The environmental damage arising as a result of unconventional methods only scratches the surface of a whole host of harms.
The role of power has been almost entirely excluded from the mainstream debate. When given the green light, both people and parliament have limited control over how drilling happens. Fracking and shale gas extraction are financed, coordinated and carried out by multi national corporations. In this case, not just any multinational corporation, but Ineos. The UK government have given the contracts to the very same business that ruthlessly threatened the livelihood of men, women and families of Grangemouth without remorse unless the Scottish Government coughed up £130 million – Why Jim Ratcliff is still allowed to control jobs and local economies in Scotland, I will never understand. Multi-national corporations such as Ineos have one goal that overrides decision-making. Aside from the obvious blatant exploitation of labour, their core focus is continuous economic growth.
Would it then be too rash to presume that communities and their surrounding environments will not be considered, let alone prioritized? I would be willing to bet, although this is purely speculative, that our excessively wealthy communities will be spared from water contamination. The budding grip of untrustworthy corporate giants in our society is a sinister corrosion of democracy, and one that leaves communities powerless.
But perhaps the scariest part of this by far has been the reaction to protest from Governments, in part as a result of corporate lobbying. From North America to parts of Europe, opposition to alternative gas extraction has been regarded as a ‘national security’ concern. Scotland Yard’s National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit for example commonly associate domestic extremism with single-issue protests. Ironically, initial concern over fracking has been both peaceful and notably well informed. There is a very real danger that the influence of the corporate sector and the ever-mounting demand for immediate economic growth will silence opposition.
I’m patriotic, but not in the conventional sense. I couldn’t care less about flags and I have no idea what the words to the national anthem are. I’m patriotic in my love for Scotland’s beautiful, untouched wilderness. I’m patriotic in my love for Scotland’s fierce resilience, from the poll tax to the bedroom tax. I hope we’ll look back on this occasion fondly as another time when the people of Scotland were fervent and brave; where they recognised an unjust issue and they fought for social justice.
Photograph by Stephen Downes.