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Fracking – is it on your radar yet? Coming to the south west in 2014….

This is an article which appeared in the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald on January 2 2014 and includes an interview with mum Becky Martin, a scientist by profession.

As 2014 dawns, it could be a very important year for one campaigning mum from Wiltshire.

Becky Martin is the parent behind a new group Frack Free Families which campaigns against the removal of shale oil or gas from the ground – even if it’s for exploration purposes.

Already Becky can be seen handing out leaflets in town centres across Wiltshire, including Salisbury and Swindon, as well as joining forces with other concerned groups. She recently spent day at a protest at Barton Moss near Irlam, Manchester where drilling took place in November and December.

“I became interested in this subject some time ago as a scientist – I’m a biologist and had a career in cancer research before having my son.

“I looked into hydraulic fracturing and did what research I could and I was horrified. I just had to do something about it.

“This is entirely outside my comfort zone. I’ve never campaigned about anything before or taken such a strong stance on any issue. With this subject it was a case of ‘I have to do something about it’.”

Becky often takes her two-year-old son Aidan with her when she hands out leaflets to make the point that families will be affected by this search for a new energy source.

“Being a mother has been the driving factor behind this for me. What are we leaving behind for our children? We could be risking their health with this process and it’s insanity.

“Even taking that into account, it isn’t even going to deal with our long-term energy needs. Even if shale gas was magnificent, it isn’t going to solve our energy problems,” Becky said.

The extraction of shale gas and oil – and in some cases coal bed methane – is likely to become a familiar theme here during 2014. It’s a process which has been used in America for many years but is still in an exploratory phase in the UK. It is just one measure the government is looking at to ensure energy sustainability in the future. Renewables is another.

Becky said: “We have to look at, and invest more in, renewable energy such as solar, wind and tidal power. Shale gas is just too risky and we could be spending money on the burgeoning renewables sector. It’s crazy to me that we’re not looking more seriously at offshore wind farms or tidal power. We’re an island for goodness sake, and that could create a sustainable energy future. We must move away from fossil fuels.

“Apart from anything else, shale gas will not help us with our main addiction when it comes to energy use – our cars. It will not solve the problem of our addiction to petrol.”

A licensing round for exploratory work around is due to be held in the first six months of this year. These licences could allow boreholes to be drilled and/or well pads to be created in Wiltshire. This means companies involved in this exploratory work – such as IGas, Cuadrilla and Celtique – will be able to bid for the licenses.

For Becky this is must not happen. Like many anti-fracking campaigners, she is concerned about the potential for contamination of water sources caused by the process of drilling. She’s also concerned about the long term health effects for communities living around drilling sites.

“Fracking fluid for the process is an unpleasant mix of chemicals. I’ve been told it contains nothing more than that which is under my kitchen sink. However these cleaning fluids are incredibly toxic and we’ll be pumping that into the ground in large quantities. Some of the chemicals used are very, very dangerous such as oxirane.

“There are also risks around what could be released by the process itself. There are naturally occurring radioactive materials in the earth which we would not want to contaminate our water.”

She wrote to her own MP, John Glen, expressing her concerns. He replied in detail:

“It is worth mentioning that the deposits of shale gas identified by the British Geological Survey in Wiltshire are extremely minimal – and located in the north west tip of the county. The majority are in central and northern England.” 

 “I’m afraid that I’m strongly in favour of fracking. I welcome the potential it has to provide with a vitally needed new energy source, and to catalyse a new industry in the UK.” 

However, Becky disputes that there will be any significant creation of jobs for local communities. She claims that in the Fylde area near Blackpool, where the first UK explorations were carried out, only 11 per cent of the workforce was recruited locally.

John Glen also says there is little credible evidence to show that contamination of water sources could occur if proper regulation and procedures are in place.

“It’s important to note the differences between water systems here and in the USA. In the UK, most aquifers like within the first 300m below the surface. Fracking operations will taken place some 2km down – migration of methane or fracking fluids could therefore only occur through fractures in the rock which would allow the chemicals through.”

Becky claims research from America suggests this method of obtaining energy is having adverse health effects on nearby communities – effects which emerge after a period of time. She believes this is not being taken seriously at home.

“There is evidence from Pennsylvania which suggests that children are having frequent nosebleeds, headaches and other problems when they live very close to the drill sites. I would also urge anyone to seek out the film Gasland which looks at the experiences of families living close to sites where shale gas and oil are extracted.”

Becky also claims there are a number of myths around fracking which are common among the wider population. The most common one, she claims, is that obtaining shale oil or gas will bring down the price of energy.

“Many politicians have now openly said that this will not happen including Ed Davey, David Kennedy and Lord Sterne. This will not make energy cheaper.”

Factoids: 

What is fracking? –  or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock layers deep within the earth. Fracking makes it possible to produce natural gas extraction in shale plays once unreachable with conventional technologies.

Germany has taken a different stance and has concluded, due to lack of data, the precautionary principle should be adhered to and a moratorium around fracking is in place.

For the American documentary about communities living near hydraulic fracturing sites – you can find Gasland the Movie on YouTube.

Frack free families can be contacted by joining the Frack Free Families group on Facebook.

 

What was Margaret Thatcher’s legacy for my family?

When Margaret Thatcher died last week, I was surprised by the strength of feeling that event provoked in me. I might as well state now that I grew up in a working class family in Somerset under MT’s governance.

However I did not know her and I do feel for her family, her children and grandchildren for their loss. There will be no grave dancing or celebrations in my household. I will extend to them the same amount of sympathy and care, they would extend to my family when an elderly relative passes away.

Knowing that MT had shuffled off this mortal coil, however, took me back to my teenage years when my family was struggling with short-time working as my dad was a fabricator welder in manufacturing. But more than that, he’d been a coal miner, as had my grandfathers and my  great grandfathers. I remember nothing good about the politics of that time for my family. I also remember the stranglehold of some of the trade unions, the closed shop attitude and I wasn’t keen on that either. It was a period of division and defiance.

However, I only expressed my views on my personal Facebook page and on a couple of business groups and the reaction was stark. Some treated me as I though I was a silly woman who couldn’t possibly understand the ‘bigger picture’ and some women started barking on about what a role model ‘Thatcher’ was for women. I respect most of their views but I don’t share them, I’m afraid.

Overall though, the divisive nature of the various debates which have hung around for days,  reminded me of the strength of feeling MT could engender. Polar opposites appeared where none had existed before. It’s been very interesting and generated a feeling which existed very strongly in society during her reign.

My biggest disappointment has been hearing people suggest – as often happened in the 1980s – that because they’d been successful under MT (or any government for that matter), those who weren’t as rich or as successful must be lazy or scroungers.

The ‘I’ve got this because I’ve worked hard’ line which always suggests others aren’t working as hard. That kind of line always tells me that a person  has no clue what’s going on in wider society.

Personally I have no problems with success – good luck to those who have it and well done if they’ve worked hard for it. Some do, some don’t.

But many, many people (like my dad) work really hard, live hand to mouth and still need some extra support. Many people work hard but are in jobs which will never lead to more financial success. That doesn’t make the millionaire in the next village better – it just makes them different.

It’s this lack of compassion and empathy which staggers me. Often from people I thought were better educated than that. Better educated than me.

Thatcherism seems to give people permission to kick the homeless, the disabled, the poor when they are already down. It allows people to gloat over the misery of others. 

I had a lovely talk with my Mum about this and I felt humbled by her response. As a wife with two children and a husband working short time in the 1980s, life was a struggle. She often cried because there wasn’t enough money coming in. She said that she feels at peace about MT – for her last week contained a day when a defeated, old lady was set free.

Her reasoning was that on the day MT had to walk out of Downing Street having been thrown out by her own – that was the day justice was done for  our family.

If MT had been defeated by a new government coming in, there would have been room for maneouvre. But when you are thrown out by your own, so publicly and then replaced by someone so grey and colourless  – that’s the ultimate in humiliation. For Mum, when MT died last week, she was honestly able to say Rest In Peace.

It’s just a lovely picture…

A levels – isn’t it wonderful that teenagers will pass or fail in three hours?

The Government has announced A levels are changing. Qualifications will now be based solely upon the ability to pass or fail within a three-hour window of time after two years’ of study.

A mum's view of changes to the A level

The Government wants students to pass A levels through examination only.

When I’m writing for anyone else, I would write about this dispassionately, reporting the matter and canvassing the points of view of others. However, here in my blogging space I can talk as an ex-A level student and as a mother of a teenager.

For me this decision is a dreadful backward step.

 

Let’s not sugar coat this – it’s also a way of lowering the number of people who go into higher education.

It reminds me of a cartoon I saw on Facebook this week, shared by a teacher, showing various animals standing in front of a desk where a teacher was telling them that their pass depended on their ability to climb the tree behind them. The animals included a monkey, an elephant, a bird, a fish….you get the idea. It sweetly encapsulated the problems of examinations when I was doing my O and A levels in the 1980s.

The truth is, we are not all the same and we excel in different areas and that’s how life is. I firmly believe the pressure of an examination is good and I advocate them – but I also believe equal weight should go to course work over the years which shows a level of consistency of achievement, or not, as the case may be.

For me that’s a fairer reflection of someone’s true ability. 

 

In my days  in the sixth form, I loved my studies and I worked very hard. I consistently got As and Bs in my work and that was the expectation for my final examinations. But I knew I wasn’t good at examinations. I found the pressure difficult to manage, I found revision overhwhelming, trying to cover everything all of the time. I didn’t know where to start and went for a scattergun approach. It didn’t work.

My fears were realised when I just about scraped through my A levels. I didn’t fail but I didn’t do well enough to go to a university in the country at that time.

Ironically there was an examination at that time called an S level – higher than an A level. It was in English literature and involved three questions, and you could take texts in with you. I was the only one in my school who took it, a week after all the other examinations had finished. Everyone was demob happy and I still had another exam to do.

Armed with my Complete Works of Shakespeare and Complete Works of Chaucer, I didn’t worry about that one, because I could take the texts in and I knew I could find quotations really quickly. Got a distinction in that exam – with a D in the A level itself.

I did a degree at a college of higher education where coursework counted towards your final result and I did learn how to revise more effectively. But from then on, any test or examination I have done, has involved assessment on the job alongside high pressure tests. For me, that’s more real.

I have a daughter who is like me. I can now see myself reflected in the way she studies and I’m trying to help her be more effective than me. It pains me to think that she may, just may, be disadvantaged in 2018 if she goes on to do A levels. Will she, like me, fail to deliver because her opportunity will come and go within three hours?

What kind of message does this give our children?

 

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