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mothers

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.

 

A mum’s review of the health service in her town – what’s your story?

I’ve been a bit slack on the blog front recently  – one of the reasons being that I’ve not been well, and having three children, we’ve passed it around. A severe throat infection that is.

Having had a few weeks of nasty illness in Swindon, I’ve had several encounters with the health service, particularly the out-of-hours service, and it pains me to say – it’s not great.

What’s happening to our NHS in Swindon? 

When my first two girls were born, only two years apart, I never worried if they needed to see a doctor out of hours. We had an excellent service.

You would call, make an appointment, head off to a surgery on an industrial estate, never wait more than half an hour and be sorted. In fact it worked so well, that it was easier to see a doctor than during regular hours.

Now I find it’s all a hideous, frustrating mess.

I keep asking myself why? Why do we seem to have more complication than ever? It’s as if we, the patients, are being kept at arms length unless our illness is between 9 and 5. And even then you feel like an irritant rather than a patient in need of help.

First I was very poorly and asked for a GP to visit me. I knew it was’t an ambulance job, but the last time I felt that ill was about 20 years ago.

I have lived in Swindon since 1997 and have never asked a GP to visit – the doctor was so rude, saying he served 200,000 patients in the area and wasn’t coming out for a sore throat. My husband tried to explain that I had pains across my back, felt sick but he refused. Hubby explained I was too ill to sit for hours in a waiting room, doctor refused. When I grew up in the 1970s, you only had to tell your GP you were ill and he came. No quibble, no question. My, how things have changed.

I struggled on for another night and called again the next morning – Saturday – and I did go up to the out-of-hours centre (but a centre which is now only for certain conditions deemed to be serious but not too serious, there’s a list on door). Ironically the lovely nurse who saw me was very worried and I was admitted to A&E, then overnight for tests. I was also given antibiotics, and am now waiting for two follow-up outpatient appointments. The pains in my back worried the medical staff – but clearly not the emergency doctor the night before.

I must stress that once within A&E everyone was supportive. It’s just why should I have to go through all of that to get treated. The original GP must have had access to my records, so would know that I’m not the sort of person to call someone out for a stubbed toe.

A week later, late Sunday night I knew I had to take my daughter to the emergency GP’s. She was showing the same symptoms. This time I was told that a GP would call me back within the hour. I called back an hour later, was told I would get a call, but they were very busy. I did finally get a call but was told to go up an hour later. When I arrived they weren’t very busy, just steady. At worst during my three and a half hour visit, there were eight patients. But no nurses and one doctor. And of course a receptionist.

One patient was a baby, aged about ten months, clearly with a high temperature, sweaty and hot. That family waited four hours, while others came and went in a much shorter time. Why they didn’t just march round to A&E around the corner, I’ll never know. When we saw the GP he was very kind, prescribed medicine, apologised saying two nurses had gone home, short staffed. SO NOT BUSY, JUST SHORT OF PEOPLE.

The following day, my hubby had same symptoms and no voice. Called surgery this time. Thought I’d make an emergency appointment that day – was told that a nurse would call me back. WHAT IS THIS ‘SOMEONE WILL CALL YOU BACK’ RUBBISH? Why can’t you just make an appointment?

I explained that my husband couldn’t talk but was capable of driving to the surgery if he could have an appointment. No, someone would have to take the telephone call. Could I wait half an hour? I had to go to work, I explained. Anyone would have thought I’d said I was going to commit burglary. Going to work? I should be clearly available at their convenience. Eventually a nurse did phone, and within 10 seconds offered an appointment later that morning.

What’s happened to our service in Swindon that we now have this mess? There’s no customer service, little apology, it feels as if we are expected to be grateful for a long-winded process? Where are we when a sick baby is held by its mother in front of a receptionist for four hours without being seen?

What's the score with Swindon's out-of-hours GP services?

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