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2 Nov 2011

When Transition meets fracking, and wins. The story of Transitions Cowbridge and Llantwit.

Here is a guest post from Michaela, Rob & Dinky of Transition Cowbridge, telling the story of their Transition initiative’s role in fighting a proposed gas fracking site. 

Thursday 20 October 2011 was a landmark day in the Vale of Glamorgan and one that will have a knock-on effect around the country and hopefully beyond. It was a day where community power helped to bring about a unanimous decision by the local county council to deny Coastal Oil & Gas the right to test for shale gas at an industrial estate on the outskirts of the village of Llandow.

Louise Evans on the local BBC News.

A few months prior to this, in February 2011, all that stood between the multi-billion dollar highly environmentally damaging fracking industry and a test drill being carried out in the Vale was one individual. Louise Evans runs a nearby caravan park and when she found out what was being planned she started researching the fracking process and raising awareness. Louise set up a web site and the ‘Vale Says No’ campaign was born.

The local Transition towns, Transition Cowbridge and Transition Llantwit, have been active for the past three years. From the work already done we knew that there was a part of the community that did not need any convincing that something that had the potential to cause significant environmental damage, as well as keeping the focus on an unsustainable finite energy source, should be halted. However, as the wider community have not yet seen the light and moved to a more positive and resilient way of life, both Transition groups donned their awareness raising hats to focus their energies on supporting the Vale Says No campaign.

The Vale Says No set up several public meetings to bring the issue of fracking and its consequences to the public’s attention. Both Transition groups used their existing networks to rally as many supporters as possible. This not only helped to generate a significant number of letters of objection, it was during one of these meetings that Coastal Oil & Gas was made aware that they had failed to consider a house only 200m away from the possible drilling site in their application. This resulted in them withdrawing their application and bought the campaign some much needed time to carry out research into the company and gather further evidence.

As soon as Coastal Oil & Gas re-applied for planning, everyone was quick off the mark and Transition Cowbridge hosted a public meeting to a full house in the Town Hall. Word was spread via the website, the local press and by hand delivering invitations to local councillors, Welsh Assembly members and community organisations. A large number of the people attending had not heard of fracking and alarm bells started ringing. This not only resulted in creating greater general awareness but it also helped to bring some key community members together who would go on to directly support the campaign. In addition to this Transition Llantwit hosted a viewing of the feature length documentary Gasland which highlighted to all the significant impacts that could result if fracking was allowed to take place.

Pressure was maintained by Transition and the campaign called for a ‘peaceful protest’ to take place outside Cowbridge Town Hall on the day that the Council were holding a roadshow inside (see right). Students from a local College piled in with banners and some well rehearsed chanting.  The protest headed up the High Street on a day when the town was full of Saturday shoppers.  A Dogs Trust charity shop was in the middle of a celebrity opening. John Barrowan is a patron and three hundred people had turned up.  They all got the benefit of the marching protesters. More awareness raised!

The week of the planning decision arrived and due to the significant awareness raised the council felt it important to hold a scrutiny meeting. This gave both sides a chance to offer their reasonings for and against and resulted in some crucial questions being raised that defiantly helped to added weight to the councils final decision.

The day of the planning decision arrived and following a site visit by the councillors and a screening of Gaslands, the Planning Committee sat.  They had been met on their way into the building by another lively but peaceful protest. BBC and ITV were filming and interviews were given to BBC radio, national and local.

Decision time

Despite the electric atmosphere in the room there was a definite sense that the there was nothing else that could be done. With great relief one by one the councillors made their cases for overturning the application and in most cases a focused and passionate speech was given as to why neither test drilling or fracking should be allowed to go ahead. The decision was rubberstamped by the councils concerns over a letter sent by Welsh Water which had been voiced at the earlier Scrutiny meeting. If groundwater became polluted by drilling fluid they could not guarantee that the situation could be ‘remediated’. “Once polluted, we would be stuck with it”.

The positive impact of the Transition movement

By supporting the Vale Says No campaign, Transition not only helped to quickly spread the issue to a much wider audience but also broaden the argument to one that incorporated the bigger picture of long term community happiness and resilience. And it was this level-headed approach that gave the campaign a real sense of credibility and one that helped convince the local planning committee to vote unanimously against the application.

So from a starting point of just one person it had very quickly become a community supported campaign that has succeeded in putting a very big spoke in the works for an industry blindly focused on finite energy extraction at any cost.

So where do we go from here?

Fracking is definitely not an issue just reserved for the Vale and as has been shown in Blackpool this processes can happen all too fast and undetected if communities are not alert. And this is where Transition Towns all around the globe can play there part in not just being vigilant to fracking but continuing to do the great work they do at providing communities with a positive vision of life without the need for such unconscious acts.

Having invested a lot of energy and time in the campaign you would think that our Transition projects would have suffered. However, not only have we been able to keep our other projects running well, we also have to say that our involvement has actually raised awareness of transition in the region as well as improved our track record.

So now, we are looking forward to making use of the newly gained publicity and keep it coming while being able to re-channel all of our energies back into our projects. Just today we’ve received some funding for our community growing project, which will enable us to purchase more plants, signage etc. Sometimes, Transition does feel like a full time job!

 

Links to invaluable info about fracking:

1)      http://bridgendgreens.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/how-was-the-llandow-test-drilling-application-overturned/

2)      http://nofrackinguk.com/ , http://thevalesaysno.com/, http://www.transitioncowbridge.org/108-2/, http://transitionllantwit.wordpress.com/anti-fracking-campaign/

3)      http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/14271

4)      http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/sites/default/files/coop_shale_gas_report_final_200111.pdf

5)      http://www.theecologist.org/tv_and_radio/ecologist_film_unit/1074609/fracking_hell_the_environmental_costs_of_the_new_us_gas_drilling_boom.html

6)      http://www.co-operative.coop/Toxicfuels/shale-gas

7)      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-east-wales-15399052

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.

33 Comments

Fiona
2 Nov 9:25am

Fantastic effort – well done!

Alf Johnson
2 Nov 9:32am

I know enough about fracking to know that all citizens of South Africa DO NOT need fracking in the Karroo or any where else in the RSA. Period.
You have my complete support against fracking in South Africa. I am a farmer in the Eastern Cape.
Alf Johnson.

Jan
2 Nov 10:00am

great, congratulations….brilliant teamwork, thanks from all of us who care about fracking

Rebecca
2 Nov 10:03am

Oh thank you so much for great work and letting us see a stunning example of how transition has a marked role in achieving social justice. In London i have spent a solid week at Occupy London at St Pauls and its been fantastic to be able to share with visitors in particular bankers the living transition models of reclaiming local power and energy. Myself and individuals have played a part in talking to people, putting on films, workshops etc but i’d love to see a Transition Network banner and stall in situ.
Waved to you Mike from the middle of the General Assembly!
Re Fracking- If you are around London today 3-6pm all the main sponsors have a conference ‘Shale gas environmental summit’at Copthorne Tara Hotel, Scarsdale Place, Kensington, W8 5SR. We’ll be there supporting http://www.frack-off.org.uk outside.

Later 7pm we at ‘Green on the Screen’ are screening ‘Gaslands’ followed by our usual world cafe at Moors Bar, Park Rd,Crouch End N8 .
(donation of £3)…Great food and friendly faces!

Thank you again
Rebecca x

John Robottom
2 Nov 10:48am

My group is reluctant to get involved as a Transition group since we have always understood that Transition is not a campaigning movement. Furthermore, we do not want to be labelled/dismissed as just another environmental group since transition is much more.
Some of us are however actively engaged individually as concerned residents near to a fracking site. Helpful comments welcome.

AleR
2 Nov 11:08am

I thought this is what Transition wasn’t about? http://transitionculture.org/2011/05/30/transition-and-activism-a-response/

Jayme Thomas
2 Nov 5:21pm

I have seen the results of fracking in Arkansas, USA. It is a disaster for ground water and farming. Congratulations. This should be outlawed.

Graham
2 Nov 5:26pm

Two questions arise for me:
1)Is this just a NIMBY issue? ie unless all the protesters have given up all imported fossil fuels themselves, are they not relying on continuing to export whatever environmental cost is incurred to Saudi Arabia and wherever else these fuels are found?
2) Do the protesters really want to either pay ever increasing prices for their energy, or suffer the worse effects of peak oil/collapse/ as described by PO doomers like Heinberg et al.?

Also, I would encourage people to be at least a little skeptical about Gasland. Here is director Fox admitting that methane leaks is a natural phenomenon that has been known at least since the 1930s:
http://tiny.cc/qrvzf
It is worth contemplating the fact that in the US fully 20% or more of natural gas is produced in this way, and prices have fallen as a result, and imports decreased- the US is set to become an exporter of NG. The gas is extracted generally many hundreds of feet below the water table, and it is not in the interests of the companies to allow leaks.

There are of course costs and risks to everything- but these have to be balanced against the benefits.

PS I live off-grid in west Cork and have been involved in Nimby protests myself- against a pumped hydro scheme. If the pumped hydro was to provide as much energy as a shale gas well would, I might have a different view on the matter!

Andrew Stevenson
2 Nov 5:53pm

On a lighter, but just as serious note, watch “My Water’s On Fire Tonight” ,The fracking song on You Tube. If you haven’t already seen it.

Rob
2 Nov 6:25pm

Dear John,
It is an interesting question. Transition Culture is very much about exploring the live ‘edges’ in Transition, the places where the discussions are at their most alive, where new areas are being evolved or debated. The whole question as to the degree to which Transition does, or doesn’t, engage in activism has been the subject of much debate. I have tried to reflect those debates here and this is part of that.

What fascinated me about this story was the question of how a Transition group should react to a direct threat to its local environment, one that would make it less resilient, whether that be a fracking application, a new supermarket or whatever. I didn’t post this piece here as an answer, rather as part of an ongoing, and fascinating debate.

Graham
2 Nov 6:58pm

@Jayme Thomas:
“I have seen the results of fracking in Arkansas, USA. It is a disaster for ground water and farming.”

where can I read or find out more about this? In what sense has it been a “disaster?” Clearly there are benefits as well as costs to this technology- I know people may think we can easily replace fossil fuels with renewables, but this seems highly unrealistic to me on a less than 50-year timescale or more; so would it not also be a “disaster” if we run out of energy, or plunge millions into fuel poverty- especially the elderly and vulnerable. So Im interested in knowing how to balance out one disaster against another.

Jay Walsh
2 Nov 11:40pm

Thanks so much for this inspirational story of success against the threat of Fracking. Here (across the pond) a great battle is being waged which can use all the support it can get.

In the (US) States of Pensilvinia and New York you will find the Marsellus Shale Field, reportedly the largest field of natural gas (fracked of course) in the world. A great battle is taking place to protect this environment and any positive stories of a win against the oil/gas industry or moral support would be appreciated. See http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=190164017725425

adrienne campbell
3 Nov 11:04am

Thanks so much for posting this article, Rob. I know many of us are drawn to Transition precicely because it’s not about campaiging, which can be tiring, and polarising, but I agree with you that there are times when action of this kind is necessary to enable our communities to stay resilient.

Extraction of shale gas through fracking is a massive concern for this country now that rising energy prices make such unconventional sources affordable to extract. The energy companies and their investors are gearing up in anticipation, but it hasn’t yet got a foothold so it can still be stopped. The French government has managed to ban fracking outright before it even got going, mainly, it seems, because farmers and other local people seemed disgusted by the idea of foreign companies trashing their land in this way.

Cuadrilla, which (allegedly) caused the earthquakes in Blackpool earlier this year in the first test drilling for shale gas, already has planning permission to test drill in Balcombe, just 20 miles north of Lewes. The South Downs is apparently full of shale gas…

Ian Woolley
4 Nov 11:40am

Just out of interest, has anyone noticed Graham’s posts? I’d also be interested to hear some answers to his questions.

John Powers
5 Nov 7:07am

Thanks for this post and the engaging conversation. I live in western Pennsylvania where there is a gas-rush to deplete the Marcellus Shale gas.

I’m not alone in my community feeling “over a barrel” on this issue. So I’m delighted to see a community become engaged in what is a complicated subject.

Water is a key concern. Just one example, in today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper was a news story about a report presented at a university research symposium. The topic was Bromide levels in the Monogahela River. 350,000 people in the Pittsburgh area depend on the river for their drinking water. Bromide itself isn’t so dangerous, but it reacts with the disinfectants used to ensure safe drinking water making trihalomethanes known as THMs. THMs are carcinogenic, linked to several types of cancers and birth defects. Long-term exposure to them is dangerous.

Shockingly, Federal law has excluded gas fracking from clean water rules, so the Federal EPA has little power to regulate the discharge of waste water from fracking which is a predominate source of the high Bromide levels in the river water. The State government seems to see only the economic upside with little regard for negative externalities–350,000 depend on the river as a source of drinking water!

This is just one of the issues that sets my hair on fire.

It’s good to learn from the mistakes we’re making. FracTracker is a useful Web site to learn more about our experience here in Pennsylvania, USA.

Graham
5 Nov 11:44am

@John Powers “The State government seems to see only the economic upside with little regard for negative externalities”-

and activists seem to see only negative impacts with no regard for economic and other benefits. The issues you raise are important of course, but are essentially regulatory or engineering issues- while as far as I can see the position of most activists is to call for a blanket ban: they dont want any access to the gas ever!
@Rob-”…how a Transition group should react to a direct threat to its local environment, one that would make it less resilient…”

How can getting NG locally make a community “less resilient” than bringing it in from Russia?

Let’s not forget also that NG is require to make fertiliser and one of the carrion calls of the doomers is, peak gas will mean the collapse of industrial agriculture, and therefore of global populations. Frakking could help resolve this issue as well- is that the real reason people are against it?

Justin Kenrick
5 Nov 12:02pm

Graham – We are trying to move away from industrial agriculture to sustainable agriculture. Seeing the voice as being between a bad thing here (fracking) and a bad thing somewhere else is to think within the box we have been trained to think within. Read up on Transition Abd you’ll see that what we’re engaged in is something much more positive and radical than trying to mend the leaky old box of ideas and practices that are destroying our environment.

Right I’m off to the hills for the weekend with my boys – I recommend getting out there from in here!

Justin

Graham
5 Nov 12:22pm

@Justin- I dont think you have addressed my points:
“We are trying to move away from industrial agriculture to sustainable agriculture.”

but you need to define what this means: can you use tractors? will you have to plow more if you dont have herbicides? No synthetic fertilisers will mean much more land required for leys or manure. Less fossil fuels in agriculture will mean much more labour required- (and therefore less wilderness- ALL farming is “bad for the environment”) which might limit our weekend trips to the hills! BTW I assume you are NOT driving there, and will NOT be buying any industrial products of any kind that might mean your community is less resilient :)

Thing is, it is far, far easier to protest than to actually change lifestyles, which for me is why seeing this apparent new development in Transition is so troubling. It just seems to me folks are not joining the dots.
Have a good trip!

John Powers
5 Nov 5:36pm

@Graham “The issues you raise are important of course, but are essentially regulatory or engineering issues- while as far as I can see the position of most activists is to call for a blanket ban: they dont want any access to the gas ever!”

I appreciate your contribution to the more general ideological debate in re Transition Towns to which your comment directed towards me in this thread is emblematic. Perhaps I’ve got it wrong, so correct me if I have, but I’ll summarize your thrust as: Beware black and white thinking!

It certainly is the case that many activists take a stance of no fracking ever. But that hardly reflects the positions of environmental think tanks and environmental groups in our region.

The example I raised of high Bromide levels in the drinking water source is one with significant consequence to public health. Regulatory and engineering issues are indeed relevant but it seems reasonable to place health at the center.

Other methods of disinfection of the water which would not cause high levels of THMs in the drinking water are possible. It is also possible to reduce the Bromide levels in the water source to begin with. Both regulatory and engineering approaches to address the provision of safe drinking water entail significant costs. That leads to the question of where the money will come from?

Finding an answer to that question presents many political challenges.

You are right if you are suggesting that intransigent and polarized arguments won’t get us very far along towards solutions. Instead what’s necessary is listening and engaging in good faith.

In re your contrary comments here and on your blogs I propose to you that “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

Graham
6 Nov 1:22pm

@John Powers- “Both regulatory and engineering approaches to address the provision of safe drinking water entail significant costs. That leads to the question of where the money will come from?”

-yes that issue applies to ALL industries and activity- eg the Nitrate Directive regulate, we dont ban farming as such.
so there are two views outlined here:

1)frakking could be an important source of local energy, but should be regulated and the industry held accountable etc..

2)Frakking is a source of “extreme energy” dredging the “bottom of the barrel” “at any cost”; industrial civilisation is bad and doomed anyway and anything that might help it limp along for a few more decades (!) should be banned… “at any cost” (viz. higher fuel prices, fuel poverty, more cold-weather deaths.)

Re. no. 2- see this from the UK “Frack Off” website: http://tiny.cc/37209

“The actual problem we face is that civilisation has too much energy, not too little. This addiction to fossil fuels has driven a binge of extreme exploitation of our environment and our social structures, that is threatening our very existence. Fancy technological schemes to try to continue our present orgy of consumption and waste indefinitely are inevitably doomed to failure. Only a transition to a much less energy intensive way of living can save us from complete disaster.”

“too much” energy seems a far cry from “meeting the threat of Peak Oil” but it would seem to me that the Transitioners of Cowbridge and Llantwit would be more aligned with them that with view no. 1.

Banning nuclear in Germany is almost certainly going to lead to burning more coal; it is surely coal-mining that shale gas needs to be compared with, not renewables, which cannot (yet) deliver sufficient energy.

John Powers
6 Nov 8:32pm

@Graham

Rob Hopkins made this point in this thread:

“the question of how a Transition group should react to a direct threat to its local environment, one that would make it less resilient, whether that be a fracking application, a new supermarket or whatever.”

The politics of transition are not easy or particularly neat.

Your polemical style is to draw attention to conflict by drawing high contrast between positions. It’s the very sort of black and white thinking you criticize your ideological opponents for.

The two views you outline are towards the opposite ends of a continuum. There are many views between them and even the views you presented don’t represent the further opposite end of the poles.

The Web site Political Compass uses two axes: right/left and authoritarian/libertarian. The two axes seem useful for representing people’s general views.

On an issue like fracking using two axes one axis might represent pro/con and the other might be local/global.

You brought up the Nitrate Directive and comment: “we dont ban farming as such.”

Pennsylvania the state where I live in the USA borders on Lake Erie. During the 1970 and 1980′s there was much effort to regulate point of source pollution. The lake got cleaner and more alive. Recent changes in agricultural practices have caused dangerous eutrophication in the lake. The regulatory approaches which dealt with point of source are not adequate to address the current situation.

You’re right to point to the absurdity of banning farming. People do need to eat and communities depend on the economics of farming. But other communities depend on a living Lake Erie. The politics of responding to the current environmental crisis of Lake Erie isn’t simple.

One of the strengths of the transition movement is that the concept of complex inter-dependencies is baked into its DNA.

You may well be correct that the Transitioners of Cowbridge and Llantwit may be more aligned with view no.1 you presented. But it hardly is the case that gas from fracking is “local energy.” It’s far more likely that the gas will be used for feedstock for ethylene production or for making fertilizers.In any case the gas will go to a refinery somewhere else.

I get it: you’re anti the anti-fracking folks. From your writing it seems clear you understand that some problems are wicked problems; that is, problems made wicked by complex inter-dependencies. So I’m at a loss to understand your motivations for your polarizing polemics.

Rob Hopkins
6 Nov 9:34pm

Ian, in response to your question as to why I don’t engage with Graham here, by now that should be pretty obvious. As John points out, Graham is creating a ridiculous polarity here, as he loves to do when discussing Transition.

Recently on ‘Have I Got News for You’, Louise Mensch tried to argue (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3252FSW7OC4) that the Occupy protest had no value at all in questioning capitalism because they had mobile phones, and she claimed to have seen them queuing outside Starbucks for coffee.

Similarly, Graham is trying to argue that if you live in a society addicted to fossil fuels, and where daily life is at present impossible without them, it is entirely hypocritical to use them at all, while simultaneously asserting that a post-fossil fuel is desirable and/or possible. He may choose to hold that view, I think it is a ridiculous position myself.

Clearly a fracking drill site on the edge of the community would lessen its resilience in various ways, potentially through damaging its aquifers, through the kind of air pollution seen in Gasland, and potentially through earthquakes, as has been pretty much established now was the case in Blackpool recently. It would become another thing ‘done to’ a community rather than something they would have control over, it would be more fossil fuels being burnt which would contribute to climate change which would, in various ways, impact that community.

I posted this piece because I thought it was fascinating, and it raised the question “what would YOU do?” in such a situation. It is not put forward as the official Transition perspective, the role of this site is the explore the more ‘live’ issues, the ‘edge’ of Transition if you like.

Graham arrives at this thread from the position that Transition is anti-technology, anti-science, anti-rational, with ‘cultish aspects’, etc, etc. This antagonistic, and frankly laughable position, is one that grows increasingly troll-like and tiresome.

Graham
7 Nov 8:56am

@Rob: “Graham is trying to argue that if you live in a society addicted to fossil fuels, and where daily life is at present impossible without them, it is entirely hypocritical to use them at all, while simultaneously asserting that a post-fossil fuel is desirable and/or possible.”

Straw man- you misrepresent my position. What is needed is a more nuanced cost-benefit analysis: for you it seems it is a completely clear black-and-white issue, viz “Clearly a fracking drill site on the edge of the community would lessen its resilience in various ways…”
and you suggest that any dissent from this “nobrainer” position is “trolling”- not very helpful!

As John agrees, these are complex issues, but you see it only the cost, reducing resilience, with no benefits; I would imagine any intelligent person should be able to see that opposing shale gas is unlikely to reduce fossil fuel dependency in any way; clearly there is a debate to be had here!!

the safety issues should be addressed, but evidently you and others here are opposed to fracking on principle, because it “perpetuates our dependency”… The whole position appears based on the airy assumption that we are moving into renewables. We are not, or not on the scale anywhere near what would be required.

So please, be respectful, admit there are issues to discuss here, and explain why:

a)Russian gas is more resilient than UK gas;
b)why rising fuel prices and shortages will make the elderly and the poor more resilient;
c)how many protesters and Transitioners are still of the opinion, which you also held until recently, that collapse would be preferable;
d)is not shale gas a “game changer” in being ONE example of how technology is pushing out “peak energy” possibly for decades?
Thanks!

cliff
7 Nov 12:14pm

@Graham
I don’t see the relevance of your questions:
a) The issue is not nationality of gas supplies. It is fracking – an untested and potentially hazardous procedure (note that the victory at Cowbridge was sealed by Welsh Water saying that if it polluted the local water supplies, there might be nothing that could be done to put it right again.)
b) Fuel prices will rise – otherwise fracking would not be under consideration by energy companies. Reducing dependence on fuel (remember insulation?) and reducing poverty is what improves resilience.
c) Some may feel that the present system is ghastly, and that collapse would be preferable. I disagree strongly with that, and happy to engage directly in that debate.
d) Shale gas is more expensive, in cash and in energy, to extract than gas ‘fields’ already being exploited. Like other experimental technologies, it might extend the tail of the energy descent, but nobody holds their breath while it brings down the price of fossil fuels.

I think there is a fascinating question about how much ‘Transitioners’ are attached to a pessimistic diagnosis of the overall human process, to the point where counter- evidence is not always welcome, but I think it is minor compared to the questions we need to address about the attachment of many sufferers to the status quo.

Rob
7 Nov 12:21pm

Graham: “evidently you and others here are opposed to fracking on principle, because it “perpetuates our dependency”… The whole position appears based on the airy assumption that we are moving into renewables. We are not, or not on the scale anywhere near what would be required”.

What I am opposed to is developments that increase our dependency on fossil fuels rather than reduce them. As a recent report published in Nature Climate Change one of many to reach the same conclusion) states, we need world emissions to peak by 2020 and then decline if we are to have any chance of avoiding runaway climate change. Clearly at the moment the world is not moving in that direction, but that is no reason to abandon the principle that it should do. I believe that it is possible to move away from fossil fuels, in the time available, if there is the political will to do so. Evidently, that political will is not forthcoming at the government level (I make no such ‘airy assumption’), so what Transition is trying to do is to galvanise that at the community level. To your 4 questions:

1. Russian gas has, as I understand it, a higher energy return on investment and a lower carbon footprint than gas fracking. It doesn’t have the same risks of aquifer pollution, it is, in as much as the word can be used in relation to fossil fuels, a ‘cleaner’ form of gas. Although there are clearly issues around the politics and so on, bringing fracking into the picture creates a new industry, with potentially far graver environmental consequences. It is like adding a crack addiction to an existing cocaine addiction. Yes, the crack can be made closer to home, but it has a greater impact, is more addictive, and it moves us further away from recovery rather than closer to it.

This is the time when the money, the research, the infrastructure, the political commitment, ought to be going into renewables and a huge push on energy conservation, community energy generation, reskilling and so on, but instead the money is being pulled from solar and other renewables and investors are flocking to gas fracking. That’s why Russian gas is more resilient, although clearly neither of them qualify for the word in any way really… I am also not aware of Russian gas causing earthquakes in urban areas.
2. This is a rather Daily Mail question if I may say so. There is little evidence that fracking will bring the price of gas down. A nationwide programme of retrofitting existing buildings would actually make the elderly and the poor more resilient, as would designing this process so that it supports local businesses and suppliers, rather than just B&Q and Tesco as looks likely to be the case at present. We need to creatively seek other solutions to this than just assuming the answer is to squeeze more and more fossil fuels from the Earth’s crust with no thought to the carbon implications of so doing. We would be keeping our pensioners warm at the expense of the right of their grandchildren to not live in a far warmer world. There are other ways of doing this..
3. I never said collapse was preferable, I said it was inevitable. Inserting the word preferable is somewhat manipulative. I have no idea how many Transitioners think collapse is inevitable, you’d have to ask them. I think, from an economics perspective, it would be hard to call what we are seeing across Europe as anything other than a collapse of sorts, it all depends how you define collapse though I suppose. Personally though, I have definitely moved from assuming an impending peak oil-induced meltdown, to seeing a sustained economic crisis and resultant contraction, which also has to manage energy price volatility, while also trying to decarbonise itself with steadily less and less resources to be able to do so. The argument that these three issues lead the field isn’t just my thinking, it was what the World Economic Forum recently identified as the key areas of risk (http://transitionculture.org/2011/07/07/resilient-to-what-a-fascinating-new-look-at-risk/).
4. Shale gas may be a game-changer in some ways, it may also turn out to be a speculators’ bubble. If it turns out to be trouble-free, it still increases our dependence on fossil fuels. From a peak oil perspective though, gas and oil are rarely interchangeable. We are hardly going to switch the UK’s vehicle fleet over to running on gas, whatever gas fracking will produce will go to heating and to industry. It does nothing to reduce the UK’s highly vulnerable reliance on cheap oil, which has always been seen as the first of the fossil fuels that will suffer a peak. It may push ‘peak energy’ back a bit, but from a climate perspective that is really missing the point!

Graham
7 Nov 10:12pm

@Rob
Thanks for your thoughtful response.
Fascinating to hear you make the case that Russian gas is “more resilient”- not easy, so fair play- personally Im not convinced. And I just dont buy the “oil addiction” metaphor- see my response to Rob’s comment here: http://skepteco.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/transition-towns-interview/

Refusing this resource on those grounds would be like an unemployed man refusing a short-term job because it might make him “dependent” on being employed- it really makes no sense.

I dont see “dependency” on fossil fuels as problematic in the way that you do. What shale gas shows is that innovation will release more resources.

Already we are seeing new technology- using propane instead of water- that are making the process safer and more efficient- this will only continue to improve:
http://t.co/ziUVZ56c

You mention the earthquakes again, but that is doom-mongering: anything less that 3 on the Richter scale cannot be detected by people, and 3 is no more than alike a truck passing.

I dont think there is any chance of meeting CO2 reduction targets- so yes there is a strong argument for not going down that road IF it costs too much- which I think it will.

Climate change is a question of costs-benefit analysis. The climate alarmists only count the costs of (putative) climate change- any analysis of the coasts of energy poverty are entirely missing from most discourse. But what we are being told we have to do is clearly impossible. The risks of climate change have been hugely over-hyped:
http://tiny.cc/y4y33

Personally, I dont trust the motives of those who hype climate change but oppose nuclear.

As I have argued with Rob before, renewables are just not mature- they cannot do what is being asked for them, for well understood reasons of physics: the energy they capture is too diffuse and unreliable.

One consequence is that they need base-load back-up- one school of thought is that the best option for this is indeed natural gas, as gas turbines can be turned up and down with the wind much more efficiently than can coal. So if you are a fan of wind, opposing gas may be shooting yourself in the foot.

So this is the fault line between us: you see renewables as a function just of political will; I see them as subject to the laws of physics. The former could be overcome; the latter, not.

I am uncomfortable with this switching from peak oil to climate change as reasons- they are not compatible. We can’t say , oh if it turns out that there is plenty of gas, then just play the climate change card. I smell an agenda.

I still detect a strong “we just dont like industrial society” ideology here: this is based on the belief that we are running out of everything- yes cheap oil is gone but shale gas could supply, not 10 years, but hundreds of years of gas;( In January 2011 the International Energy Agency raised its estimate of how long world gas reserves will actually last to quarter of a millennium -see The Shale Gas Shock by Matt Ridley) by which time (long before) we will have developed yet more technology to release yet more sources of energy. For many misanthropes in the environmental movement, this is the worst possible scenario! See the quote from Frack Off in my earlier post- “the problem is we have too much energy…” -something I used to argue myself in my doomer days. Humans are bad and should not be trusted with these dangerous toys.

Clearly, it will do little if it only lasts 10 years, but no such luck for the doomers: so although gas will not substitute for oil quickly, if it really is the future, then on decadal time-scales there will slowly be a movement into gas for transport. See Smil, “Energy Myths” and “Energy Transitions”.

You continue to set up false dichotomies- it is not a question of gas OR insulation of course; we will need both. The manufacturing and installation of insulation will also take decades for the UK to achieve, and require a lot of energy.

“I never said collapse was preferable, I said it was inevitable. Inserting the word preferable is somewhat manipulative.”

The original quote was: “‘As one man said during a group discussion at the end of a screening of The End of Suburbia that I organised in Clonakilty, “we’ve just seen that the end of the Oil Age will bring about the collapse of industrial society … bring it on!”.’”

I was referring to the ‘Bring it on!’ part.

There are more hydrocarbons in the earth’s crust than we could burn in a millenium.
It is just a question of devising ways of getting them.
This will be the real “Great Unleashing”- of human ingenuity.

Rob
7 Nov 10:54pm

Thanks Graham. As usual, plenty to agree to disagree on there. Just one point I want to make as I head for my bed, when you write “So this is the fault line between us: you see renewables as a function just of political will; I see them as subject to the laws of physics. The former could be overcome; the latter, not”. No, I see them also, of course, as being subject to the laws of physics. However I believe, as CAT set out in “ZCB2030″, and as numerous other reports have indicated, that a combination of energy conservation and renewables IS possible, and is entirely do-able. Yes it would be different, yes it would be a big change, but it is possible, and it is achievable, and I for one think the benefits would be huge. Although of course, given that you are now a climate skeptic, there’s very little common ground here anyway, you have no motivation for any of these changes whereas I see them as massively urgent and necessary. G’nite.

Rob M
8 Nov 11:34pm

Firstly, I would like to say a big thank you to all those that supported us in understanding why we felt the need to take a stand against the proposed fracking.

And to all those who wondered why Transition Cowbridge/Llantwit took such an active stance on something as politically sensitive as fracking this may help to offer some explanation.

I think I can speak for most in the Transition Cowbridge group and say that we defiantly follow the thoughts expressed by the Transition Movement about putting energies into political activism and campaigning.

As a group our focus is very much on a desire to engage as much of the community in positive acts that inform, inspire and motivate all to take steps to a life without a reliance on finite resources whist impacting positively on the environment.

So why break the mould and take an active stance against fracking? For those that have carried out full and balanced research on this subject they will know that this process comes with distinctive pros and cons.

However, when it comes down to science (and for most Transitioners they won’t even need to get to this they will just inherently know that this is bad and not going to solve the issue of our complete reliance on fossil fuels) offered in independent reports such as the Tyndall report http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/shalegasreport which highlights the threat to local water courses, significantly detrimental impacts on health and the long term environmental implications doing nothing was just not an option.

It is also worth highlighting that the question marks that lye over the fracking process have led to definitive action being taken on a global scale. Leading to a complete ban in France, parts of Germany, South Africa and the US.

As far the local Transition involvement goes, with the planning application already approved in other areas in South Wales and our main reserve water aquifer located very close to the proposed site there was a definitive need for swift and collective community action. Hence, we could not just sit back and see this cause lasting and irreversible damage to the local environment as well potentially significant health impacts for not just our generation but for generations long after the gas has been used up.

This is a issue that is not just effecting us locally it is a global issue and as such we support all those that this could effect. In fact Louise Evans from the Vale Says No is making great strides in raising awareness across the whole of the UK. http://www.frack-off.org.uk

As all Transitioners know the path that lies ahead is undoubtedly going to be rocky, but it is crucial that communities remain resilient, positive and focused on a energy decent whilst living in much greater harmony and a broader connection with our planet.

So for Transition Cowbridge http://www.transitioncowbridge.org there is plenty more work to be done to focus on the key areas of Transition in order to build a truly resilient community for the long term. However, the positivity that comes from approaching life from this simpler and eminently more fulfilling way is something that resonates on many different levels and is doing so for more and more people throughout our community.

Graham
10 Nov 12:43pm

@Rob M “when it comes down to science (and for most Transitioners they won’t even need to get to this they will just inherently know that this is bad and not going to solve the issue of our complete reliance on fossil fuels)”

-HOW will we “just inherently know that this is bad…”-kinesiology perhaps?! ;)
http://tiny.cc/4huk7

Graham
10 Nov 3:30pm

Rob just posted this comment on my own blog Skepteco, presumably by mistake:

http://skepteco.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/transition-towns-interview/#comments

“Graham
Re. your snide comment on Transition Culture about kinesiology. I have a mental picture of you getting your hands on a copy of ‘Transition in Action’, the Totnes EDAP, and going through it with a highlighter, not looking at the scale of the community consultation that went into it, not looking at the depth of the engagement, not looking at the number of people who fed into it, not looking at the detailed research around food and energy, but just scanning it for anything you decided to constitute ‘woo’ in order to rubbish and denigrate the whole process.

The Totnes EDAP came about from asking many hundreds of people for their vision of how Totnes might most successfully navigate energy descent, and see that as an opportunity. As such, it contains the input of all those people, their ideas, their visions. You may be able to sit in your intellectual ivory tower and rubbish things because you see instances where peoples’ understanding of science doesn’t match yours, but as someone working with the diverse, messy, vibrant thing that is a community, I don’t have that luxury. I am not going to take ideas and suggestions offered in good faith by all those people and edit out all those I disagree with. That would be arrogant, disrespectful and self-defeating.

As a result of your highlighter pen session you clearly now feel you can rubbish anything that any Transition group does anywhere by flaunting the word ‘kinesiology’ at it. I think that is childish, smug and really rather pointless.”

Graham
10 Nov 3:44pm

Thanks for your fascinating and insightful response Rob. Probably best not to mix up different threads on different blogs- I know Im finding it confusing as well!
I invite readers who want to follow this up head over to this thread on Rob’s site.

Meanwhile, this comment from the IEA seems relevant:

‘”Environmentalists who believe a massive global investment in renewable energy is the answer to future demands are “smoking dope,” International Energy Agency deputy executive director Richard Jones said Wednesday.’

http://www.vancouversun.com/business/Environmentalists+smoking+dope+critic/5686362/story.html

Of course this is just the opinion of Richard Jones; I do NOT mean to imply any smugness or arrogance towards dope-smokers myself.

Graham
10 Nov 4:38pm

@Rob:

“I am not going to take ideas and suggestions offered in good faith by all those people and edit out all those I disagree with.”

are you telling me Rob that you don’t vet the ideas and proposals you get for inclusion in Transition models and publications for even the most basic level of scientific credibility??

I havnt yet managed to “get my hands on” the new book (what nefarious and dastardly methods do you imagine I might have used to ‘get my hands on’ Transition in Action? Actually Jacki gave a copy to Tony Cohu and he lent it me) so could you please let me know if it has any woo in it, if possible with quotes and page refs, thanks!

Rob
10 Nov 5:00pm

I think this thread has veered so far off topic that we’ll draw it to a close here for fear of everyone nodding off. Thanks everyone.