Soon British consumers will be cooking and heating their homes with American fracked gas for the first time.
But there is growing evidence that fracked US gas – and the infrastructure being built to supply it – has a huge ecological, social and personal impact back in the US, which British consumers may not know about.
Last Saturday, in an historic milestone, the first liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the US was due to dock at the Isle of Grain terminal in Kent, which is Europe’s largest gas storage terminal.
The ship came from the Sabine Pass export terminal in the Gulf of Mexico. It has been chartered by France’s Total looking for a market for gas.
The oil industry will try and sell you fracked gas on the false assumption that this is a secure and safe supply compared to say gas from Nigeria or Algeria, which both have had problems in the past.
As the shale boom continues in the US, the industry is looking for new markets to send the fracked gas to. And the industry is looking to export. There are currently five export terminals under construction. And Europe is rapidly becoming a desitnation of choice.
The European gas industry is celebrating the shale arrival too. “It is great to finally have US shale molecules coming across to the UK grid at such an exciting time for the industry,” says Simon Culkin, Grain’s terminal manager. “The more sources you can draw on, the better.”
But that gas comes at a huge ecological, social and personal cost.
In a great new investigation the Ferret, an independent award-winning journalistic platform, has published an article on the problems of fracked gas that is on its way to the UK.
The must-read investigation, published this morning, focuses on Sunoco Logistics’ massive Mariner East 2 pipeline (ME2), which is under construction across southern Pennsylvania’s belt, to bring fracked gas to Scotland.
When completed the multi-billion dollar pipeline will bring up to 70,000 barrels per day of ethane, propane, and butane to a storage facility at Sunoco’s Marcus Hook Industrial Complex. From there, the ethane will be transported by tanker to Scotland and the vast sprawling petrochemical complex at Grangemouth in Scotland owned by the chemical company, Ineos.
Whilst Ineos is leading the UK fracking push it is also leading the way to import gas from the US. Indeed, earlier this year, Ineos received its first cargo of ethane gas from the US for its Grangemouth plant.
The Ferret reports about the anger and resentment brewing against the ME2 pipeline back home: Local campaigners “say their basic rights are being trampled – no small thing in the state where the US Constitution was born – and they are fighting to halt this pipeline and others like it. Or at least, to win the safeguards to which they believe they’re entitled.”
It is easy to see why people are outraged: Due to arcane laws in the US, where companies can seize property via a legal manoeuvre called an “eminent domain”, locals have had their property seized.
One family, the Gerharts, live near Huntingdon in Pennsylvania. “For 35 years, the Gerharts have lived there amid 27 wooded acres filled with peace, quiet, and wildlife including painted turtles and a protected species of bat”, reports the Ferret. “Today, however, three of those forested acres, hosting ponds, streams, and wetlands conserved through the state’s forest stewardship programme, have been denuded for the Mariner East 2 pipeline right of way.”
To make matters worse: “The Gerharts are considered trespassers on their own property”, after 3 acres was condemned after the family refused to sell Sunoco an easement.
The family have been fighting back ever since. They have been arrested and thrown in jail for trying to protect their own property. They are still fighting the company in the courts in an ongoing legal battle. “[That land] is still on our deed, and we still pay taxes on it,” Elise Gerhart told the Ferret. “We are being made into criminals for doing things that aren’t actually crimes.”
Other anti-pipeline protesters who have set up camp are being followed by drones and low flying helicopters.
Elsewhere residents are up in arms over the fact that the pipeline runs within feet of their homes and they now live in the so-called “blast zone” if anything goes wrong. One local resident, Alison Higgins, a housewife and grandmother, outlined to the the Ferret how “I feel my constitutional rights have been trampled on. Our home is our sanctuary, our safe place. Well, I no longer feel safe in my home.”
Residents are being supported in their fight against the pipeline company by the Clean Air Council (CAC), a 50-year-old regional environmental group “dedicated to protecting and defending everyone’s right to breathe clean air.” It has filed two statewide anti-pipeline lawsuits on behalf of local people.
The attorney Alex Bomstein from the CAC says: “Sunoco is bullying landowners, it’s bullying municipalities. It’s a problem for good governance when you have a company going in and breaking laws everywhere and no one holds them accountable. That has implications for the viability of our democracy.”
The Mariner 1 pipeline is the one already transporting the 70,000 barrels a day. This is an old steel pipeline that was originally installed in Pennsylvania back in the 1930s and was used to transport gasoline from the Philadelphia area to points west within the state. With the Mariner project it was determined by Sunoco to repurpose that old pipeline, reverse the flow and increase the pressure to transport natural gas liquids (ethane, butane and propane) derived from natural gas extraction from the Utica and Marcellus shale plays in ohio and Pennsylvania. This flow reversal along with increased pressure is highly recommended against by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) due to the potential of among other things of the high possibility of leaks and or accidents. This 8″ pipeline has already incurred three leaks that we know about since it went into operation including the one found by the homeowner in Morgantown PA this spring. The two new pipelines of the Mariner 2 project are 16 and 20 inches in diameter. According to Sunoco the 20″ pipe, the 1st of the two they expect to put into service, will transport an additional 275,000 barrels a day. There is no information provided on their website as of yet on the capacity of the 16″ pipeline. However, with just the 8″ and 20″ pipelines in operation roughly 345,000 barrels of these highly flammable NGLs will be passing past thousands of Pennsylvania homes and 40 schools all of which are located within what is referred to as the potential impact radius (PIR) should there be a leak and or explosion. With Sunoco’s history it’s nat a matter of if but when.
Fracking has destroyed lives all over PA and anywhere it is happening.
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