Why Barclays' fracking excuses don't add up

Tony Bosworth

13 October 2015

Barclays has just replied to the nearly 7,000 people who've taken Friends of the Earth’s action asking the bank not to fund fracking. 

Barclays has a 97% stake in Third Energy, the company that wants to frack beautiful Ryedale in North Yorkshire.

Its response lists 5 areas of risk – health, local economy, water, community and the climate - and tries to set people’s minds at rest.

But the response is a litany of cherry-picked platitudes that won’t fool anyone.

Tell Barclays to stop funding fracking

Fracking risks to health

Barclays reels off a list of organisations which say that the risks associated with fracking are low and can be properly managed.

But it doesn’t refer to the decision by New York State (pdf), which banned fracking last year because of concerns about the health risks.

Nor does it mention the recent report  by public health charity Medact which concluded “if fracking is characterised by a high number and concentration of boreholes within relatively small rural and semi-rural areas that are well populated, the risk to public health would be considerable”.

That’s exactly what is proposed in Ryedale – Third Energy wants to drill up to 950 wells at 19 sites.

Fracking risks to the local economy

Barclays says that Third Energy has been have been active in the area for 20 years drilling conventional oil with no discernible impact on the local economy, and there’s no reason why this should change.

But fracking is different. 

You wonder if Barclays has read the internal report (pdf) from the Department of the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) that the Government tried – and failed - to keep quiet.

The report stated:

Shale gas development may transform a previously pristine and quiet natural region, bringing increased industrialisation

DEFRA

A ‘pristine and quiet natural region’ perfectly sums up Ryedale.

The report goes on: “As a result rural community businesses that rely on clean air, land, water, and/or a tranquil environment may suffer losses from this change such as agriculture, tourism, organic farming, hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation”.

No wonder that more than 180 businesses in Ryedale oppose fracking.

Fracking risks to ground and surface water

Barclays hides behind what it describes as “the UK’s robust regulatory regime” to play down claims of risks to water.

But Friends of the Earth’s analysis (pdf) shows UK regulation is inadequate, flawed or ineffectively applied and enforced.

And the Government isn’t making regulation tougher: it’s watering down regulation to make things easier for the frackers.

For example, it has changed the trespass law so companies can drill under your house without your permission.

And it has removed the right of local people to comment before some of the environmental permits are granted.

Barclays says Third Energy will pay very close attention to the design and construction of its wells to minimise the risk of leaks. 

Yet evidence (pdf) from the US shows a failure rate of up to 8.9% in newly-drilled shale gas wells, increasing the risk of leaks.

Barclays adds that there is “very low risk of ground and surface water pollution”.

But Lord Smith, former chair of the Environment Agency, the main regulator of fracking in England, has said that groundwater contamination is the “biggest environmental risk” of fracking.

Risks of increased traffic and noise

According to Barclays, Third Energy’s programme (its word) “will create a small amount of traffic and noise”.

For the Kirby Misperton site alone there will be over 900 HGV trips and that’s for a well that has already been drilled.

There could be up to 950 shale gas wells in Ryedale alone, most of which will need drilling.

You can do the maths as well as I can.

If that’s a small amount of traffic, then I’m Jeremy Clarkson

Fracking risks to the climate

Barclays repeats the standard industry line that shale gas will help tackle climate change.  

It won’t. The Government has said it wants a significant expansion of gas-fired power stations, presumably fuelled, in its eyes, by UK shale gas. 

But the Government's official climate change advisors have said such an expansion is “completely incompatible” with Britain's legally-binding climate change targets.

Barclays’ response was presumably written before the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, last week highlighted the problem of unburnable carbon.

What will Barclays shareholders think?

Globally we have to leave around two-thirds of known fossil fuel reserves unburned if we want to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

These, Mr Carney says, will be "stranded assets".

How will Barclays shareholders feel about the bank investing huge sums to drill a lot of gas it might not be able to burn?

We know what the solutions are to our energy and climate change crises – energy efficiency and renewables. But the Government is cutting them off at the knees.

One last point.

Barclays purpose and values

Barclays says that Third Energy’s plans are compatible with its purposes and values.

One of Barclays’ Values statements (pdf) is to “find ways to positively impact all of the communities we interact with”.

Is that how Barclays views foisting fracking on a community that doesn’t want it?

Barclays is basically sticking its fingers in its ears. It thanks people for their interest but it's not listening.

But the people of Ryedale, and all those who don’t want to see fracking, aren’t going to stay quiet.

The are urging North Yorkshire councillors to say no to Third Energy, just like their Lancashire counterparts did to Cuadrilla.

Tell Barclays to stop funding fracking

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