By Andy Rowell
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 U.S. gas—and the infrastructure being built to supply it—has a huge ecological, social and personal impact back in the U.S., which British consumers may not know about.
Last Saturday, in an historic milestone, the first liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the U.S. docked 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 have both had problems in the past.
As the shale boom continues in the U.S., 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 destination of choice.
The European gas industry is celebrating the shale arrival, too. "It is great to finally have U.S. shale molecules coming across to the UK grid at such an exciting time for the industry," said 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 headed to the UK.
The must-read investigation, published Tuesday, 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.
While Ineos is leading the UK fracking push, it is also leading the way to import gas from the U.S. Indeed, earlier this year, Ineos received its first cargo of ethane gas from the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S., where companies can seize property via a legal manoeuver 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," reported the Ferret. "Today, however, three of those forested acres, hosting ponds, streams, and wetlands conserved through the state's forest stewardship program, 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 three 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 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.
"Sunoco is bullying landowners, it's bullying municipalities," said attorney Alex Bomstein from the CAC. "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."