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Eco-Warriors Round the AGA: Fracked!

10 May 2017

Fracked!

by Alistair Beaton

Chichester Festival Theatre Company

at Richmond Theatre until 13th May

Review by Eleanor Marsh

I have recently been researching my family tree.  Apparently I come from agricultural stock; the ladies of my family until the middle of the 19th century were straw plaiters in Biggleswade.  When free trade was introduced in the 1860’s and the English market was undercut by cheaper imports from Italy the trade died off and my ancestors were forced to relocate closer to London to seek their fortune.  So imagine the chord that Fracked! struck with me when only ten minutes into this most relevant of satires there was mention of more jobs for village locals if no one minded the environmental impact; and that the unscrupulous  PR team determined to get the fracking show on the road was named “Moxley Biggleswade”.  That could be a coincidence, but Alastair Beaton’s extremely funny and thought-provoking script didn’t seem to allow for coincidence.  The research that has gone into this well-crafted play is evident throughout, as is Beaton’s obvious desire to try to see all sides of this contentious subject by creating in Hal, the head of Deerland Energy an amiable soul who doesn’t like bad language and is motivated by the altruistic desire to “keep the lights on”.

As one would expect from an author steeped in the tradition of Spitting Image, the play has not been allowed to rest on its current affairs laurels since it was first shown last year.  There was a laugh out loud moment at the expense of Diane Abbott and much resigned chuckling from the Richmond audience in recognition of the “strong and stable” slogan.

Although the opening of the play is somewhat Ayckbournesque with stock parish council types being caught unawares by an unlikely protester it quickly becomes a clarion call for the protest movement.  The audience is never lectured, but is continuously informed of environmental facts that are quite shocking (just look up the carbon emission of an AGA) and drip-fed the rather frightening truth of the erosion of the democratic process through the infiltration of both academic establishments and corridors of power by big business.  This is all done in such an entertaining way that at times people were, I’m sure, laughing through tears of frustration.

Fracked 1

James Cotterill has designed a truly impressive set that is stylish and does exactly what it is supposed to.  The action moves very smoothly between the clinical PR office and the cosiest of cosy country kitchens.  The irony of this kitchen – home to environmental activists – was not lost.  The above mentioned AGA was in situ and there were some nice touches in script and direction with regard to online shopping and general recycling.  Apart from one or two moments when characters nearly – but not quite – went into caricature mode, Richard Wilson’s direction was spot on and the attention he has paid to small details really enhances the piece.

The publicity for this tour has, as so often is the case revolved around the two “star names” from TV – in this case Anne Reid and James Bolam, both of whom gave sterling individual performances playing somewhat against type but they were really cooking with gas in their scenes together.  They have known each other a long time, have worked together frequently and slipped into the roles of long married couple with ease.  Casting them was a shrewd move in order to guarantee audiences.  However, it is to the credit of writer, director and both Miss Reid and Mr Bolam that although they are very obviously lead characters they never appear to be “stars”.  This play is a true ensemble piece and given the nature of the democratic process it is trying to salvage that is as it should be.

Fracked! (or Please Don’t Use the F-Word) is a highly entertaining night out.  If you can get a ticket I urge you to do so.  As they said about the ozone layer – it will be too late when it’s gone!

Eleanor Marsh

May 2017

Editor’s Note:

Alistair Beaton’s clever and thought provoking satire led us to think about the facts behind fracking, so we asked Paul Lawrence, former Director of Technology with Technip, and expert on shale gas development in the US and the UK, to put us in the picutre.  Here’s what he said:

 Shale Gas and Fracking

Shale gas is defined as natural gas from shale formations.  The shale acts as both the source and the reservoir for the natural gas.  Older shale gas wells were vertical while more recent wells are primarily horizontal and need artificial stimulation, like hydraulic fracturing (fracking), to produce.
Some analysts expect that shale gas will greatly expand worldwide energy supply.  Increased shale gas production in the US and Canada could help prevent Russia and Persian Gulf countries from dictating higher prices for the gas it exports to European countries.  However, potential leakages of methane gas from shale gas wells could offset the carbon dioxide reductions and climate benefit of switching from coal to natural gas, as methane is 21 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, ton-for-ton.
Although shale gas has been produced for more than 100 years in the Appalachian Basin and the Illinois Basin of the United States, the wells were often economically marginal.  Higher natural gas prices in recent years and advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal completions have made shale gas wells more profitable.
The natural gas boom in the US due to hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has provided the country with a cleaner burning, inexpensive fuel source that has lowered energy bills for industrial facilities and homeowners alike.  The fracking process is still a hot topic of controversy wherever it is used to extract fuel.  Environmentalists claim it will ruin watersheds and leave scars on the earth, and other concerns range from flammable tap water to carcinogenic soil.  Here are just three things fracking won’t do:
Shale has low matrix permeability, so gas production in commercial quantities requires fractures to provide permeability.  Shale gas has been produced for years from shales with natural fractures; the shale gas boom in recent years has been due to modern technology in creating extensive artificial fractures around well bores.  Horizontal drilling is often used with shale gas wells.
Isolated incidents of pollution to freshwater wells have been caused when drilling is done too close to the surface, and natural gas companies have settled several cases where damage is attributed to the gas wells.  The point is, however, that the horror story of flammable drinking water is extremely uncommon.  For one thing, the drilling components used to trap the natural gas are encased in steel and cement to prevent it from escaping.  If the casing is done properly, it is nearly impossible for methane gas to escape.  Also, fracking is done so far underground, that escaped methane would have to travel through solid rock in order to contaminate aquifers.
There are several claims that fracking activity has spurred a number of low-registering seismic disturbances.  A 2013 study by Durham University found fracking to be “not significant” in causing earthquake activity.  The study explains that seismic disturbances caused by hydraulic fracturing are minimal.  So small, in fact, that they would only be detectable by the sensitive instruments used by geoscientists.
Fears over pollution and contamination of drinking water and the environment from fracking fluid seem to stem from a lack of information about what this rock-shattering mixture actually is.  The secret to fracking fluid is water and sand.  Those two components make up about 98% of the fluid mix.  The remaining 2% is composed of ingredients that are familiar to many of us, such as citric acid, guar gum (a common food additive, used to suspend the sand in the fluid), and even common table salt.  Certainly not all of these chemicals are harmless to the environment or to drinking water.  But, the fracking industry has a habit of recovering most of its fluid and recycling it.  This does not prevent every drop of fluid from being spilled, but it certainly means that most of the material is recovered.  This saves the company doing the drilling money as well as improving its environmental impact.
Like any method of recovering fossil fuels, hydraulic fracturing does do damage to the environment.  But, even accounting for methane leakage during extraction, the total carbon cost of natural gas is less than that of coal or oil.  The transition to natural gas for power generation in many places has led to a drop in carbon emissions.
In support of arguing against any ban on fracking, the journal Science recently said that worldwide, “more than one million hydraulic fracturing treatments have been conducted, with perhaps only one documented case of direct groundwater pollution resulting from injection of hydraulic fracturing chemicals used for shale gas extraction.”  The report acknowledges that “there is no question that the technology poses some risk to air quality, water quality, and ecosystem health.  It also poses a risk of increasing greenhouse gas emissions”.  However, it asserts that these factors can be mitigated sufficiently with current technologies as to not pose a risk that is significant enough to justify a ban on the practice.
 Read Paul Lawrence’s full note here

 

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