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2013 in review: the year fracking shook the UK

Cuadrilla Shale Gas Drilling in U.K.

Cuadrilla’s test drill site in Balcombe, West Sussex. Protests at the site put the company in the spotlight for much of the summer. Photograph: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images


Powered by article titled “2013 in review: the year fracking shook the UK” was written by Adam Vaughan, for on Tuesday 17th December 2013 11.15 UTC

The pumping of water, sand and chemicals underground at pressure to crack rocks and release gas dominated headlines in 2013. Fracking for shale gas, even if the process has not actually been producing much energy beyond its homeland in the US, has barely been out of the public consciousness.

In the UK, drilling for oil by fracking explorers Cuadrilla in Sussex roused one of the biggest environmental protests in years, as thousands marched outside the village of Balcombe and Green party MP Caroline Lucas was arrested. A similar series of protests was mirrored in Manchester, later in the year.

Public figures and industry bodies lined up to say the technology should go ahead in the UK, from David Cameron down to geologists, water companies and some environmentalists, and the government laid out sweeteners of £100,000 for communities who live near any shale gas wells that are fracked.

Protest Against Fracking in U.K.

Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton, was arrested for refusing to move from a sit-in outside a fracking site entrance in Balcombe. Photograph: Dave Evans/Corbis

Around the world, the Polish environment minister was sacked for not green-lighting fracking projects quickly enough – halfway through the UN climate talks, no less – fracking licences were granted for a wildlife reserve in Botswana and indigenous protesters in Canada fought against the expansion of shale gas operations. Enormous potential reserves were identified in Australia.

The ramping up of exploration and awareness around shale gas is part of the wider picture of fossil fuel companies looking for unconventional sources of energy. Elsewhere, companies continued their efforts to push into the Arctic to drill for oil and gas.

When a small group of Greenpeace activists boarded one of those efforts, a Gazprom rig in the Barents Sea, it inadvertently turned into one of the biggest stories of the year.

The Russian authorities, which had allowed a similar protest the year before, responded by winching armed coastguards off a helicopter onto the group’s Arctic Sunrise vessel, arresting the 28 activists and two journalists onboard, and detaining them without trial for several months, before finally releasing them on bail. They are still in Russia, and have been told they cannot leave – yet.

Greenpeace's Arctic Sunrise

A mobile phone image of a Russian helicopter over the Greenpeace ship the Arctic Sunrise, moments before armed personnel boarded the vessel. Photograph: Greenpeace/AP

Coal, the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, hasn’t gone away, despite talk of gas replacing it, the US taking steps in the summer to clean up old coal power plants, and Daw Mill, one of the UK’s few remaining coal mines, closing. Instead, the respected energy thinktank, the IEA, predicted that coal was now on track to challenge oil as the world’s biggest source of energy, and UK greenhouse gas emissions jumped 4.5% because coal was so cheap.

It emerged that China now burns almost as much coal as the rest of the world combined – bad news for the climate, but good news for Australia, which approved two mega coal mines in Queensland. The short-term impacts of coal were still on display – some of the most dramatic smog episodes of the year in major cities of China including Shanghai and Beijing were blamed on coal-burning.


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