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Render Unto Caesar

Render Unto CeasarLast month we saw the cradle of democracy rise in protest at the austerity measures that had been imposed on it by the unholy trinity of the European Commission, International Monetary Fund, and European Central Bank.

Their idea of fixing a problem is to make it bigger - (and to provide their friends and neighbours with opportunities for financial rape and asset stripping as part of the 'deal').

But it looks to us as though Greece's new Prime Minister - Syriza's Alexis Tsipras - is a man with a plan.

And not just one plan, it feel to us like a series of plans that already has the EU scuttling to play catch-up.

Like some latter-day Zeus he is casting political thunderbolts and the earth is moving. He is producing the Greek Earthquake.

His choice of Yanis Varoufakis as Finance Minister - a lean and hungry-looking, fluent English/American speaker with phrasing that is able to captivate the common man, ("Europe in its infinite wisdom decided to deal with this bankruptcy by loading the largest loan in human history on the weakest of shoulders... What we've been having ever since is a kind of fiscal waterboarding that has turned this nation into a debt colony.") and the political nous to find his way around roadblocks quickly - is simply brilliant.

If anyone is going to sort out the mess that Greece is in, we think it's these two guys.

In essence, they're saying that the Troika's plan for Greece simply isn't going to work, so to continue with it will mean the is only EU throwing good money after bad, and they need to change tack to make things work properly. They need to use the equivalent of the 'insolvency handbook' that auditors and others use to set the direction for recovery - standard techniques that don't cripple the affected debtor, but rather enable them to earn the money to pay the loans back.

A small, but perfectly formed example of what they mean can be seen in relation to the Greek tourism industry. For a while now, this has been headed toward the sort of bland internationalised 'Resort' complexes where almost all the tourist spend is captured in the enclosed resort, then expatriated away to head offices in other countries, denying the indigenous Greek hotels, tavernas, restaurants etc - (and many of the small Greek family businesses that provide local and family employment) - the opportunity to share in any growth in the tourist trade.

Sriza isn't keen on this 'Resort' approach at all, and it has already said it wants to shift the tourism culture so that the benefits go to Greek family businesses, so Greece can enjoy proper sustainable growth for the future, with tax revenues available to support debt reduction, public services and infrastructure spending.

We think their apparent ability to see both small and large scale routes out of the mess augurs well for the Greek people. We will be watching closely, and we wish them well.

Here in the UK, we have our own man who (given half a chance) would like the chance to be our financial saviour - like Yanis Varoufakis may become the saviour for Greece.

It's George Osborne, of course: unreformed credit junkie, institutionalised forger, latter-day Caesarean impersonator and now, most recently, the would-be destroyer of democracy in the UK.

His main claim to fame so far has been that he has saved the UK from the 2008 financial Armageddon that so nearly enveloped us and everyone else when the giant ponzi scheme that is now the international banking system came close to complete breakdown.

We have a few problems with his claim to fame.

Although it's true that it was the massive growth in hire-purchase in the 1950's, (followed by Labour's Hire Purchase Act 1964), which made the 'never-never' into the worm that gnawed away the monetary morals of our society, the real cause of the 2008 Armageddon came later.

Financial Armageddon arose in 2008 in the UK chiefly because it been stoked and fuelled by the so-called 'Big Bang' deregulation of financial services in the City of London. This was a cause that had been trumpeted and championed by George Osborne's party as the way forward.

The epicentre of the 'big bang' earthquake is usually taken to be the day the London Stock Exchange's rules changed (27 October 1986). This destroyed established traditions and years of dealing on trust, and it sidelined the long term perspective. It set in place an aggregation of measures designed to alter the structure of the financial markets, making them much more focused on greed and short term gains and, of, course institutionalised credit.

The Government had chosen to advance the cause of 'Consumerism' (which is the Holy Grail of capitalism).

The foundation of their belief is the theory that consumption produces personal happiness via the acquisition of goods and services, irrespective of need. And they see it as a self generating, and thus a self-fulfilling, cycle.

But it's that 'irrespective of need' bit that causes all the trouble.

Consumerism absorbs the planet's resources unnecessarily, and it creates servitude for the majority.

We become what we can afford - and when it can be acquired on credit instead of from savings, there is no theoretical limit to what we *should* afford.

We are failures if we don't consume.

In 'UK - Time for Change?' in December 2008, we argued that the origins of the financial problem lay in the 'milking' of consumers by overly greedy businesses with short term business horizons, and that it was fuelled by a government-supported credit-binge in which society had been persuaded to completely abandon the principle of saving for consumables - a process that also abandoned the notion of affordability.

Amazingly, credit (i.e. the absence of real money) had come to be viewed *as* money.

We argued that the whole international credit system was now a tissue of lies and a delusion in which we are constrained and milked by business and bankers, with the blessing (and tacit support) of Governments - who retained public support (and thus their power) on the basis of the illusion of growth and wellbeing that is predicated on boundless (imaginary) credit.

The straw that broke the camel's back came from the USA and the sub-prime mortgage market catastrophe (sub-prime being a euphemism for knowingly selling unaffordable loans to people who had no hope in hell of being able to pay them as the interest escalator kicked in)

We said it was a curious state of affairs that such loans had been deliberately made to people who could not afford to repay them, then those loans were sliced, diced and repackaged with loans that had been made to more reliable payers, and offered as 'irresistible' high-yielding investment opportunities that subsequently fractured and fell apart when it became clear that much of the underlying investments were worthless.

We believe this was not good business. It was institutionalised fraud on a massive scale.

The scale was so big, that if the fraud had become properly exposed and understood, the whole of the monetary system would have collapsed and money would have ceased to have worth.

We said that finally, in 2008, for those willing to open their eyes, the great Emperor of Credit could be seen as naked as he was.

Subsequently, in 'Riots in the Streets?' in 2009 we updated the theme further and showed how, in order to 'get the economy moving again' the Conservatives extended the principles underlying what was probably the most incredible piece of doublespeak ever coined, (the so called 'Fractional Reserve Banking' system) which allows banks to magick money out of thin air - literally to create it.

Banks can (and do) lend money out at a multiple of at least six , ten or occasionally up to thirty, times more than the deposits they have in 'reserve'.

In other words, when someone deposits an extra one thousand pounds into the bank, it can, and will, increase it's lending to other people by anything up to £6,000, £10,000 or £30,000 depending on the 'fraction' it has decided it will keep in its reserves. The Americans call this banking 'leverage' but it's all the same thing.

The logic underpinning it is that banks only need hold in real cash, 'a fraction' of what they lend out.

Now, when you stop and think about this, it should make you shudder.

That's because in this example, it means the money in your pocket (or in your bank) is only really 'worth' around 10% (or less) of what you think it is.

If everyone drew their money out at the same time, there would not be enough for everyone. The Banks would only have enough to pay their 'fraction' of what you thought you had.

Bankers have been conning us with this system for hundreds of years (aided and abetted by Governments), and that's bad enough.

But now Governments themselves have started to compound the scale, and they are doing the same sort of thing themselves.

They call it 'Quantative Easing'.

But really it's institutionalised forgery.

If you or I invented money out of thin air, we would be arrested and prosecuted for fraud.

When George Osborne does it on a scale so vast it's almost unimaginable, he's treated as a 'Master of the Universe'.

He's not a Master of the Universe.

He's simply a con-man.

Literally.

He's a confidence trickster who is tricking us into being confident.

We looked at this in some detail in 'State of Credit'  and we refer readers there for chapter and verse.

Today, and for the most part, George Osborne has managed to hoodwink vast numbers of people into believing that everything in the UK is close to being fixed. He tells us the austerity plan is working but we need more of it. He says the deficit has been reduced, and we now have growth again. And the growth we have is better than any other European country.

He's not being truthful.

What's actually happened is that he's using a house-price bubble to make it SEEM as though there is growth.

In reality there is only the illusion of growth, as people extend their borrowings against the (non-existent) security of inflated house prices as they release 'capital' from the theoretical value of the house and spend it.

But this is not growth. This is the illusion of growth. It only works as long as we believe it will work. There simply isn't the real money to meet it. Consequently it's an enormous con trick promulgated by Government. So our wonderful 'growth' isn't what it seems.

Next we look at the deficit reduction he claims. There is some basis for this to be good news.

The difference between the Government's income and its spending over a year gives rise to a 'surplus' (if income exceeds spending), or a 'deficit' (if the spending is more than the income).

The good news is that the deficit this year will be less than last year, but it still means spending is running in excess of income.

What's worse is that each year there is a deficit, it gets added into the UK National Debt.

This is now both jaw-dropping, and eye-wateringly, huge.

Readers can click this link to see a historic graphic of how the national debt has come and gone over time.

And follow this link to see the UK's current 'Debt Bomb'

As with all statistics, there are several ways of looking at it (whether you measure the actual debt, or the debt per £ of income the country earns and so on). Each of these gives you different results, but we prefer to look at the plain debt.

When the Conservative Coalition came to power, the National Debt was £760 billion

In March 2012, the UK's basic National Debt had grown to around £1,022 billion.

This year, the Treasury estimate of the UK National Debt is £1,360 billion.

Under credit-junkie George Osborne's stewardship, public debt will have risen by around 50% in just five years. So 'deficit reduction' has a rather hollow ring as far as we are concerned. The only thing we think he can justifiably say is that he has slowed the rate at which things are getting financially worse.

But in actual fact, the UK deficit is a lot, lot, worse than we have set out here.

That's because George Osborne also borrowed the money to bail out the banks that he had allowed to grow 'too big to fail'.

The National Audit Office says that at its peak, the bank bailout cost us a whopping £1,162 billion on its own. And (although the Government tries to persuade everyone that the bank bailout was not technically classed as 'government debt', and some has been paid back and so on) taken at its worst, the bank bailouts and the current National Debt add up to £2,522 billion.

Most people simply can't relate to these numbers, so to simplify to a human scale....

There are roughly 62 million people in the UK, and the national debt (including the maximum bank bailout) is £2,522,000,000,000. That's equivalent to about £40,000 of debt for every man woman and child in the UK.

The UK's annual income - (it's Gross Domestic Product or GDP for short) - is around £25,100 a year per head of population. So with the bank bailouts, the UK owes well more than a year of our total income.

And that's with his austerity that we've already seen.

That's the sort of blunt-cudgel austerity that hurts genuine needy and vulnerable people as well as the feckless. The sort of austerity that has already touched most of the families in the UK one way or another.

We're not hurting quite as much as the residents of Greece, but people are undoubtedly hurting.

The Conservatives are puzzled why they can't shift the polling figures to give them better results for the election. The answer in what they have done already.

And Chancellor Osborne is promising that things can only get worse. Next year's cuts are said to be even more harsh. He plans to shrink what we know and use as public services to the scale they were in the 1930s.

Given his appalling track record of failure to date, why on earth do so many people trust George Osborne on the economy?

Quite how he thinks the people of these islands could possibly trust him (or the party he hopes to lead) to run the country is quite beyond us.

And given the financial incompetence he has sprayed all over us like slurry, it's no wonder he's desperate for money wherever he can get it

So it's no wonder he wants to industrialise and exploit west Lancashire for fracked gas - or more particularly for the money he believes will flow from it.

We quite expected that there would be quiet 'nods and winks'  given to planning authorities and suchlike to persuade them of the importance of fracking.

But even we were shocked by the Guardian's revelation last week of a letter he sent out last September to all members of the Government's Cabinet in which he said he wanted each Cabinet member to make certain actions a personal priority.

Amongst other things, he called for

  • a clear timetable for an autumn announcement to implement the development of 3 to 4 exemplar drilling sites to prove the concept of safe shale gas exploration
  • a clear set of actions to influence the new EU Commission on the importance of shale gas to Europe's future
  • an action plan to have the necessary resources and skills to publicly defend the robustness and safety of the regulatory regime

In the appendix to his letter he goes into greater detail, including the need to "respond to the asks of Cuadrilla over which Government has influence and that will impact on the first well"

We were shocked to find that Cuadrilla had even made 'asks'  (we do dislike that awful ungrammatical word) of Government in this matter, let alone that Government was going to push them forward.

These "asks" included "communicating to Lancashire County Council and others the intention behind the Planning Guidance, specifically to address Mineral Planning Authority concerns that they must satisfy themselves that regulators are doing their job"

This is central to a huge row that has developed. The Government has tried to fetter the hands of the County Council by saying that - in effect - they must trust the regulatory bodies to do the job that is necessary.

We know that's not right. For example, the EA - as we have said before - has defined that the drilling muds (the ground up drilled out rock and lubricant that comes to the surface as the wells are drilled) is considered "out of scope" for testing by the EA. We have been told this personally by the chap that granted the permit for them to drill.

This is a convenient way to avoid Cuadrilla having to treat the material as we believe it should be treated - that is in the same way as the flowback fluid from fracking.

After all, if the flowback fluid has only been down there for a few weeks to absorb the radiation and other chemicals, and that means it has to be subject to all sorts of processes to refine and clean it, how can it possibly be more 'dangerous' than the ground up rocks that have exactly the same radiation and chemicals, but have been there for millions of years acquiring them?

So we have no confidence that in this, and similar matters, the EA can be trusted to safeguard us properly.

'Aunty Fracker' disagrees with us on this matter and has explained why. See update 3 at the end of this article for the link and our response

But the thing is that the County Council is, in reality, also required to 'satisfy itself' that the regulatory regime is appropriate.

This is where Government is stepping in and using the same sort of ethics they used to take us to war in Iraq. They are trying to restrict the extent to which the County Council can consider itself 'satisfied'

The Government is going to issue further 'guidance' (for which you can read 'instructions') to LCC about what it may and may not take into account.

It's not the job of Government to usurp the powers and responsibilities granted to local councils because they might not like the decision the local council makes. This is the destruction of local democracy.

We'd quite like to ask George Osborne how the election-winning localism stuff he trumpeted (to get us to vote for him last time) is working out for him nowadays?

He also wants (on Cuadrilla's behalf) the use of HMS Inskip (what he calls the MOD land) for truck movements at the Roseacre site.

He's also responding to another Cuadrilla 'ask' and looking at whether they can extend the "permitted development rights" to construct groundwater monitoring boreholes. This would mean Cuadrilla could simply implement them without needing to apply for planning permission.

He wants Cabinet members to "be prepared for the risk that permission is turned down or progress injuncted" and in this regard he plans to "Consider whether to provide additional technical support to Lancashire to help determine current applications"

This is quite disgraceful. Anyone with half a brain will realise that this is really about leaning on the County to make what George Osborne sees as the right decision. It is an appalling abuse of local democracy.

He goes on to say that if permission is turned down or undermined, Cuadrilla will respond to the concerns and appeal as soon as possible. He also says he wants his Planning Inspectorate arm to respond promptly to an appeal or for St Eric to 'recover' (for which read 'undo') the decision that LCC make if it is not appropriate.

Who is it exactly that's the Government? and which is the business here?

Readers can follow this link to see the full text of his leaked letter.  You really should read it.

We commend the Guardian for publishing this letter and would explain that the copy we have made available as a linked pdf file is simply because the Guardian's copy might not be available in the future.

This development from Government is truly awful.

It ranks alongside their plan to change the trespass law that will allow Cuadrilla and others to drill under people's land as of right, and without getting a court order to do so.

That is plain wrong, and it is the reason that we are simply not prepared to vote for any party that has supported it.

And it holds into even more stark relief the Government's hugely redacted Rural Economy Impact Study that should have shown the probable impact on house prices, jobs and employment, but where the news must have been so bad they dare not let people see it.

Government tried to get out of its embarrassment on this by saying that it was only a junior person who had prepared the report and it shouldn't have been released at all. We feel the need to respond to this in the inimitable words attributed to Mandy Rice Davies "He would say that, wouldn't he"

Back in March 2013 - in 'Jessica Ernst V Canada' we showed how a brave Canadian scientist lady had taken on the Canadian Government for poisoning her land and her water. She was fighting for he rights.

But we showed how whenever she has exposed something wrong or inappropriate with fracking in Canada, the regulations or laws were changed so as to sidestep the problem, and when she became more widely known for her accurate critiques she was branded a terrorist and visited by the Canadian secret service. At one point she was arrested.

We also said "Our Government has clearly set its mind of having shale gas (or more perhaps the tax revenues from it) and the stage is increasingly looking set for a UK re-run of what Jessica has experienced in Canada.

The Fylde public's attitude to shale gas exploration continues to move deeper into distrust. It is fuelled by the self-evident and deepening distrust of the political classes in general, and of those they appoint to regulate that which they don't wish to be held accountable for themselves. Potentially, this heralds all manner of earthquakes for Fylde - economic, political, and geophysical.

And if Jessica is to be believed (and we don't doubt her in this matter), there are potentially frightening implications further down the road for the very nature of the society in which we want to live."


We're now starting to see the same 'Canadian' approach from George Osborne and his party with this leaked letter and we're - rightly - angry about it.

What it shows is a Government that we elected working hand in glove with big business against the wishes of the people who elected them. It shows a Government prepared to twist and sidestep proper process for its own financial expediency.

And we predict that as these excesses become known to more and more people, the demands to do something about this outrageous situation will become a clamour.

And that's where we make the link with what's happened in Greece.

Tractors in Preston

Farmers usually hold Conservative values.
This photo of wall to wall tractors should tell George Osborne to be worried


It's a matter that is undoubtedly going to have a party political impact on the Fylde elections. We think readers can expect to see a significant reduction in support for the Conservatives because of their national party's support for fracking.

It's not even as if George Osborne is making a good job of the economy.

In fact, we think it's actually because he's making such a bad job of the economy that he simply can't afford not to "dash for gas"

In terms of the money, we think "Render unto Caesar" ties in quite nicely with his new Roman hair-do.

In other fracking news recently, the awful Infrastructure Bill is nearing the end of its progress through Parliament. The 'Right to Frack Under Your Land' caluse is still there, but there were some successful Labour Party amendments that will have a small impact if they are allowed to remain. (See update 1 at the end of this article) They are:

“Hydraulic fracturing: necessary conditions

Any hydraulic fracturing activity can not take place:

  1. unless an environmental impact assessment has been carried out;
  2. unless independent inspections are carried out of the integrity of wells used;
  3. unless monitoring has been undertaken on the site over the previous 12 month period;
  4. unless site-by-site measurement, monitoring and public disclosure of existing and future fugitive emissions is carried out;
  5. in land which is located within the boundary of a groundwater source protection zone;
  6. within or under protected areas;
  7. in deep-level land at depths of less than 1,000 metres;
  8. unless planning authorities have considered the cumulative impact of hydraulic fracturing activities in the local area;
  9. unless a provision is made for community benefit schemes to be provided by companies engaged in the extraction of gas and oil rock;
  10. unless residents in the affected area are notified on an individual basis;
  11. unless substances used are subject to approval by the Environment Agency;
  12. unless land is left in a condition required by the planning authority; and
  13. unless water companies are consulted by the planning authority.”

The Bill is now in 'Ping Pong' where these Commons' amendments are considered by the Lords and them it moves back and forth until both houses are agreed, following which it will receive the Royal Assent and become law.

There's better news for anti-frackers who live in Scotland. Under the promise made on the eve of the Referendum, the Scots have been given powers to determine fracking in Scottish land. They have announced a moratorium on all planning consents for unconventional oil and gas extraction, including fracking. (See update 2 at the end of this article for Wales).

Locally, we've seen LCC announce that they will not be re-considering the planning applications before 30th April.

Readers will recognise that date is running very close to the election date on 7th May and amongst the people we've spoken to, informed comment seems to hold that it will be further delayed - so as to remove the decision from exerting an influence on the way people vote.

We also hear that Mike Hill seems to be heading toward standing as a Parliamentary Candidate in the Fylde seat, as does another prominent anti-fracking member of the Green Party. That's a tricky situation and will probably split the anti-fracking vote, meaning neither stand much chance of being returned.

We don't honestly think that was likely to happen anyway - (even if there had been only one anti fracking candidate), but we can see Mark Menzies majority being damaged by the decisions of his national party, by the anger of local people who feel impotent to bring about change, by the fear of other residents who see falling property values as the price they will have to personally pay for the nation to benefit from shale gas; by the presence of Green and anti fracking candidates, and by the expected presence of a surging UKIP on the ballot paper.

And coming full circle, when the anger and fear we see in Fylde - and to some extent now in Lancashire, becomes more widely shared, as it inevitably will, we may see our own Greek political earthquake.


 

 ~~~~~~~~ DAVE'LL FIX IT ~~~~~~~~

We introduced this panel so show how, in his enthusiasm to support fracking, David Cameron took the first small steps on a slippery slope. He began with saying how important he thinks fracking is, but he's now changing UK law to make it easier for frackers to operate. We expect to record and publish each of his steps as we publish future fracking articles.

However, the list has already grown too big to include it in the web page, so it's now downloadable as a PDF file. So if you want to see some of the legal and financial sidesteps Government had made to help and encourage fracking in the UK - follow this link to 'Dave'll Fix It'

Dated:     8 February 2015

UPDATE 1: 8 February 2015
A reader has kindly advised that Mike Hill has provided his personal commentary on the Labour amendments. We don't disagree with what he says. Readers can follow this link to see Mike's take on Labour's amendments

UPDATE2: 9 February 2015
A reader notes that Wales has also  imposed a fracking moratorium. This isn't quite the same as the Scots moratorium (the power for which is in the devolution promise and has been enshrined in the Infrastructure Bill), but Wales does have effective power to stop any new applications to drill because it controls the issuing of planning and environmental permits, and the Welsh Assembly has said it will do this.

UPDATE3: 9 February 2015
Flowback versus Drilling Muds.

A somewhat patronising scribe called 'Aunty Fracker' has very kindly answered a question we did not actually pose, but evidently thought we needed to be corrected in what we had said in this article. We welcome their right to express their view, and are happy to provide a link to it for our readers, but if we agreed with Aunty Fracker, then we'd both be wrong, and that would never do.

The essence of their argument is that different standards apply to liquids and solids. They argue liquids may only have up to 1 Becquerel per litre of Radium-226 before being defined as radioactive waste and needing a permit to dispose, whilst solids may have up to 5 Becquerel per gram.

They go on to suggest that the differing standards are because liquids are more difficult to manage (because they can seep and flow everywhere) but "Solid rock cuttings, on the other hand, would simply form a neat little pile if spilled from a skip, and would be easier to contain and clean up"

We're not even sure this is the reason for the differing standards, but in any case, to be able to agree, we'd need to believe that the flowback (which contains sand and suspended minerals) is only a liquid, and the drilling muds are solid rock.

And we don't believe that.

The drilling *cores* may remain largely intact as rock and easy to handle, but the drilling muds are not solid rock at all, they're a slurry of ground up mineral particles and drilling fluids and, like the after-effects of a bad curry, they're just as hard to keep together and to clean up.

The EA themselves describe the flowback fluid as "This flowback fluid is very saline, and contains minerals dissolved from the rocks as well as small particles of rock."

So the real issue here is about the point at which a mud slurry becomes a liquid and subject to the requirements of waste fluids, and the point at which a fracking fluid pumped up with sand and small particles of rock stops being just a liquid. That's probably where we differ from Aunty Fracker and the Environment Agency

Aunty Fracker says the pressure of fracking creates friction, which literally 'etches' microscopic fragments of rock from the shale that are then carried back to the surface in the flowback fluid, and it is these minuscule particles that contain the radioactive metal Radium-226. But they don't appear to believe a drilling head will produce the same effect as it drills latterally through the same shale rock.

Looks like we'll have to differ on that.

But there are some wider points as well.

The Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering report said that "shale tends to contain more uranium than other types of rocks" and described production of radium 226 and radon gas, plus lead and thorium 210. Concentrations of these vary from formation to formation.

Public Health England, in their 2013 "Review of Potential Public Health Impacts of Exposures to Chemical and Radioactive Pollutants as a Result of Shale Gas Extraction" confirmed that NORM is present in the residues (cutting fluids and mud) produced by initial drilling. And although their report suggested this was not thought to be at levels of concern to them, it did note that the levels of NORM were highly dependent on the local geology. In some cases significant quantities of NORM are present.

Drill cuttings and muds HAVE triggered radiation monitor alarms at landfill sites in the US, and resulted in truckloads being turned away from the disposal sites. And whilst we are the first to agree that US geology is not the same as our geology, what we believe this does show is that there are differences from place to place, and there is little or no evidence to support the EA's assertion that the NORM present in Lancashire shales here is negligible. Marine shales are generally accepted as formations having the highest concentration of NORM.

But our Environment Agency say: "In response to the question whether we tested any of the drilling muds in Lancashire - the answer is no. As to whether we hold any information about the testing of drilling muds from Lancashire sites that answer is also no."

Says it all really.

Given the absence of testing here and the experiences reported elsewhere we remain unconvinced. Drilling muds comprising ground up rock mixed with cutting fluids, and flowback fluid containing suspended mineral grains, don't appear that different in our book.

But what this really comes down to is whether we can have confidence in the Environment Agency to protect us.

And on that we have an emphatic 'No'.

We didn't say (as Aunty Fracker claims) the Environment Agency was failing to enforce relevant regulations . We said "So we have no confidence that in this, and similar matters, the EA can be trusted to safeguard us properly."

The EA ably demonstrated this for most of the last winter when their competence in following regulations that protected wildlife meant they failed to protect large numbers of people in households that flooded because they had maintained the ditches to conserve wildlife but failed to keep the ditches cleaned out well and deep enough to keep the drainage water flowing and people's houses flooded as a consequence when water couldn't get away fast enough.

They had enforced the appropriate regulations as they saw them, but they had failed in their duty to protect people.

So it is with the testing of bathing waters that we have documented elsewhere. The Environment Agency has bent the rules to exclude the worst year of seawater sampling in order to avoid censure for creating the conditions that require councils like Fylde to erect signs advising people against going in the sea. The regulations said they should have used the results from 80 samples over four years, but they have (as the regulations they are following appear to allow) discounted the first 40 of these samples. That might be within the regulations they are working to, but it's not protecting us.

And they displayed further incompetence in Lytham when they recently spent large sums of our taxes to de-silt the dock gates, but their failure to maintain the watercourse since that time means it has silted up again. and the gates can once again not be opened. That was literally money down the drain and incompetence by the Environment Agency who, we maintain, can no longer be trusted to protect us.

And if you think about it, the whole principle of an organisation whose role is to protect us being happy to operate 'Environmental Permitting Regulations' is something of a strange situation anyway.

The Permits they issue are, in effect, a permit to pollute, and (like a shotgun permit) the need to apply for any permit exists only because there is a need to regulate something which is potentially harmful.

That's the whole point of regulations that license and permit activities.

In our view, the bodies such as the Environment Agency who are charged with protecting our environment should not be granting licenses or permits to pollute it except in extra-ordinary and unavoidable circumstances - and the commercial gains from fracking certainly isn't one of those - in our opinion of course.

Furthermore, we believe that Lancashire County Council ought to be considering whether there are planning issues involved in the transport and disposal of drilling wastes which are likely to contain harmful substances. We believe the Environment Agency's blank refusal to disclose the destination of such wastes renders the traffic arrangements (which the County Council must consider) flawed.

We thus continue to have no confidence that the Environment Agency's decision not to test or examine the drilling fluids and muds is sound. They can show no evidence that the drilling muds from 'our' shale will be harmless. Assertions are not facts.

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