(Photo by Chris Bethell)
Maybe it’s the threat of earthquakes, or the water pollution, or perhaps the increased reliance on fossil fuels and the threat of catastrophic climate change. Whatever the reason, the British public is not sold on the idea of fracking. The latest survey by the Department of Energy and Climate Change confirmed that only 29 percent of the public support fracking. That’s compared to 70 percent who support wind energy.
Never one to be put off by the opinions of Vivienne Westwood and some environmentalists, or indeed most of the general public, David Cameron’s “greenest government ever” has just announced a fresh round of licenses for hydraulic fracturing of rock-locked gas deposits. With taxes on frackers' profits being cut in half, there's a lot of money to be made by people willing to put up with pariah status and the endless "frack off" puns and cash in. Here are some of the people who will be doing just that.
Protesters in Balcombe (Photo by Matt Francey)
Francis Egan is chief executive of Cuadrilla Resources Limited – making him the Sepp Blatter of UK fracking. He has been dubbed “Mr Frack” by journalists, making him sound like some sort of Bond villain.
Francis was born in Ireland in June 1961 and now lives in Cheshire with his wife and two teenage sons. He is a season-ticket holder at Manchester United and once found himself stranded in the desert on a road trip Tripoli to Benghazi. When not in the office planning to irrigate the English countryside a new arsehole, he can be found reading, playing tennis or watching Fargo.
“This is not a cowboy industry”, he argues, claiming that the criticism of fracking has been misguided and harsh. To be fair I might think that too if I had received a death threat. “We’ve heard everything from suggestions that Blackpool will sink beneath the waves to the idea that we will use the wells for nuclear waste”. The residents of Balcombe, Sussex, appear not to have believed his assurances, with 82 percent of those surveyed voting against drilling. Maybe the lack of trust has something to do with Cuadrilla trespassing to survey private land and marking a garden for the detonation of explosives without permission.
A ship floats on a sea of spilled oil in the Gulf of Mexico after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill (photo via)
Some suggest that it was cost-cutting carried out by Lord Browne of Madingley when he was CEO of BP, that ultimately led to the Gulf of Mexico disaster that destroyed the lives of thousands and almost bankrupted one of Britain’s wealthiest companies. Having contributed to the worst environmental disaster in US history he has now taken his experience to the UK. Browne is now a partner of Riverstone LLC, which has invested £35.4million into Cuadrilla. When he’s not working at carving up the countryside for Riverstone, he’s busy carving up the welfare state – advising the government on how to make cuts to public services. It's hard to tell whether he's in it for the money or because he enjoys being spat on by Guardian readers.
A policeman pinches an anti-fracking protester's ear (Photo by Chris Bethell)
Andrew Austin founded iGas in 2003 and if the imminent takeover of Dart Energy goes ahead he will be leader of Britain’s biggest bunch of frackers, controlling a million acres of potential fracking sites. The CEO takes home a fairly decent £310,000 salary with a bonus last year of £263,000. He owns 11 million shares, or 5.32 percent of his own company, having recently invested a further £400,000. Austin recently raised fears that the British countryside would be turned into a Miltonian nightmare, set alight with hundreds of burning flares as fracking companies ignited the methane gas pouring out of any leaking pipes. “Flaring or not flaring is not the point, it is industry practice,” Mr Austin reassured The Independent. “It is far better to flare leaked gas than to let it vent into the atmosphere. Methane emissions are 24 times more potent a greenhouse gas than C02.”
Andrew will be used to public scorn, being a former City of London investment banker having worked for Merrill Lynch, Citibank and Barclays Capital. According to the latest documents filed at Companies House, iGas has a a net worth of minus £33.9 million. The company website says, “The public and our neighbours in particular may have questions about how our activities affect their environment and we are committed to answer those questions.” When I called up to ask some questions, Austin was not available to be interviewed, as he was flying round the world. While Austin would do well from shale gas discoveries, the real winners will be overseas multinationals. The Chinese coal and oil colossus CNOOC Limited – which has been linked to rights abuses in Tibet – ultimately owns the biggest stake in the UK company.
John McGoldrick trousers £467,330 a year with a further £280,397 in benefits as managing director of Dart Energy (Europe) Limited and once boasted he wanted to make even more cash by fracking under Wayne Rooney’s house. McGoldrick told Australian investors that shale gas under “where all the Man U players live” would make them “billions” adding, “I can’t wait to drill on Rooney’s back yard.” McGoldrick’s firm drilled at the site of the former explosives makers, the 500-acre Royal Ordnance Factory in Nottinghamshire. Critics were concerned that fracking somewhere with a risk of unexploded bombs might not be the best idea. Dart Energy is currently being bought out by rivals iGas for a deal worth £117 million. Meanwhile, the French company Total – famous for allegations of using slave labour in Myanmar – was reportedly buying their shale stake in Lincolnshire.
If fracking turns the UK into an earthquake blighted wasteland like its opponents suggest, at least these guys will probably be able to buy themselves an island somewhere else.
Watch – The Bros of Fracking