The risks in fracking
Lost opportunities in London
Farmers, forests and the future
(The Indian Express)
The risks in fracking
Synoptic line: It throws light on assessment of hydraulic fracturing or fracking.
(GS paper III)
- It has been believed that the earth has enough resources to quench humankind’s thirst for development for many centuries to come, but many scholars believe that fossil fuel energy will decline markedly by 2050. Among other energy supplies, shale gas and oil are likely to be abundant and available.
What is fracking?
- Shale gas and oil are unconventional natural resources found at 2,500-5,000m below the earth’s surface, as compared to conventional crude oil found at 1,500 m. The process of extracting shale oil and gas requires deep vertical drilling followed by horizontal drilling. The most common way to extract shale gas is ‘hydraulic fracturing’ (fracking), where high volumes of water mixed with certain chemicals are pushed down to break the rocks and release the trapped energy minerals.
- Because of its benefits, shale gas is being perceived by some as a ‘saviour’ of humanity. Fracking seems an attractive tool, both politically and economically. To gain such benefits, the government introduced a policy on shale gas and oil in 2013, permitting national oil companies to engage in fracking.
- Under the first phase, shale gas blocks were identified in Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. However, environmental groups have strongly criticised this move, which they say will have adverse environmental impacts. Countries like Germany and France and sub-national governments like Scotland have banned fracking.
Assessment of fracking
- Fracking is bound to have positive economic and political impacts. For example in the U.S., where shale gas has been commercially exploited for two decades, the prices of fuel and electricity have dropped. Recent negotiations between the Secretary of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and American shale producers to control oil production and prices show that the U.S. has gained significant political advantage.
- Similarly, if India commercially exploits shale deposits, it could meet its ever-increasing energy demand, decrease oil and gas imports, and improve the balance of payments. But on the other hand fracking is bound to have a detrimental impact on local communities and the environment. As fracking consumes large amounts of water and relatively larger surface area, it is bound to impact irrigation and other local requirements.
- In the U.S. experience, out of 260 chemical substances, 58 have been identified to pose a risk to human life and environment, eight are carcinogens and 17 are toxic to freshwater organisms. Further, as 25-90% of the fluid is not retrieved and cracks in the shaft are possible, there is a high risk of pollution to nearby underground water.
- Instances of groundwater pollution have been reported in the U.S. (Pennsylvania) and Canada. Fracking has other impacts such as increased air emissions including greenhouse gases and seismic activity. Environmental impact assessments of the European Union and the U.K. have recognised these risks.
- The Supreme Court of India has ruled that every person has the right to enjoy pollution-free water and air. If the risk from fracking to underground water materialises, courts can hold the state responsible for it, stop the activity, and order other corrective and preventive measures.
- Another hurdle that fracking might face is the ‘precautionary principle’, which has been incorporated into law. It dictates that where there is a significant risk to the environment or human health, precautionary measures must be undertaken, irrespective of any scientific uncertainty. Therefore, even though some scholars might contest the above-mentioned risks posed by fracking, the government would be obliged to adopt measures to reduce those risks.
- Also the Model Bill for the Conservation, Protection, Regulation and Management of Groundwater, 2016, sets a priority for use of groundwater -right to water for life, and water to achieve “food security, supporting sustenance agriculture, sustainable livelihoods and eco-system needs”.
- In the light of the risks involved, the government should impose a moratorium on fracking.
Question – What is Fracking? Discuss its positive and negative impacts.
Lost opportunities in London
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of migration in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM)2018.
(GS paper II)
- According to a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees report, worldwide displacement was at an all-time high in 2014. A staggering 59.5 million people, compared to 37.5 million a decade ago, had been forced to flee their countries.
- In the CHOGM, off the back of forums on women, business, youth and civil society was strikingly short on detail and vision when it came to the issue of migration. A brief paragraph touched on their recognition of “safe, regular and responsible migration”, and various protocols related to refugees.
- The lack of official recognition of the issue came as the dark cloud of the British government’s immigration policy hung heavily over the summit, and in particular over its treatment of the so-called Windrush generation.
- These are men and women who, often as children, had come to Britain between the late 1940s and early 1970s with their families, as part of post-war efforts to address intense labour shortages, but who, thanks to a toughening of Britain’s immigration regime, were treated as undocumented migrants. In some cases they have been denied life-saving National Health Service treatment and even deported.
- Immigration has long been an issue for the Commonwealth as it has for other multinational bodies, but in the wake of the rise of populist forces around the world, and the supposed opportunity the Commonwealth offered as a bulwark against these, the 2018 summit could have presented an opportunity for it (its Western powers in particular) to send a signal that it stood for something different.
- Sending a message of openness would have indicated a real willingness to revisit and revitalise the organisation. This was all the more so as Commonwealth proponents have sought to make trade a key plank for it to be a bastion against protectionist moves elsewhere. Yet labour mobility, a demand of businesses globally and certainly of India’s IT sector, was nowhere to be seen in the reams of pledges around cleaning up the oceans, cyber security, and pledges to raise intra-Commonwealth trade to $2 trillion by 2030.
- However the situation triggered a larger debate on Britain’s approach towards Commonwealth citizens, and accusations that a determination to bring down net migration numbers had inculcated a wider hostile atmosphere for migrants.
- Commonwealth proponents have sought to make trade a key plank for it to be a bastion against protectionist moves elsewhere. Yet labour mobility, a demand of businesses globally and certainly of India’s IT sector, was nowhere to be seen in the reams of pledges around cleaning up the oceans, cyber-security, and pledges to raise intra-Commonwealth trade to $2 trillion by 2030.
- The summit had been pegged as a game changer for a number of reasons. For example- for Britain, Brexit had made the quest for non-European Union partnerships particularly relevant while the attendance by India’s Prime Minister was widely hailed as an example of the new importance accorded to it by India, one of the largest economies in the Commonwealth.
- At the same time, the summit came at a time of growing youth-led decolonisation movements globally, not least in Britain where students and sections of civil society have questioned the legacy of the empire and emphasised Britain’s need to demonstrate it had truly moved on. Britain had quickly sought to distance itself from “Empire 2.0”, the title disparagingly given by civil servants to the aspirations of some Conservative party politicians for a post-Brexit Commonwealth trade bonanza with Africa.
- The Prime Minister of Grenada, Keith Mitchell, described his thoughts when presented with the clear message from Britain that it wished Princes Charles to succeed. He had thought “maybe yes”, the Caribbean could do with strong male role models, hardly a ringing endorsement. India too went along with the choice, though on the understanding that British royal leadership would not be institutionalised in the future.
- The summit was punctuated by rituals and ceremonies out of date with where the world has headed. Pledges of transparency contrasted with the reality on the ground where media participation was largely limited to heavily-stage managed participation in pools, with limited access to proceedings.
- India, for one, has very specific ambitions within the Commonwealth, centred around small island states that form the bulk of the members (and to the cynical, UN votes aplenty to be got on board). The workings witnessed over the past week in the summit suggest it is as far away from the fact that a multilateral body that can hold its own on the world stage, which gives all nations an equal voice and relevance beyond.
Question – Despite its vast potential, the Commonwealth Summit gave the impression of being out of step with the times. Discuss in the context of migration issue.
Farmers, forests and the future
(The Indian Express)
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of importance of community participation in the management of forest reserves.
(GS paper III)
- In After 30 years, India is set to get a new National Forest Policy which addresses the new realities – climate change, human-animal conflict and declining green cover. However, the votaries of forest conservation and tribal rights have come out strongly against commercial extraction of forests that undermines both local communities and ecology.
- It is a timely show of strength since the draft policy seeks to measure the productivity of our forests by the quantity of timber harvested instead of the quality of biodiversity and eco-system services they host and provide. Beneath the current truce, simmers the banal debate of rights versus conservation, fuelled most recently by the historic march of the farmer and the forest-dweller from Nasik to Mumbai.
- The ministry of environment, forest and climate change has framed a new draft National Forest Policy 2018 which proposes climate change mitigation through sustainable forest management. The new policy, which aims to bring a minimum one-third of India’s total geographical area under forest cover through scientific interventions and enforcing strict rules to protect the dense cover, will replace the existing one that has been guiding the government to manage forests since 1988.
- Forests promise fertility, nourish top soil and ensure ample water. But no farmer ever farmed inside a forest. Because wild animals in good numbers make farming impossible. Because it is no longer a forest when the wilderness have made way for ploughing and sowing.
- The Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006 legislated to remedy the “historical injustice” done to forest people with no ownership of land or a traditional resource empowers the tribal and other traditional forest-dwellers. While the individual land right under the Act is limited to 4 hectares of self-cultivated land, community rights may extend to entire forests.
- Right to own self-cultivated land does not necessarily amount to deforestation. Not all forest land holds forests and many such plots have long become farmlands. And the “forest-dwellers” demanding ownership of those plots are for all practical purposes ‘farmers’. There is no point denying either on government records. But where the forestland does hold forests, felling are required if a forest-dweller decides to plough against all odds, if only to assert her occupation under the FRA.
- More than a decade after the FRA was legislated; the process of settlement of rights is still incomplete. Conservationists view this as a conspiracy to keep open the window to regularise the ongoing appropriation of forestland. Doubtless, our forests are coveted. Land is a finite resource and an overcrowded India has already exhausted most of what is not under forest cover.
- It is the state’s job to curb misuse of the FRA. As the principle of justice goes, its failure to screen the undeserving cannot cost a genuine forest-dweller her rights. On their part, the rights activists should realise that forest-dwellers’ community rights over common resources or cultural sites extending to larger or entire forest tracts is a much stronger, non-negotiable instrument of empowerment than individual rights over a plot of forest land which can be compensated and substituted if the state proposes rehabilitation in some perceived national interest.
- Forests are not for farming. But the future of conservation and grass roots empowerment may lie in community-managed forests.
Question – Explain how the community participation in the management of forest reserves is important.