ON SATURDAY (Oct 29), protesters gathered outside Barclays in Aberystwyth to object to the bank financing shale gas fracking in the UK. A group of around 10 protesters mounted an information stall, gathered petition signatures and engaged passers-by in conversations about the issues.
Via a private equity arm of the bank, Global Natural Resource Investments, Barclays own some 97% of Third Energy, a large shale gas exploration company. Aberystwyth protesters dressed in a variety of costumes representing bio-hazard workers, Halloween witches and ghouls. Côr Gobaith turned out to support the protest, with some 20 members of the activist choir singing many popular songs with lyrics adapted to comment on Barclays and fracking. Reworking William Blake’s words to Hubert Parry’s tune Jerusalem, Côr Gobaith sang the brilliantly parodic line: ‘And do the frackers know time is up / To use their dark satanic drills’.
ABERYSTWYTH OUTDOES ITSELF AGAIN!
One of the organisers of the protest, Sandra Prusaka, told The Herald: “We managed to get 15 letters of concern signed, which we delivered to the local branch manager and he said he’ll pass them on. 122 people signed the petition. All in all, some people just didn’t know what fracking was, so our aim to educate people on the issue was definitely met. Some were surprised to know just how much money Barclays invest in fossil fuels. A number of people told us that they were glad we organised this demo and were happy to sign petitions and letters, wishing us luck. One person told us ‘I despise fracking’, and rushed to our table to sign everything we had!”
On the other hand, Sandra said: “Some people were saying ‘well, it’s not happening in Wales’, and generally being confused why we’re doing it [protesting] in Wales when the fracking is happening in England. I think maybe next demo we’ll try to get some props to communicate that this is a shared problem.”
Sandra concluded: “As always, the Aberystwyth community has outdone itself in mobilising on short notice, bringing their own props, dressing up, committing three hours of their day to hand out leaflets, standing next to our stall to help the ones signing the papers, engaging in conversation, and, of course, singing!”
Another of the protesters, Karina Klepere, told The Herald: “The sound from the choir and their anti-fracking lyrics were truly beautiful. At times, it was not possible to talk to people about fracking and the future of the natural resources or the sustainable living in general because the performance was very powerful. It was interesting to have a discussion with the people on the streets on the matter. The students had the least care for the issue, they appeared in a greater rush and, being in bigger groups, they were more difficult to approach in a meaningful way. However, the parents and grandparents had an engaging interaction with us. I noted that the people on the streets wanted to read about fracking. They either had never heard of this method of extracting gas or knew no more than just the name. School children were interested in reading the material that we were distributing. At 2pm, we had run out of the spaces for signing the petition but people were still signing in the margins!”
Fracking is shorthand for the process of hydraulic fracturing. It is often used to fracture rock formations in which tiny bubbles of methane gas are trapped. The process can also be used to extract oil trapped in rock formations. Along with exploiting tar sands, deep water drilling, extracting coal-bed methane and underground coal gasification, fracking is one of a family of technologies that are labelled ‘extreme energy’. Professor Mark Whitehead of Aberystwyth University has described such technologies as almost literally ‘scraping the barrel’, the desperate death throes of the fossil fuel industry. Fracking companies drill down into the rock and inject a mixture of water, sand and chemicals under pressure to cause the rock to fracture. The methane released is all supposed to be captured at the surface. In the UK, the main area where fracking could be used is in the Bowland- Hodder (Carboniferous) shale rock that runs under northern central England. In Wales, the Vale of Glamorgan is a likely area for companies to attempt to exploit coal-bed methane while underground coal gasification could be pursued under Swansea Bay and the Loughor Estuary.
There are many valid environmental, health and political concerns about fracking in the UK. On the environmental side, the process can cause earthquakes. This happened in 2011 when two earthquakes near Blackpool were caused by Cuadrilla fracking for shale gas at Preese Hall. Although earthquakes caused by fracking are likely to be relatively minor, they can cause structural damage to buildings and infrastructure. A major fear is that damage to gas well-heads could lead to the pollution of groundwater by the chemical cocktails used in the process. In the US, a recent study by Yale School of Public Health is the latest to link chemical contamination from the fracking industry to an increased risk of childhood leukaemia.
Following the Blackpool earthquakes, fracking was suspended in the UK but the ban was lifted in 2012. Wales does not have a moratorium on fracking, although that is often reported.
Other environmental concerns include the huge amount of water that is required for fracking and how the contaminated waste water is disposed of. The larger-scale environmental concern is climate change. Although shale gas is methane (natural gas) and it emits less carbon dioxide when burned than coal or oil, it is still a fossil fuel. Moreover, some research documents methane escaping directly into the atmosphere from fracking. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, in simple terms, 25 times worse than carbon dioxide measure for measure.
On the political side, critics argue that investment in fracking detracts from putting resources into making the transition to renewable energy, such as wind, solar and forms of tidal power. Communities where fracking occurs have a range of local worries too, including the number of heavy tankers on their roads and the blot on the landscape of drilling rigs. Currently, the major political concern is the undemocratic process being employed to force fracking on unwilling communities. In early October, Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, upheld an appeal from Cuadrilla against an earlier decision by Lancashire County Council to turn down their plans to frack on the Fylde. One week later, a survey by the University of Nottingham found that opposition to fracking in the UK had hit a record high, and for the first time more people were opposed than in favour. Of those people surveyed who knew what shale gas was, over 41% were against it, with some 37% for. Meanwhile, levels of public support for onshore windfarms and solar power are on the rise, at 73% and 83% respectively.
The Aberystwyth protest was part of a UK-wide week of action calling for Barclays to end their investments in fossil fuels. Third Energy hold the licence to frack in Ryedale, North Yorkshire, which was given the go-ahead in May 2016. The week of action was organised by a coalition of environmental groups including Friends of the Earth, 350. org, SumOfUs, People and Planet and Frack Free Ryedale. A spokesperson for Friends of the Earth said: “Fracking is not compatible with tackling climate change. Barclays’ fracking investment is risky for both people and the planet.
“We want Barclays to withdraw their plans to frack in Ryedale. Instead of a dash for gas, we need to get behind renewables and energy saving.”
Fracking companies are already suffering financially and appear a very poor risk for investors. Britain’s leading shale gas company, Cuadrilla, reported losses of almost £15m for 2015. As the financial pressure mounts on them, however, there is no doubt that the fracking companies are exerting similar pressure on central government to overturn local and environmental objections to fracking. Hence the government’s reversing Lancashire County Council’s decision not to at the Preston New Road site. The government seems to be fixated on shale gas because fracking has transformed the energy economy of the US. Despite the UK presenting a very different geological, economic and regulatory prospect, according to environmental journalist Damien Carrington, the government is intoxicated by ‘the heady fracking fumes drifting across the Atlantic’.
In May 2015, Third Energy followed Cuadrilla in applying for a licence to frack for gas in Britain, making an application for a test well at Kirby Misperton in Ryedale, which is around 25 miles from York. Ignoring protests from local residents and environmental campaigners, Third Energy is confident it will be permitted to proceed. When she was energy secretary, Amber Rudd announced the government’s absolute determination to forge ahead with shale gas, even allowing extraction under national parks.
WALES TUNES IN
Up and down the UK, hundreds of people took to the streets in more than 80 actions, collecting petition signatures, sending letters, and running spooky Halloween-themed events to ask Barclays to stop funding fracking. For many, the most effective action has been to close their account with Barclays and transfer to another bank.
The online advice site moneysavingsexpert.com does not list Barclays among its ‘Top’ current accounts rated for free switching cash, interest-paying, cashback, with insurance, if you’re overdrawn, or ethical. So, a relatively simple protest against fracking is also likely to work to an account holder’s personal advantage.
In Cardiff on Saturday, Friends of the Earth and People and Planet set up a cocktail bar outside Barclays Bank in Working Street to highlight the risks of drinking water contamination from the cocktail of chemicals used in fracking. The ‘Frackalicious Cocktail Bar’ served ‘fracked water’ cocktails to passers-by. Chris Brown of Cardiff Friends of the Earth said: “Water is essential to life and we mess with it at our peril.
“We need to learn from the experiences of communities in the United States and keep the UK frack-free.” For People and Planet, the student environmental group, Jack Pickering added: “Until Barclays cancel their fracking plans in North Yorkshire, we will support the Boycott Barclays campaign. We are asking Barclays customers to move their money.”
In London, DJ Al Williams from Blackwood in South Wales entertained around 100 protesters in a 90 minute action with a playlist spanning five decades of music. Al told The Herald: “It’s the first time I’ve ever played somewhere like that. A sofa was delivered to the Barclays branch upon which two Ryedale residents then sat down. Yorkshire tea and biscuits were served and there was music, dancing and speeches in what was a family-friendly event. The message to all was loud and clear – Third Energy are a toxic investment and Barclays Bank needs to clean up its act.”
FRACK FREE WALES UPDATE
Keith Ross of the network Frack Free Wales told The Herald: “Things are very quiet at the moment. On July 1, the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) withdrew three PEDLs (Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences) in Wales, two from Coastal Oil & Gas and one from GP Energy. The two Coastal Oil & Gas sites were areas where test drilling was carried out some years ago, but there has been no activity since.
The GP Energy site was at Borras, near Wrexham. There was a lot of activity around this site a year or so ago, including the eviction of the original protest camp on the site. However, it now appears that GP Energy – a subsidiary of Dart Energy – have no plans to drill on this site. Two further PEDLs held by UK Methane were due to expire on September 30, but the OGA listing of Licence Relinquishments has not been updated since mid-August, so we don’t yet know if these PEDLs have been withdrawn. Again, these cover sites where test drilling was carried out some years ago and there has been no activity since. Planning Permission for one of the sites, at Banwen near Neath, has now expired.
“This leaves UK Methane and Coastal Oil & Gas with nine sites where they have planning permission for test drilling. Only three of these sites – Merthyr Mawr, Llandow and Pontrhydyfen – have Environmental Permits. There has been no activity on these sites since the Environmental Permits were issued over a year ago. Last month, someone applied for a Coal Access Permit for the Cwmafan area, which covers Pontrhydyfen. We’ve not been able to find out who applied for the permit and whether it was granted or not. There’s been no development on either of the Underground Coal Gasification licence areas (Loughor and Dee estuaries) for over a year now.”
Despite the calm, Keith still fears the fracking storm may be coming for Wales and knows that Frack Free Wales must remain vigilant. As in England, some of Wales’ extreme energy companies are getting financially desperate, Keith believes, and desperate ends call for desperate means: “We should not write them off just yet!”
Wales does not have a moratorium on fracking but, since February 2015, fracking cannot be carried out in Wales without the permission of the Minister responsible for National Resources. In 2015, in response to a petition from the group Frack Free West Wales, Ceredigion became the first local authority in Wales to declare itself ‘frack free’, paving the way for others. Swansea, for example, followed suit in early 2016. Barclays in Aberystwyth is likely to face continuing protests. Earlier this year, in May, The Herald reported on a Frack Free West Wales protest outside the bank.
The petition against the government’s decision to allow fracking in Lancashire can be found at petition.parliament.uk/ petitions/168675.
Schools and Businesses in Ceredigion close following a rise in coronavirus cases
THE rise in cases of coronavirus in Ceredigion is a result of people mixing with other households and socially says council.
A spokesperson said that the number of contacts for each positive coronavirus case is increasing, which shows people are mixing more socially.
Seven schools have already closed and several businesses have been issued with closure orders.
The number of daily cases now stand at the highest since the pandemic began.
A number of businesses have already been served with closure notices for breaking regulations.
Seven schools have closed for a two week period starting Monday, November 27 and are due to re-open on December 7.
Schools which are closed ofr two week period are: Ysgol Uwchradd Aberteifi, Ysgol Gynradd Aberteifi, Ysgol Gynradd Penparc, Ysgol Gynradd Aberporth, Ysgol Gynradd T.Llew Jones, Ysgol Gynradd Llechryd and Ysgol Gynradd Cenarth.
A small number of pupils at Ysgol Gyfun Penglais, Aberystwyth have been asked to self-isolate for 14 days following the confirmation of a further COVID-19 case at the school.
All confirmed contacts of the positive case must remain at home for 14 days to reduce the possible spread of the virus to family, friends and the wider community. The pupils will be taught remotely for this period.
A council spokesperson said: “We are now seeing the virus spreading in our communities, several of which can be traced back to super spreader events such as parties and social gatherings.
“This kind of behaviour is totally irresponsible and is putting the health of our loved ones at risk, is having a direct impact on the education of our children and is putting pressure on the NHS.
“Contact tracing has identified that the number of contacts for each positive case has increased, which tells us that people are mixing households and are mixing socially.
“The council has taken action and has served several businesses with improvement and closure notices where they have been breaking coronavirus regulations.
“The council will continue to issue notice where we become aware of concerns or breaches.
“Members of the public are urged to inform us if they have any concerns that a business in Ceredigion does not have adequate measures in place to operate safely.
Stay apart to play your part. By doing this, we will be protecting the health and wellbeing of our most vulnerable, including care services for the elderley and those whose medical conditions make them particularly at risk from Covid-19.
“We will be protecting the education provision within schools, colleges and universities. We will enable the local economy to survive the winter months.
“Together, we can keep Ceredigion safe.”
The council have issued the following guidance to residents:
- Keep a 2m social distance from each other when out and about – indoors and outdoors;
- Wash your hands regularly;
- Limit your social contact;
- Work from home wherever possible;
- Households are able to form a ‘bubble’ with one other – that bubble arrangement cannot be swapped, changed, or extended further than one household;
- People are allowed to meet with others from outside that bubble in a regulated venue, such as a pub or restaurant where there are strict safety protocols in place, but the maximum number of people that can meet is four and even then social distancing should be maintained wherever possible;
- Wear a face mask in indoor public places, shops and on public transport;
- Self-isolate immediately at the first sign of any COVID-19 symptoms and arrange a test immediately, only leaving home to get tested. A test needs to be booked online or by phoning 119.
Chief Education Officer for Ceredigion County Council said: “We are extremely concerned about the spread of coronavirus in the Cardigan area.
“A significant number of recent positive cases has resulted in a very high number of people being classed as contacts to a positive case.
“Many of these contacts now have coronavirus symptoms and we are awaiting the test results.
“There is overwhelming evidence that the speed of the virus in the Cardigan area means that immediate action is needed.”
The Council urges all parents to refer their children for a test if they develop any of the symptoms, which are:
- a high temperature
- a new continuous cough
- a loss or change to sense of smell or taste.
You can apply for a test on https://gov.wales/apply-coronavirus-covid-19-test or by phoning 119.
Lib Dems urge Chancellor to ‘level the playing field’ for small local shops over Christmas
CEREDIGION’S Liberal Democrats have called on the UK Government to “level the playing field” to help the county’s high streets compete with internet giants in the run up to Christmas.
The Liberal Democrats fear local shops hit by decreased footfall during the coronavirus pandemic will continue to struggle, and have therefore proposed a new scheme similar to how the Eat Out to Help Out scheme helped local restaurants.
To encourage people to support their local high streets while shopping from home, the Lib Dems want to see the UK Government cover postage costs. Lib Dem Treasury Spokesperson Christine Jardine has written to the Chancellor Rishi Sunak urging him to adopt the idea.
The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has welcomed the idea to help firms survive. Mike Cherry, UK Chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “This is the type of creative idea that would boost small businesses and balance out the playing field.”
Cadan ap Tomos, Welsh Liberal Democrat Senedd candidate for Ceredigion, said:
“Small businesses across Ceredigion have been worried for months about staying afloat. For so many, Christmas is their most lucrative time of year but coronavirus restrictions mean our town centres are quieter than ever.
“When people turn online to do their Christmas shopping, free postage offers from online shopping giants are very tempting. That makes it even harder for small businesses in Ceredigion to compete, putting our high streets and local economy at further risk.
“The UK Government need to step in and level the playing field, to protect the vibrant array of small businesses that are the backbone of our local economy in Ceredigion.”
Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Jane Dodds added:
“In the Summer, the Chancellor launched a campaign to support the hospitality sector. We now need to see the UK Government go the extra mile to support small business in the festive period.
“We want the Chancellor to pay the postage on online purchases from small local independent shops to make them a more viable option for people hunting for Christmas presents and encourage people to shop small from home.”
Mike Cherry, UK Chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, said:
“This is the type of creative idea that would boost small businesses and balance out the playing field.
“We must do everything we can to help our small, independent stores.
“This is going to be the most important festive season our economy has ever seen and could be make-or-break for some of our small businesses. That’s why we must pull out all the stops to help them survive the end of 2020 and beyond.”
Self Assessment customers warned about scammers posing as HMRC
SELF ASSESSMENT customers should be alert to criminals claiming to be from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).
As the department issues thousands of SMS messages and emails as part of its annual Self Assessment tax return push, HMRC is warning customers completing their returns to take care to avoid being caught out by scammers. The annual tax return deadline is on 31 January 2021.
The department knows that fraudsters use calls, emails or texts to contact customers. In the last 12 months, HMRC has responded to more than 846,000 referrals of suspicious HMRC contact from the public, and reported over 15,500 malicious web pages to internet service providers to be taken down. Almost 500,000 of the referrals from the public offered bogus tax rebates.
Many scams target customers to inform them of a fake ‘tax rebate’ or ‘tax refund’ they are due. The imposters use language intended to convince them to hand over personal information, including bank details, in order to claim the ‘refund’. Criminals will use this information to access customers’ bank accounts, trick them into paying fictitious tax bills, or sell on their personal information to other criminals.
HMRC’s Interim Director General for Customer Services, Karl Khan, said: “We know that criminals take advantage of the Self Assessment deadline to panic customers into sharing their personal or financial details and even paying bogus ‘tax due’.
“If someone calls, emails or texts claiming to be from HMRC, offering financial help or asking for money, it might be a scam. Please take a moment to think before parting with any private information or money.”
Pauline Smith, Head of Action Fraud, said: “Criminals are experts at impersonating organisations that we know and trust. We work closely with HMRC to raise awareness of current scams and encourage people to report any suspicious calls or messages they receive, even if they haven’t acted on them, to the relevant channels. This information is crucial in disrupting criminal activity and is already helping HMRC take down fraudulent websites being used to facilitate fraud.
“It’s important to remember if you’re contacted out the blue by someone purporting to be from HMRC asking for your personal or financial details, or offering you a tax rebate, grant or refund, this could be a scam. Do not respond, hang up the phone, and take care not to click on any links in unexpected emails or text messages. You should contact HMRC directly using a phone number you’ve used before to check if the communication you have received is genuine.
“If you’ve been the victim of fraud, contact your bank immediately and please report it to Action Fraud online at actionfraud.police.uk or by calling 0300 123 2040.”
Customers can report suspicious activity to HMRC at email@example.com and texts to 60599. They can also report phone scams online on GOV.UK.
HMRC is also warning the public to be aware of websites that charge for government services – such as call connection sites – that are in fact free or charged at local call rates. Other companies charge people for help getting ‘tax refunds’. One way to safely claim a tax refund for free is to log into your Personal Tax Account.
HMRC has a dedicated Customer Protection team that identifies and closes down scams but asks the public to recognise the signs to avoid becoming a victim. HMRC regularly publishes examples of new scams on GOV.UK to help customers recognise phishing emails and bogus contact by email, text or phone.
Ways to spot a tax scam
It could be a scam if it:
- is unexpected
- offers a refund, tax rebate or grant
- asks for personal information like bank details
- is threatening
- tells you to transfer money.
Self Assessment customers can complete their tax return online and help and support is available on GOV.UK.
To protect against identity fraud customers must verify their identity when accessing HMRC’s online services. They must have two sources of information including:
- credit reference agency data
- tax credits
- UK Passport
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