Haunted by Waters

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You stand in the mist and roar of Snoqualmie Falls, more than 100 feet higher than Niagara, and feel the liquid power of the Cascade Mountains crashing down. It’s been raining, seemingly nonstop, for at least a month in the Pacific Northwest, and this is the payoff. Hope is 4,000 cubic feet of water per second, going off a cliff.

In this century, water will be more precious than oil, an Enron executive told me some years ago. At the time, the suits from Houston had yet to be indicted; they were on a greed high. Having manipulated the West Coast energy market, they were looking for the next commodity to corral — water.

Today, I want to feel the life-force of free water after a summer without rain, the hottest on record. You don’t know what you’ve got, goes the song, till it’s gone. At Snoqualmie Falls, about 27 miles east of Seattle, the mountains squeeze snowmelt and rainfall into three forks that form a river that tumbles to a canyon of green, with aural orchestration.

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Normally a busy site, the big Cascade cataract is nearly empty on this shower-ensnarled day, save a chartered busload of people from China. Clean water in a photogenic free-fall is an international tourist draw. Clean air, in any form, may soon be as well. In China, people are buying bottled air from Canada, in 7.7 liter canisters — a joke at first, now a booming business. A restaurant outside Shanghai is charging an extra fee to sit in a room with a breathable atmosphere.

As the nations of the world gathered outside Paris, you saw the pictures from China: masked residents trying to cope with the carbon-thick soup of the world’s latest industrial revolution. Many may be forced to leave, climate refugees, fleeing to stay alive.

In some circles, it’s laughable to suggest that global “weirding” is an international security threat. But in sub-Saharan Africa, where the desert creeps south, or in Bangladesh, where half the population lives on ground less than 16 feet above sea level, or in Syria, where extreme drought was a factor in the collapse of a nation, a warmer earth is already generating refugees. The Pentagon has warned of coming wars over water.

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If self-interest, or fear, is what it takes to motivate a nation like China to join the world community in saving this troubled little orb of ours, then so be it. Elsewhere, the prospect of 200 million people on the move, most of them Muslim, may finally win over that other block of obstructionists, the Republican Party.

You think about all the places that need water, and all the places that have too much water. You wonder if this Paris climate accord can set things right, or whether the new normal is the scary normal.

In Florida, the majestic Keys are swamped. December rains and high tides have left mosquito-thick canals and stagnant pools. Most of the Keys are less than six feet above sea level. Climate scientists predict that a five-foot rise, which could happen by 2100, would wipe out 70 percent of the property value.

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That’s property, as in real estate. So perhaps this concern is enough to get the Republican presidential front-runner to rethink his pronounced idiocies on climate change. It’s a hoax, says Donald J. Trump, with all the practiced hucksterism of the swampland salesman. He may feel different when one of his resorts is below the sea. He’s got Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, rooms with a view of a tomorrow that won’t answer to his bluster.

His colleagues in science denial, gathered at a fake palazzo in Las Vegas, with a fake canal mimicking a real city that may soon be underwater, could have benefited from a field trip to nearby Lake Mead. This is the nation’s largest reservoir, allowing a city of 1.3 million to sprout in a desert that gets about four inches of rain a year. This summer, Lake Mead fell to its lowest level since it was initially filled. It has dropped nearly 150 feet in the last 14 years.

When the rains finally came to the Northwest this year, you saw images of more real estate in peril, landslides and teetering homes. What you didn’t see were all the reservoirs filling, the salmon streams flush once again, snow piling up in the Cascades — water as a positive force.

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In a month or more, the atmospheric river is supposed to shift south, to California, its Godzilla El Niño. They need 11 trillion gallons, an entire year of precipitation, to recover. As a hedge, this week a $1 billion plant opened in San Diego County, the largest ocean desalination plant in the Western Hemisphere. It’s a small piece, an engineered solution that will meet barely 10 percent of the county’s water needs.

The anemic Sacramento River, the parched Central Valley, the snow-starved Sierra — they will require something more. They need waterfalls like Snoqualmie, the spray in the face, renewal during the darkest days of the year.

(The original has been published in The New York Times)

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Symantec, Levi Strauss & Co., Mars, Dignity Health, and Autodesk Join Dozens of Companies Supporting California’s Sweeping Climate Change Bills

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SACRAMENTO, CA Aug 25, 2015

With barely two weeks left in the state legislative session, more than two-dozen California companies today announced their support for two major climate bills – SB 32 and SB 350 – that would set new ambitious state goals for reducing climate-changing pollution, boosting renewable energy and decreasing petroleum use over the next 15 years.

“Our support is firmly grounded in economic reality,” wrote the companies in letters delivered today to legislative leaders. “We know that tackling climate change is one of America’s greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century and we applaud the California State Legislature for taking steps to help seize that opportunity.”

Company executives also held in-person meetings with legislators and joined the bills’ lead sponsors, Senator Fran Pavley and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, at a news conference. The letters and meetings were organized by the nonprofit sustainability advocacy group Ceres.

SB 32, which builds on the progress made by Senator Pavley’s 2006 landmark climate bill AB 32, sets a climate pollution reduction target of 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. SB 350, referred to as Golden State Standards 50-50-50, calls for Californians to increase energy efficiency in existing buildings by 50 percent, obtain half their electricity from renewable sources and reduce petroleum use by 50 percent by 2030.

“The power is in our hands today to make a difference in stemming the release of harmful greenhouse gas emissions that we know are already negatively impacting human health, the environment and our economy,” said Rachelle Reyes Wenger, Director, Public Policy and Community Advocacy for Dignity Health, one of the nation’s largest health care companies with 32 hospitals in California, speaking at today’s news conference. “SB 32 and SB 350 are common sense policies that our state needs now. That’s why Dignity Health is standing with Senator Pavley and Senator de Leon today in support of these measures.”

“Moving ahead with these bills will solidify California’s stake as a global leader in addressing climate change,” added Anna Walker, Senior Director for Global Policy and Advocacy for Levi Strauss & Co., which is headquartered in San Francisco. “SB 32 and SB 350 will not only help our state advance its climate change goals—which are critical to the long-term prosperity of California businesses, residents and the environment—they will also help our state continue to do one of the things it does best – innovate.”

“SB 32 and SB 350 create a positive environment for companies like Autodesk, and the design community as a whole, to develop innovative solutions around low-carbon technologies, buildings and vehicles that can empower industries and communities to address climate change,” said Ben Thompson, Senior Manager Sustainability at Autodesk.

For the full letters and complete list of companies supporting each of the bills, see: www.ceres.org/files/sb32-company-sign-on-letter and www.ceres.org/files/ca-sb350-sign-on-letter.

“These companies recognize that both SB 350 and SB 32 are vital next steps in California’s leading-edge plan to cut carbon pollution and accelerate low-carbon technologies at the pace and scale called for by climate scientists,” said Ceres president Mindy Lubber, whose group with its recently opened California office is mobilizing companies to support strong climate policies through its business network, Business for Innovative Climate & Clean Energy Policy (BICEP), and the Ceres’ Climate Declaration. “Many of these supporting companies have set their own aggressive renewable energy and energy efficiency goals that will be more achievable with enactment of these two climate bills.”

About Ceres
Ceres is a nonprofit organization mobilizing business and investor leadership on climate change, water scarcity and other sustainability challenges. Ceres directs the Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR), a network of over 100 institutional investors with collective assets totaling more than $13 trillion. Ceres also directs Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP), an advocacy coalition of 34 businesses committed to working with policy makers to pass meaningful energy and climate legislation. For more information, visit www.ceres.org or follow on Twitter @CeresNews

 

Food Irrigated With Fracking Water May Require Labels In California

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A new bill proposed in California would require all produce irrigated with fracking wastewater to come with warning labels. 

The bill, which Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D) introduced on Monday, would require any crops grown with water that had previously been injected into rock formations to free oil and gas reserves and sold to consumers in the state to be labeled. The warning would read, “Produced using recycled or treated oil-field wastewater.”

“Consumers have a basic right to make informed decisions when it comes to the type of food that ends up on the family dinner table,” Gatto said in a press release from his office. “Labeling food that has been irrigated with potentially harmful or carcinogenic chemicals, such as those in recycled fracking water, is the right thing to do.”

Federal officials, environmentalists and the petroleum industry remain intensely divided on how safe fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is. Debates over fracking largely revolve around whether the practice contaminates nearby groundwater, but an increase in farmers hydrating their crops with treated, previously injected water purchased from oil companies has aroused new concern. 

A report released last month by the California Council on Science and Technology did not discover strong evidence of dangerous chemicals in the recycled water — but it also found that state regulators did not have an adequate testing process and that there was “not any control in place to prevent [contamination] from happening.” 

It’s a risk Gatto believes people should be informed of. 

“No one expects their lettuce to contain heavy chemicals from fracking wastewater,” he said. “Studies show a high possibility that recycled oil-field wastewater may still contain dangerous chemicals, even after treatment.”

California’s Drought: Thousands Are Living Without Running Water

tulare-2.0_0 Most of us are feeling the effects of the California drought from a distance, if at all: Our produce is a little more expensive, our news feeds are filled with images of cracked earth. But thousands of people in California’s Central Valley are feeling the drought much more acutely, because water has literally ceased running from their taps. The drought in these communities resembles a never-ending natural disaster, says Andrew Lockman, manager of the county’s Office of Emergency Services. Most disasters are “sudden onset, they run their course over hours or days, and then you clean up the mess. This thing has been growing for 18 months and it’s not slowing down.” Here’s what you need to know about California’s most parched places:

What do you mean by “no running water”? No water is coming through the pipes, so when residents turn on the tap or the shower, or try to flush the toilet or run the washing machine, water doesn’t come out.

Who doesn’t have running water? While a handful of communities across the state are dealing with municipal water contamination and shortages, the area that’s hardest hit—and routinely referred to as the “ground zero of the drought”—is Tulare County, a rural, agriculture-heavy region in the Central Valley that’s roughly the size of Connecticut. As of this week, 5,433 people in the county don’t have running water, according to Lockman. Most of those individuals live in East Porterville, a small farming community in the Sierra Foothills. East Porterville is one of the poorest communities in California: over a third of the population lives below the federal poverty line, and 56 percent of adults didn’t make it through high school. About three quarters of residents are Latino, and about a third say they don’t speak English “very well.”

Why don’t they have running water? Many Tulare homes aren’t connected to a public water system—either because they are too rural or, in the case of East Porterville, because when the community was incorporated in the late 1970s, there wasn’t enough surface water available to serve the community. Until recently, this wasn’t a problem: the homes have private wells, and residents had a seemingly unlimited supply of groundwater. Most domestic wells in East Porterville are relatively shallow—between 25 and 50 feet deep—because water wasn’t far below ground level. With California in its fourth year of drought, there’s been little groundwater resupply and a lot more demand—particularly as farmers resort to pumping for water—leading the water table to drop dramatically and wells to go dry. Those with money can dig deeper wells, but this generally costs between $10,000 and $30,000—a cost that’s prohibitive for many Tulare residents. images (1) If they don’t have running water, how do they function? Of the roughly 1,200 Tulare homes reporting dry wells, about 1,000 of them have signed up for a free bottled water delivery service coordinated by the county. Homes receive deliveries every two weeks; each resident is allotted half a gallon of drinking water per day. The county has also set up three large tanks of nonpotable water, where residents can fill up storage containers for things like showering, flushing toilets, or doing dishes. Portable showers, toilets, and sinks have been set up in front of a church in East Porterville.

Wait, people are showering outside a church? Yup. Some residents have been living without water for over a year, says Susana De Anda, the director of the Community Water Center, a non-profit serving the area. “It’s a huge hygiene issue where we don’t have running water. It kind of reminds me of Katrina,” she says. “The relief came but it came kind of late.”

The state’s offering temporary help, right? To provide interim relief, the county is also working to install water storage tanks outside of homes with dry wells. The 2,500-gallon tanks, usually set up in yards, are filled with potable water and connected to the home, giving a rough semblance of running water. Only about 170 such tanks have been installed so far, in part because the process for installing the tanks is so laborious. Applicants need to prove ownership of the house, open their home to a site assessment, and more—with each step of the process involving a days or weeks long queue. Some 1,300 homes still don’t have tanks installed. water Hundreds of rental properties don’t have running water, and because domestic water storage tanks aren’t set up at rental units, migrant workers aren’t likely to reap the benefits of this interim solution. Another challenge is misinformation: The free water programs are open to residents regardless of citizenship, but myths still prevents some from taking advantage of the services. When the portable showers were first installed in front of the church, says Lockman, many people suspected they were an immigration enforcement trap. Some parents haven’t been sending their children to school, having heard that child welfare services would take away kids from families that don’t have running water.

Who’s working on this? This year, the state has set aside $19 million to be spent on emergency drinking water. In Tulare, the Office of Emergency Services, which coordinates a network of contractors covering the needs of half a million people, currently has a staff of four people. (Three more positions were approved this week.) In the long term, community leaders are working to build an infrastructure so that homes can be linked to a municipal water supply. But that work is “slow and expensive,” says Melissa Withnell, a county spokesperson. 31203778 Are farmers taking the water? Yes, but it’s hard to blame them. Tulare County is among the biggest agricultural producers in the country, growing everything from pistachios and almonds to grapes and livestock. “If you were to just look at the landscape, it’s very green,” says De Anda. “You wouldn’t think we were in a drought.” The industry brings in nearly 8 billion dollars per year, employing many of those individuals who currently lack running water. Permits to drill new wells have skyrocketed—just this year, nearly 700 irrigation wells have been permitted, compared to about 200 domestic wells. (Wells permits are issued on a first come, first served basis.) “It’s like one big punch bowl that’s not getting refilled but everybody’s been slowly drinking out of it and now we have a thirsty football team at the same punch bowl as everybody else,” says Lockman. “Do we have sustainability problems? Oh yeah, absolutely.”

Iowa Governor: Des Moines Water Utility Should ‘Tone Down’ Criticism of Agricultural Pollution

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Iowa Governor Terry Branstad told reporters Tuesday that Des Moines Water Works — a private utility that provides water to some 500,000 residents in the Des Moines area — should “just tone it down” when it comes to monitoring water pollution from agriculture.

“The Des Moines Water Works ought to just tone it down and start cooperating and working with others, like Cedar Rapids is doing, and other communities in the state of Iowa,” Branstad reportedly said when asked if the state government would work to help Des Moines Water Works customers impacted by the utility’s expected 10 percent rate increase.

Water Works claims that the rate hikes are necessary to cover the increased costs of water treatment due to nitrate pollution, which comes from largely unregulated fertilizer runoff from surrounding farmland. According to the Des Moines Register, Water Works has spent $1.5 million for nitrate removal since December of 2014, and plans to spend up to $183 million more for new nitrate removal equipment built to keep up with high levels of pollution.

The EPA allows up to 10 milligrams of nitrates per liter in public drinking water — anything higher than that is considered a threat to public health. The Des Moines and Raccoon rivers, from which the Des Moines Water Works pulls its water, both have exhibited levels in excess of federal standards, a trend that’s mirrored in major rivers across the state. According to an April report by the Des Moines Register, nitrate levels across Iowa’s major rivers have more than tripled, increasing from about 2 milligrams per liter on average in 1954 to more than 7 milligrams per liter between 1954 and 2010.

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“It’s unmistakable. The long-term trend is decidedly upward,” Keith Schilling, a research scientist at the Iowa Geological Survey at the University of Iowa, told the Des Moines Register. Researchers say that the rise of row-cropping, farm drainage tiles, and the loss of perennial crops have helped make nutrient runoff an issue in Iowa.

In response to high nitrate levels, the Des Moines Water Works announced in January of this year that they would sue three neighboring counties that have failed to properly manage the nutrients applied to their farmland.

“When they build these artificial drainage districts that take water, polluted water, quickly into the Raccoon River, they have a responsibility to us and others as downstream users,” Bill Stowe, general manager of the Des Moines Water Works, told Iowa Public Radio in a January interview.

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But taking aggressive action like this, Branstad said Tuesday, has alienated Des Moines Water Works from state officials and legislatures, many of whom represent districts where agriculture is the primary economic driver. In each of the three counties that the Des Moines Water Works is suing (Buena Vista, Calhoun and Sac counties), farms account for 98 percent of the surface land.

“If they want to cooperate and work with us, they are much more likely to get assistance and support,” Branstad said. “If they are continuing to sue and attack other people, that is not doing to get them the kind of assistance and support they would like to have.”

Branstad contended that the state has taken steps to reduce nitrate pollution through a set of voluntary measures known as the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The Des Moines Register survey of nitrate pollution did show a slight decline in nitrate levels in recent decades, perhaps due to farmers employing more conservation practices.

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“I think we in the state of Iowa want clean water and we want to do everything we can,” Branstad told reporters. “We have a nutrient reduction strategy. We are working on a cooperative and collaborative basis.”

But Graham Gillette, chairman of the Des Moines Water Works Board of Trustees, told the Des Moines Register that Branstad’s comments were “hurtful and derogatory.”

“There is no one in a better situation to help with the water situation in the state than the governor, and I am just baffled why he is not interested in even participating in the conversation,” Gillette said.

How to feed nine billion within the planet’s boundaries: the need for an agroecological approach

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Global agriculture is challenged by a combination of climate change, biodiversity loss, and the growing demand for food, feed, fibre and energy. The research and development community has been looking into various ways of making agriculture more sustainable, and agro-ecological approach gives high expectations.

Agro-ecology is a scientific approach to sustainable agriculture which follows ecological principles such as diversity and regeneration. This “nothing wasted, everything transformed” approach preaches for low input, nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration. Agro-ecology is also a system approach, and has a strong social focus, paying attention to public health, cultural values, and community resilience as well as to social and economic justice.

There are Seven steps for an agro-ecological transformation of farming to feed the world within the planet’s limits:

1. Raise awareness among policy-makers and extension agents of the benefits of agro-ecological farming, focusing on its contributions to rural livelihoods, ecological sustainability, climate change adaptation and the resilience of food systems.

2. Provide a new perspective on agriculture – particularly what is a ‘productive’ and ‘efficient’ system – among financial partners, governments and farmers. Instead of a short-term focus on maximising production (and profits), they should consider the benefits of farming practices that support ecosystem services and resilience and use fewer resources.

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3. Provide economic incentives to adopt agro-ecological practices on a landscape level, e.g. subsidies for actions that support ecosystem services, and taxation of actions that reduce them. Other helpful measures include integrating agro-ecological farming in public food procurement schemes (e.g. for schools, hospitals or public catering); supporting agro-ecological extension services; and supporting local business development and markets for agro-ecological products.

4. Sharpen environmental laws and regulations (and their enforcement on a landscape level) to better protect ecosystem services. Revise trade regulations and agreements so that they support markets for environmentally friendly agricultural products. Amend regulations that distort local markets for agricultural products.

5. Build strong farmer-led, bottom-up knowledge and research systems. Farmers should be at the centre of the agricultural innovation system, setting the agenda for research and extension services and shaping policies and investments.

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6. Mainstream agro-ecology in agricultural education at all levels (from pre-schools to universities) and encourage interdisciplinary research on the social, environmental and economic aspects of food production.

7. Provide incentives for more sustainable diets and consumption patterns. Rising meat and dairy products consumption, as well as food waste, are increasing pressures on the land; these trends need to be reversed as part of an agro-ecological transformation of our food systems.

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Courtesy of Ecosystem Based Adaptation conference in Kenya, July 2015.

 

Beware permitting fracking, says farmer who allowed coal methane borehole

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A farmer who gave an energy company permission to dig a test borehole for coal bed methane gas out of a sense of national duty has warned other landowners not to allow fracking and other unconventional gas exploration companies on their land.

The potential of gas drilling to pollute water courses and the effect it could have on the value of farmland left Paul Hickson and his family stressed for years and no wealthier, he said.

“I very much regret signing anything. I would never ever go into this kind of agreement again. As a farmer or landowner, you have the most to lose. I would say to anyone approached, please don’t let anyone drill on your land [to extract coal bed methane and gas by fracking shale].”

Along with several other local farmers, Hickson signed an initial access agreement for a test site in 2008 with Composite Energy, which got planning permission for a test site at Brooklands farm at Dudleston, near Ellesmere in Shropshire , but never drilled.

The company was then taken over by Dart Energy but planning permission lapsed and Shropshire county council is still in the process of deciding whether to allow it to be refreshed. But the access agreement made by Hickson with Dart Energy in 2012 expired last week and the landowner, whose family has farmed the area for 100 years, has refused to refresh it.

Hickson, whose 570-acre farm is at the southern edge of the former Denbighshire coalfield and borders the estate of the pro-fracking former environment secretary Owen Paterson, said that when he signed the access agreement he had no idea of the physical or psychological impact that gas drilling could have.

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“When I signed it there was never any mention of the damage that drilling could do to. I was badly informed from the start. It was a bad access agreement. It was only two pages long but it made out that the company would only be here for a little while and then they would go away. I signed but I now regret it very much,” he told the Guardian.

A protest camp known as Dudleston Castle was set up on his land and he met strong opposition from villagers who feared environmental damage and the prospect that their properties would lose value and environmental damage. More than 500 local people objected to the company’s planning application.

He said that he only gave permission out of a sense of national duty instilled by his father: “He always said that while it was our land whatever was underneath it belonged to the country. I always knew I was never going to make money from it because you never receive royalties for anything dug more than six foot deep on your land.

“It was put about in the village that I was going to make a lot of money but I never was. Some people were quite abusive.”

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Hickson, whose sons have a pedigree herd of rare Brown Swiss cattle, says he regretted signing when he when he learned how potentially damaging the drilling operation could be.

“This is an organic farm and with the drilling on my land I would have lost that status. If chemicals had seeped into the land they would have got into the springs on the farm and could have poisoned my cows,” he said.

Coal bed methane extraction involves pumping large quantities of water out of old coal seams to release trapped gas. It only needs the fracturing of rock with water and chemicals when the gas flow declines, usually after a few years.

But like hydraulic fracking for shale gas, it produces very large volumes of polluted water, requires many wells to be drilled and can lead to air pollution.Campaigners say around 60 planning permissions have been granted in Britain so far .

“I can see why the villagers were upset. I learned that any pollution of the two springs on my land would devalue the farm 60-70%, and that if my cows died I would not get compensation. All I would have received was up to £4,000 to put the land back to what it was.

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“I lost friends over this whole thing, but I also made some new ones. What it caused me and my family was stress. I was worried about the health of my mother and others and I was ill a lot.”

He added: “Paterson disappointed me. He thinks fracking is wonderful and has said that he would welcome it in his constituency. But he never came to see us. Before the election he was twice invited to talk to the community about the drilling but he declined to speak to them.”

Although Hickson says he changed his mind shortly after signing, he could not say anything publicly under the terms of the agreement. It was only when that expired last week that he could legally withdraw his permission to drill, and talk.

“IGas [which has since acquired Dart Energy] approached me last week to ask if I would renew the agreement. They met me on the farm for two hours and I told them about the problems. They were very understanding. They said they were willing to give me a big fee to sign another contract but I said if they put up £50,000, even £100,000, I would not be interested. I am glad it’s all over. That’s the end of it.”

The Guardian 2015