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America and the unanswerable case for fracking


IT didn’t happen. The apocalypse the Green movement promised fracking would bring to America: thousands dead from poisoned water, birds falling from blackened skies and cities fractured by earthquakes, just didn’t happen. Or at least if it did, I didn’t see it on the BBC. Despite a revolution which led to fracking now providing over 67 per cent of America’s gas production and 51 per cent of its crude oil, there was no disaster, no cataclysm.

Instead, there’s a booming energy sector that according to Forbes magazine is estimated to have saved American industry and American consumers more than a trillion dollars (and counting). We’ve now had more than 15 years to evaluate the supposed dangers of widespread fracking and it’s been found safe.

You might remember the video clip the anti-frack movement circulated back in 2010, where water from an ordinary tap in an ordinary home caught fire as the householder applied a match to it. It’s worth watching as a very powerful piece of propaganda.

Fortunately, it’s no more than propaganda. The ‘burning water’ phenomenon is real and is due to naturally occurring methane. It has been well documented for many years prior to fracking and is just as likely to occur in areas with no fracking. Where it has occurred in fracking areas, no causative link has been ever established.  It’s also true that court cases in America have found some of the anti-fracking footage of burning water quite simply to have been faked. Fracking has not caused American kitchen sinks to burst into flames. Sorry, but it just wasn’t true.

If you look at at more or less any scientific controversy, it’s easy to find papers backing your side of the argument. This is certainly true with fracking. But the list of respected organisations happy to put their names behind fracking’s safety is long and impressive.

Not only is fracking essentially safe, it’s also relatively clean. Despite considerable growth in America’s economy since the start of the shale revolution (at least pre-pandemic), American carbon emissions have dropped substantially. Between 2005 and 2017 as fracking boomed, the economy grew by 20 per cent while carbon emissions decreased by 14 per cent.

Much of the campaigning against UK fracking from a few years ago concentrated on local issues such as the potential for noise, disruption, pollution or congestion. But these are all things that although unpleasant can be associated with almost any industrial activity. If you don’t want industry – fine, welcome to your cold bleak new life in the 15th century. With sufficient care and imagination much can be done to mitigate industry’s less pleasant sides.

American ingenuity has disguised much of the ugliness associated with its drilling industry. Los Angeles, for example, is packed with hidden oil wells that locals don’t even realise exist.

If we want affordable energy to power our homes and economy, fracking is an obvious part of the solution. You can’t realistically put a worth on the shale gas we have beneath our feet in the UK. Obviously, gas values fluctuate like any other commodity and there is no clear consensus on exactly how much frackable gas we have. Nevertheless the amounts are still huge and, as demonstrated in America, the costs of extraction are affordable.

We’ve allowed ourselves to be talked out of benefiting from an enormous national asset by a movement which fundamentally is against the very basis of our society. The wider green movement might contain well-intentioned people, but at its heart is an anti-capitalist ideology which would demolish our way of life. They cheerfully admit to wanting to making us poorer by, as the Green Party puts it, ‘reducing consumption’. Exactly how much they want us to reduce consumption is something they have failed to be clear about. But I don’t want to reduce mine and I imagine you don’t want to reduce yours either.

The government should be allowing industry to surge forward with fracking while actively leading an aggressive political campaign to set out the benefits. It should also resurrect the idea of ways to compensate (perhaps reward is a better word) the communities that might be affected. Why not promise a royalty fee? Either to be spent collectively at community level or divided and shared by all households in fracking areas?

If the public understood the benefits of fracking and how safely it has been developed in America, it is hard to imagine that the battle against the miserablist hardcore of Greenies would be lost for a second time.  

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Ollie Wright
Ollie Wright
Ollie Wright is an ex-Labour Party man with a life long interest in politics and history.

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