So far it seems to me that the fracking controversy has generated a good deal of heat and not much light. Oh yes, the pun really is intended. We all know that the fracking process involves risks. The main ones we keep hearing about are:
- It could set off an earthquake.
- It could pollute local or even regional water supplies.
- It could pollute the environment and damage wildlife.
- It could use up so much water as to cause a local or regional shortage.
- It could add to our carbon footprint and contribute to climate change.
Much scepticism has been expressed as to the benefits it will bring, especially regarding local jobs and boosting the local economy.
Until recently, my view had been close to that expressed by the Prime Minister, that there are risks with all forms of energy generation and that over-reliance on any one form was especially risky, making it desirable to develop a fuel policy which involved many sources, in varying degrees. The risk of having power cuts and/or massive rises in fuel costs, due to failing to develop sufficient sources of power overall, also needed to be taken into account. I had assumed that this meant studying the risks as well as the costs and benefits of each type of fuel and that the studies would include evaluating the potential control measures for the various risks. The results would presumably determine which sources of energy would be used, and to what extent.
However, I must have been wrong. The Prime Minister’s public backing of fracking suggests that it has all been decided. Yet if any research has been done, it has received little publicity. He seems to have begun with his conclusion. This has understandably antagonised the anti-fracking lobby and polarised the debate. The remarks by one of the ministers concerned, that fracking was all right in the North of England but not in the Home Counties did little but add fuel to the fire. Yes that pun was also intended. To my surprise, the other risk which has not been taken into account is the political risk. Or if it has, it has been managed very badly. There was no need for the Government to take sides so unequivocally at this stage. Now they are committed. If things go wrong, i.e. if any of the risks mentioned materialises, the blame will lie with them.
A bit of traditional fence-sitting and limited pilot schemes could have enabled more balanced consideration and enabled any u-turns to be made with less loss of face.
What is sad too is that any research results favourable to fracking, perhaps including proposals for minimising the risks, will be rejected by many people because the government and the pro-fracking lobby have lost so much credibility.
What we need is for the risks of fracking to be properly evaluated alongside the risks from other sources of energy and a proper, honest, public debate.
Meanwhile, if you are worried about your fuel bills, ask me how to reduce them, tel. 01925 445215, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.utilitywarehouse.org.uk/johnhmurray.