DJ Taylor: Fracking is a highly explosive issue

Shale mining might yield cheap gas, but there's one small problem: all fossil fuels run out. Plus, strange influences

Share
Related Topics

After the Government's decision to allow prospecting for shale gas to recommence off the Lancashire coast, several newspapers offered helpful explanations of the procedure known as fracking. According to the gas industry's finest, this involves drilling rather more than a mile vertically beneath the earth's surface and then horizontally for the same distance. Water, sand and chemicals are pumped down the hole, after which the pressure splits the shale and releases the gas. As for the chemical cocktail that does the business, nearly half of it is apparently forced back up to the surface, to the detriment of water supplies and the surrounding soil.

Great claims have been made for this miracle of engineering. Lord Browne, the former head of BP, has suggested that it could bring 50,000 jobs to the UK. The US gas industry reckons it could improve on this figure a dozen-fold. An American gentleman in a suit of oilskins, interviewed somewhere south of the Isle of Man, assured us all that, hot-damn, he could get the juice flowing by the end of next year if everything went according to plan. But whatever one may think of fracking – and neutral observers will perhaps have noticed that France and Germany have banned it outright – the environmental row that has blown up in its wake made me wonder when politicians will finally get around to addressing the almost elemental deception that lies at the heart of the Western consumer package.

This is that fossil fuel, whether shale gas, coal or oil, is a finite resource, that it will eventually run out, that the materialist lifestyles of the West (and increasingly the East) depend on it, and that at the moment hardly anything has been done about the small matter of replacing it.

At some point in the next decade or so an exceptionally courageous politician will have to stand up and explain to the electors certain of the economic and social consequences of living in a world where fossil fuel is in sharp retreat. In the meantime, all we get are budget statements about the desirability of cheap gas, the prospect of more seismic disturbances off Lancashire, and excitable Americans chasing after the black gold with the same dogged enthusiasm that their ancestors brought to the extermination of the buffalo.

One never expects very much from the public pronouncements of sports personalities, but the round of Formula One drivers' responses to the situation in Bahrain made particularly depressing reading. Following publication of a 58-page Amnesty International report alleging "torture and use of unnecessary and excessive force against protesters", and an on-going hunger strike by the jailed human-rights leader Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, it had been suggested that today's race might usefully have been boycotted. But the sport's elite were far from convinced.

According to Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull: "We should go there and race and not worry about something that is not our own business." McLaren's Jenson Button referred the matter upward: "I look to the governing body to decide... I don't know all the facts, hopefully they can make the right call."

But Mr Button's modest profession of ignorance seemed a model of sweet reason when set against the stark realism of the former F1 champion Damon Hill: "Human rights organisations have had their cases heard. No one is under any illusion. But we also have a responsibility to our fans."

On the other hand, perhaps we should be grateful to Mr Hill for his altogether bracing candour. After all, it takes guts to admit that the interests of your television audience are more important than the showing up of an autocratic regime which suppresses democratic protest.

As for the Bernie Ecclestone line about "not getting involved in politics", all modern sport beyond a Tiddlywinks contest has a political dimension, and it is disingenuous of him to pretend otherwise. It is worth pointing out, in this context, that the mid-century decline in oil stocks will have several distinct advantages: one of them may very well be the end of motor-sports.

As a general rule, much-trumpeted lists of "influential" people end up missing the point. This year's Time magazine roster was no exception. According to its compilers, the rundown of people whose "ideas, innovations and actions"are thought to be "shaping the world" include Adele (a singer), Her Majesty the Queen (a head of state), the actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Craig, and Philippa Middleton, sister of the Duchess of Cambridge and described in a citation written by someone to whose sense of humour I doff my cap as "a latter-day Mona Lisa".

The Shorter Oxford definitions of "influence" nearly all mark it down as an oblique form of power. And how much power does Miss Middleton exercise, you wonder, other than over hemlines or the sales of celebrity magazines. To scroll further down the list, which includes such conspicuously powerful figures as the actress Jessica Simpson, is to suspect that the widespread dispersal and anonymity of the typical 21st-century power broker has escaped the Time staffers.

It could be argued, in fact, that the really influential people in 2012 are the ones who don't appear on lists – the devious financiers sitting in their mid-western silos fixing international commodity prices; the fine minds busily at work in the City, undermining the British tax system.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

M&E Construction Planner Solihull

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Car, Healthcare, Pensions: Progressive Recruitment...

Senior Java Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Leading Sof...

Chemistry Teacher

£90 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are looking fo...

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Assistant Editor: Domestic violence is no petty matter

Siobhan Norton
 

There’s nothing wrong with GM

Steve Connor
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried