A fracking failure

Government and industry overlooked the first, vital task: convincing the public


The battle lines are drawn. Upward of 30 tents have sprung up in a small village in West Sussex as demonstrators converge to campaign against fracking. Cuadrilla, a company keen to establish whether there is shale gas in the area, is going ahead with its exploratory drilling anyway. But the protesters – a combination of local residents and hardcore activists from across the country – are not backing down either. Sad to say, Balcombe is set to be just the first of many such stand-offs. Sadder still, it did not have to be this way.

Fracking has long been controversial. Fluid is pumped into the ground at high pressure, breaking the rock and freeing the gas trapped within it. Critics warn of earthquakes, ground water contamination and air pollution. There are even tales, from the US, of domestic taps aflame.

The technique certainly had teething problems. Nor did it help that, here in Britain, early exploration near Blackpool was linked to two seismic tremors. But the evidence of potentially vast deposits of gas beneath our feet cannot be ignored. Energy is one of the most pressing issues we face. Electricity prices spiral ever higher, as North Sea resources dwindle and climate change policies bear down. We are also increasingly exposed to the insecurity of buying from abroad. A new home-grown supply of clean(ish) gas would change the game, and entirely for the better.

Rhetorical flourishes aside, the Chancellor was not far wrong, then, when he described shale gas as “the future”. He is right to have tweaked the tax system to encourage exploration. The suggestion of possible sweeteners for local residents, perhaps in the form of lower energy bills, is also no bad thing. Given the well-known – if ill-informed – concerns about fracking, however, not to mention Britain’s long tradition of local opposition to new developments, such titbits were never going to be enough. Yet neither the Government nor the industry has done much to get the public on side.

There are risks to fracking. But the technology has matured and careful regulation can do much to ameliorate the hazards evident from early experiences in the US. This should have been carefully and clearly explained. Similarly, although Lord Howell was – fairly – ridiculed for suggesting that exploration be confined to the “desolate” north, there was a nub of sense behind his crass phrasing. It would have been sensible to establish a first shale well in a remote location, or one where there is local support. Such a facility could then be used as an exemplar to persuade the reluctant, sceptical or outright fearful elsewhere.

Instead, there are battle lines in Balcombe, fracking is turning into a hotly politicised issue, and the concerned, the Nimby and the die-hard activist are being pushed into unhelpful alliance. Shale gas has the potential to be a great boon for Britain. It would be a tragedy if the opportunity were wasted.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Newly Qualified Teachers

£90 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently looking fo...

Year 3/4 Teacher

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Job Share Year 3/4 Teacher...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A general view of the Houses of Parliament on July 6, 2009 in London, England.  

The next general election will be one of the most exciting in recent history. Here's why

Christopher Goodfellow

The racist abuse of Mario Balotelli on Twitter is disgusting, but it can be stopped

Anna Jonsson
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments