Editorial: Concerns over fracking in the UK cannot be so easily bought off

Opposition to a local shale-gas well is not just a matter of ‘what’s in it for me?’

Share

It is not difficult to see why George Osborne is so enthusiastic about the possibilities of shale gas. Just look at America: the bonanza unleashed by “hydraulic fracturing” has sent energy prices tumbling by three-quarters, given the economy a welcome fillip, and set the US well on the way to self-sufficiency – taking all that implies for geopolitical relations with, say, the Middle East.

The notion that Britain might follow suit is an alluring one. Sky-high electricity bills are already a headache; and, with demand set to double by 2050, and much of our dirty, obsolete infrastructure in need of replacement, there is no relief in sight. Meanwhile, dwindling North Sea reserves raise the uncomfortable prospect of relying on imports from other – often diplomatically unsavoury – parts of the world.

Vast reserves of gas just beneath our feet would be a real boon, then. And although critics warn that another “dash for gas” will set back efforts to develop renewable power, the scale of the looming energy crunch is such that it is hardly a matter of either/or. Indeed, given that energy ranks alongside demographic change as one of Britain’s more intractable problems, all available options must be explored.

The Chancellor is certainly convinced. “Shale gas is the future and we will make it happen,” he claimed last month, unveiling a Budget that included tax breaks for exploratory drilling projects and the promise of assistance in negotiating the planning regime. Now, the Government is mulling sweeteners for local residents, in the hope that the promise of lower bills, or even funding for community projects, will bring opponents round.

The problem, of course, is fracking. Shale gas can only be extracted by pumping fluids into the ground at high enough pressure to break up the rock. Opponents warn of earthquakes, chemicals in the water table and pollutants in the air. The US has its share of anti-fracking campaigners, but it is Europe where such concerns are a real brake on development. In some countries – notably France, the Netherlands and parts of Germany – drilling is banned altogether.

In 2011, following two seismic tremors linked to shale-gas exploration near Blackpool, Britain, too, imposed a moratorium on fracking. But the ban was lifted in December, after experts concluded that such problems could be avoided in future by closer regulation. The general public remains deeply sceptical, however; and local communities, many of them in the Conservative heartlands of the South-east – where some of Britain’s most fertile shale deposits are thought to be – are up in arms at the prospect of drilling on their doorsteps.

Promises of perks are no bad thing. But they do not reach the heart of the matter. Hostility to a local shale-gas well is not just Nimbyistic “what’s in it for me”; it also springs from reasonable – if ill-informed – concerns about safety. Instead of focusing on big-picture economics, the Government needs to answer these questions, producing persuasive evidence that pollution horror stories from the US record the teething problems of a young industry that can now be avoided. Making clear that a local well will not blight the landscape would also help.

Shale gas proponents may yet have to trim their ambitions. Not only is crowded Britain a far cry from the wide open spaces of the US. The size of our deposits is also still far from certain, and it is even less clear how much might be commercially produced. Either way, it will be many years before shale gas is lighting our homes. That is not to say that unconventional energy supplies do not have potential. They absolutely do. But there is much groundwork still to do.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Lettings Coordinator / Office Support Administrator

£20000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This London Bridge based estate...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Advisor - Print

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based just north of York, this ...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Account Manager

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SEO Account Manager is requi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The message displayed on the monitor of a Piraeus Bank ATM in Athens. The Bank of Greece has recommended imposing restrictions on bank withdrawals  

Get off your high horses, lefties – Big Government, not 'austerity', has brought Greece to its knees

Kristian Niemietz
A church in South Carolina burns after a fire breaks out on June 30, 2015  

America knows who has been burning black churches, but it refuses to say

Robert Lee Mitchell III
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map