Product has been added to the basket

Editorial Frack this

TedSmithMapResized.jpgAs this month’s feature articles demonstrate, whether in the UK or the USA, the PR problems associated with shale gas are not primarily geological. They are, though, comparable to every other energy-related PR problem. Everybody wants energy, as much of it as possible, and cheap. And nobody wants it to be generated - or its feedstocks extracted - by any method whatever, anywhere at all, and certainly not near where they live - unless they become rich in the process, in which case it’s fine, because they can move somewhere else.

Beyond this stretches a dreary and transparent litany of ostensible objections masking real motives. Where a thousand bogus reasons bloom, bogus, pseudoscientific reasoning thrives.

The environmental movement opposes underground disposal of radioactive waste, but does so for the political reason that, once solved, radwaste ceases to be a stick with which they can beat the nuclear industry. Opponents of shale gas are loud on such issues as groundwater contamination, seismic hazard and threats to wildlife (all largely illusory, but highly emotive); yet they really oppose it because they fear that a new, cheap hydrocarbon source will slacken the urgency to develop fossil-free methods of generation (other than nuclear, of course).

Wind and photovoltaic farms are opposed in the countryside on the grounds of perceived unsightliness, but mainly by those for whom the countryside is an amenity, not something from which to try to wring a meagre living. Solar panels are more welcome in towns, where wealthy owners of already ugly houses have roofscapes to let, and relish the returns. Windfarms – although said to be harmful to fowls of the air – largely fall foul of their visual novelty. Those of us who remember the establishment of the National Grid, and the first appearance of its hideous pylons, will remember an identical outcry then (though more muted, because people in the 50s and 60s still believed in ‘progress’ and imagined that this consisted of concreting the countryside, wearing Bri-nylon clothes and eating space rations).

Fracking, like radwaste disposal, is a geological but, as with geology and wine, the geology is big behind the scenes, but invisible front of house. And while we enjoy the sight of MPs being arrested, what they and everyone mostly fail to see is that the greatest immediate threat facing us is – running out of energy. The societal dangers of that will be much quicker to arrive than global warming - and we need everything we have got – wind, nuclear, biomass, solar, shale gas, conventionals, the lot – to stop it.

Dr Ted Nield FGS