Blackpool, Camp Frack, Chris Huhne, Cuadrilla Resources, Dave Lesar, Deficit Reduction, Earthquake, Environment, Financial Meltdown, Fracking, Gasland, George Monbiot, Green Party, Greens, Halliburton, Huw Irranca Davies, Investment, Josh Fox, Opinion, Politics, Shale Gas, Technology, UK Energy
A drowning man is surely in desperate circumstances when he is unable to see the lifebelt bobbing within easy reach. Britain’s economy is reputedly in terminal decline, growing ever more stagnant, and with no obvious means to pay off the nation’s creditors. One would think, therefore, that the recent announcement by Cuadrilla Resources that they had potentially located two hundred trillion – yes, that’s trillion – cubic feet of shale gas under Blackpool, with at least five trillion recoverable using today’s technology, would spark national euphoria.
After the spontaneous one-off bank holiday which the government had granted as an official celebration, all of the resources of the state would be mobilised; the relevant university research departments would receive massive hikes in funding; we would pioneer ever more innovative and sophisticated ways to extract the gas; energy and food prices would duly plummet; we would make a fortune exporting gas to the rest of Europe; whilst at home we would embark upon a second industrial revolution. People would look back at the “recession” and laugh.
But back to reality. Many politicians and political commentators are evidently far too polite to comment on Cuadrilla’s unwelcome release of gas. They have been warning for years that natural resources are “finite” and “diminishing,” and, in this respect, the discovery of those vast gas reserves poses a particularly inconvenient truth. Indeed, in some quarters the opportunity to provide cheaper, cleaner energy for millions of people may have come as a profoundly unpleasant surprise. Furthermore, there is a general disappointment that extracting trillions of cubic feet of gas from deep underground turns out to be rather less gentle than stitching together some organic teabags. Who would have thought that heavy industry could be so brutal?
The BBC coverage immediately affixes the adjective “controversial” to shale gas, not least “on environmental grounds… [because in America] there have been claims from some householders that the subsequent release of gas has caused illness and polluted drinking water.” Coal mining has not only “caused illness” but led to countless deaths and disasters, although this evidently lies within our industrial comfort zone and so the BBC would never refer to “controversial coal mining.”
Next the BBC reminds us that “tests were halted in June when two earthquakes occurred in the nearby Blackpool area.” “Earthquakes” should sound serious enough to wipe that smile off your face, and one does not wish to make light of these quakes because obviously thousands of people died, homes were destroyed, and at least one teacup was chipped when Blackpool was so apocalyptically laid waste. And if you are not terrified by the “earthquakes,” then there is always the “chemicals.” Shale gas is extracted by pumping a solution of pressurised water and sand far underground, but about 0.5% of this compound ominously contains, yes, “chemicals.”
We should refer to these “chemicals” rather as medieval peasants mutter “it be the beast, it be,” but no less a person than Dave Lesar the CEO of Halliburton attempted to quell the growing public anxiety by making one of his fellow executives drink some fracking fluid during a corporate presentation. Environmentalists immediately pounced upon the fact that Lesar had “instructed an underling” to drink the water, rather than imbibe himself, but as Tychy only ever drinks coffee or beer, it seems pretty clear where Lesar was coming from. Yet it bodes ill when shale gas extraction cannot even find a ready champion within corporate circles. Lesar attempted to appease vague and rather silly fears by demonstrating that it is okay to drink his chemicals, when nobody should ever drink them in the first place because they are being pumped thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface.
Unlike scaremongering about genetically-modified crops, which imagined “Frankenfoods” rampaging through our supermarkets, the panic over fracking is almost disappointing in its general lack of welly. If the Greens wish to hire Tychy for a couple of weeks, this website could cascade down some more creative hysteria. Why, an immense build up of hydraulic pressure underground will lead to volcanic eruptions of toxic chemicals in the heart of Blackpool, and even radioactive volcanic chemical ash raining down upon Blackpool pier. Whole housing estates will collapse into underground chemical lakes.
“Frack Off,” a microscopic protest movement which can only dream of becoming a mob, at least has some good journalists on its team, and perhaps they are on to something with the argument that “the timing of Cuadrilla’s test result is no coincidence.” It turns out that the company’s principle investor was rather short on cash when Cuadrilla dropped its bombshell, and that the announcement of such a large discovery was essentially a bid for funding and market confidence.
But Frack Off are trying to have their cake and eat it, in raising uncertainties about “fracking” which only more research and development could settle, and simultaneously demanding a moratorium on any further R&D. In any case, even the top Green George Monbiot has admitted that “the quantity of shale gas might be substantial is not a proposition I would bet against,” but Monboid more honestly argues that industrialisation should have ceased in the fifteenth century and he is flatly against procuring any more cheap energy.
Meanwhile, within the corridors of power, the Lib Dem creep Chris Huhne, who is responsible for our national energy policy, is apparently against the discovery of shale gas because his policy is predicated upon not discovering any shale gas. Alarmingly, Huhne is an admirer of Josh Fox’s documentary “Gasland,” which he recently commended to his party conference. Alas, “Gasland” turns out to be the most fatuous scaremongering rant, which even many opponents of shale drilling are now too embarrassed to cite as a credible source. The money shot of Fox’s film – American householders igniting their tap water – itself went up in flames after a disastrous encounter with the investigative journalist Phelim McAleer. Under pressure, Fox was forced to make everything perfectly clear:
“The point is this: the citizens reported that they could not light their water before the drilling, and after the drilling they could light their water on fire… but I don’t care about the reports of 1976.There are reports from 1936 that people could light their water on fire in New York State. But that has no bearing on this situation. At all… There is methane in groundwater. It happens.”
Whatever the cause of Fox’s explosive plumbing, we are again stuck at a short-term problem which has been presented as an immovable obstacle. Fox implies that the tap water has been contaminated with a flammable byproduct of fracking, or gas somehow displaced by fracking, but even if such a thing was possible, the logical solution would be more R & D into fracking, rather than ending fracking altogether. If Fox had been around in 1830, he would have no doubt demanded a moratorium on rail travel because William Huskisson had stepped in front of Stevenson’s Rocket.
Rather than being judged on its independent merits, shale drilling has been tossed into already-raging ideological battles. The Camp Frack march chanted slogans against “corporate greed,” when Cuadrilla has only about 70 employees; whilst the Green MP Caroline Lucas sneered that, “with pound signs in his eyes, Cuadrilla’s chief executive says he was “excited” by the find,” as if the gas executive should be doing it for the art. If fracking was lead by nationalised industries rather than evil companies, would the Green movement support it? Obviously not, so then why submit fracking as an argument against capitalism?
Shale drilling will not be the “miracle” panacea to our economic woes, as James Deningpole claims, without contributing to a wider plan for economic growth, which involves a determined investment in industry, innovation, and higher education. Which reminds me, what does the Labour Party, the historical champion of industry and the working man, have to say about the prospects for shale development? Labour’s shadow energy minister Huw Irranca-Davies has demanded a temporary moratorium on all drilling.