‘To frack or not to frack?’ is the wrong question. Fracking happens anyway – and we’ll use the gas. The question is whether we should frack in the UK.
It’s important to realise that we use a lot of gas, and we will probably have to carry on using gas for decades.
First, because gas provides a good proportion of our power, and it will probably continue to do so. Some will say we should move directly to renewably-generated electricity as we close coal plant. That would be great – but even if it was achieved, we would still use an enormous amount of gas.
But many of us also use it to heat our homes and to cook – and we would need to greatly increase our power generation to use electricity to provide that winter heating. Even where new-build homes don’t have direct gas, many get their energy and power from gas-fired CHP – very efficient and relatively low-carbon – and so does industry.
Given that we are unlikely to be able to replace gas, where should it come from? Some comes from the North Sea, but that provides less and less of our needs, as those fields are gradually exhausted. Some comes from our Norwegian and Dutch neighbours.
Despite winter headlines, we get almost no gas from Russia. The remainder comes from world markets. Let’s take an example: Qatar.
In other circumstances, the UK public and its newspapers put Qatar under rather a lot of scrutiny: building football stadiums for the World Cup, according to recent reports, will result in 1200 worker deaths. Those figures are disputed – in fact, it covers the whole number of deaths of visiting workers in Qatar, not just those building stadiums. A proportion of Qatar’s foreign workers will be dying not to build stadiums, but to abstract gas to export to the UK. I don’t notice a lot of outcry about that. I also don’t see much publicity about the efficiency and carbon cost of Qatar’s gas extraction, or of other global gas sources.
There are some excellent reasons for importing gas. Some countries are able to abstract more efficiently, more cleanly and more safely than we could. If we can’t establish that that’s the case, is it our responsibility to abstract what we use from our own land, and under our own oversight?
That goes for fracking too. If you want to ensure you get the best quality of fracking, with the lowest emissions, and the highest safety, do it in the home counties, or anywhere within reach of the local Friends of the Earth group and the Womens Institute. (With apologies to the Environment Agency) – you could not get tighter scrutiny. It may mean we don’t pay rock-bottom prices for our gas, but this is one situation where you get what you pay for.
If you want to ensure you get the best quality of fracking, with the lowest emissions, and the highest safety, do it in the home counties, or anywhere within reach of the local Friends of the Earth group and the Womens Institute. You could not get better scrutiny.
If you want the best quality, do it close to home. I don’t want a fracking rig near my home but if I want there to be gas in that home’s supply pipe maybe that’s something I have to accept. There are good reasons to import gas, instead of taking responsibility ourselves. “Out of sight, out of mind” is not one of them.
PS I’m quite surprised that the renewables industry has been so opposed to fracking in the UK.
People would rather have a wind farm or PV array near their house than a fracking rig, surveys say. In fact, at the moment most have none of the above.
Both types of installation are about realising that your energy has to come from somewhere: you can’t always just leave it to our neighbours and pipe it in. It’s a useful choice to put to people directly: start fracking in the UK and there may be a warmer welcome for local renewable energy projects.