Friends of the Earth are one of the UK’s, and Europe’s most respected environmental advocacy groups. Few could fault either the quality of their research nor the depth of their commitment on a number of causes related to both progressive politics and the climate. Their recent campaigns on issues such as the countryside, bees and climate refugees are especially commendable.
But they have had a blind spot, one which those more cynical than I might say, is a function of their falling fundraising – their opposition to fracking.
Fracking is simply an example of yesterday’s technological breakthrough becoming today’s mainstream, a result not of a plot against green energy but simple innovation present in almost every industry today. In the five years since there has been any UK onshore gas exploration, the US example has demonstrated how an “all of the above (except coal)” energy policy as embraced by President Obama is not a choice between “fracking” or renewables but is quite clearly both. The Green and the Blue (natural gas) are flourishing together in the US. Fears over pollution are becoming literally groundless as nothing more than low impact industrial accidents have ever come to pass. At the same time, the US oil and gas industry also made an error: The prodigious quantities of oil and gas produced in the US over past four years have surprised producers more than anyone.
Equally, the other key fear of an industrialised landscape in the UK will not come to pass. For one example, shale productivity is rising so fast that around 400 US oil rigs now pump as much as over 1150 rigs did at the start of 2013. Transposing those figures to the UK, as few as five drilling rigs at once could produce enough to replace half of present LNG imports. We would also save up to 40% of LNG CO2 footprint and tax it for our own benefits. I don’t think it all unreasonable to ask that all of the taxes raised from shale, £600 million per year in the modest example cited above, should be ring fenced for both efficiency measures and green energy research and development.
It is thus clear that the worst fears of onshore oil and gas opponents in the UK haven’t come to pass. I therefore welcome the decision of Friends of the Earth not to appeal the North Yorkshire County Council/Third Energy planning decision. Times are tough financially – and politically – for the green movement and one is reminded of the old adage that insanity is repeating the same actions while expecting different outcomes.
Friends of the Earth should squander no more their members’ contributions in a quixotic pursuit of what were reasonable fears five year ago – but shown today to be without foundation.There are multiple other environmental and political actions that have become far more proximate dangers. Friends of the Earth,The UK Green Party and anyone who voted Remain have more than enough issues that deserve campaigns, energy, funds and support.
The UK onshore industry is only now at the exploration stage. It may well be that there aren’t UK shale resources, that it was after all a trip down the rabbit hole. But there is only one way to find out and Friends of the Earth and the onshore sector should remain “frenemies” until the existence of the resources is settled one way or the other. UK onshore oil and gas resources are the common property of all vested in the Crown. They are almost the only thing not privatised over the past three decades. Their use – or not – is thus a common decision of all of us. It’s time for an educated and informed discussion of realities and fears alike. But it can only be one founded on exploration. Simply refusing to look is an obscurantist, almost medieval or Luddite response. We must explore together and then, and only then, can we come to some educated decisions together.