A new front in the war against fracking opened up this week when Guy Shrubsole of Friends of the Earth found an unlikely new ally in the right of centre UK Daily Telegraph’s Political Editor Christopher Hope with this story. I would imagine the Daily Telegraph doesn’t support Friends of the Earth in their refugee campaign or much else.FoE members are usually only slightly less rabid Remainers than I am, but the story shows how desperate FoE may become as they morph from a campaign to save the earth to simply one to save their jobs.
The back story of this sudden flourish first. This week Friends of the Earth will get told by the UK Advertising Standards Authority that their claims about fracking based on water contamination, house prices, and ashtma attacks that were used in an advertisement in the Sunday Times are inaccurate. As part of the agreement, they will agree not to repeat them anywhere
In short, a key foundation of FoE scare tactics will be removed. That leaves them with climate change as their main objection. That issue is one that the FoE and I both share, although they are more carbon extremist than pragmatists, more intent on fighting the good like the gas industry, so they can be seen to be perfect. FoE don’t pick any fights with the bad, and there is no stronger mainstream newspaper as supportive on what the FoE usually call climate denial than the Daily Telegraph. FoE simply refuse to debate debate centrists in the climate debate thinking them worse than deniers
The Telegraph love-in from FoE is an example of very strange bedfellows and shows how unable to get an audience on the climate issue, but desperate to keep the fund raising job, FoE goes for the right hook combination of the countryside and heritage issues.
Plans are being made for fracking to take place under Sherwood Forest where an ancient oak stands where according to legend Robin Hood and his merry men rested.
Ineos, one of the world’s biggest chemicals company, is poised to start looking for gas under Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, in a move which could lead to it seeking permission to frack the area.
Two points here. One, this is not fracking, it’s a seismic survey. This is simple science, the first step in looking for oil and gas. FoE think we shouldn’t even think of exploring, being of the Keep It In The Ground school. This is the truly medieval story here, not the legend of Robin Hood. Obscurantism pure and simple. FoE are usually guaranteed a platform by the Guardian. After all, the Guardian is losing money even faster than the Telegraph, and any journalist there has an eye on the next job, one that could very well be at FoE, one of the few hiring.
But the Daily Telegraph, generally of a classic English view that any change at all can only be a change for the worst, are a new front for FoE, even though they are diametrically opposed to every other value the Friends have. The Daily Telegraph for example insisted on using Fahrenheit in their weather forecasts until early this century. Since statistically speaking the DT loses 200 readers a week through natural wastage, i.e. subscribers die of old age, eventually no one understood the weather forecasts and they finally changed to that devious EU plot, the Celsius scale.
This fusty old fogey demographic, who according to the Telegraph editors worship rural England as some sort of Arcadian paradise whether it exists or not, are also suckers for even the most tenuous reference to England’s glorious history.Modern life is seen by the editorial board as a constant trial of change, invariably caused by foreigners and best left ignored.
Leaving aside how an eight lane permanent road work project called the M1 motorway goes straight through it, the Sherwood National Forest is a monument to English history. This guaranteed the story of fracking under Sherwood Forest quickly went viral. Whether you read the story in France,India or even the South China Morning Post, people were tut-tutting, saying “oh dear” or being outraged worldwide. Fracking (whatever that is but it sounds nasty)! The UK destroying their heritage (even if the Prince of Thieves version wasn’t filmed anywhere near it).
The international coverage was gravy though. The true audience was a key target for the FoE, from the Telegraph, and through them to any wavering Tory MPs including the Prime Minister.
Guy Shrubsole showed his hand to the Guardian:
I can’t think of anything more iconic in the English mindset to go for. You’d have thought they’d have learnt from the mistakes of some of the other fracking companies to avoid it, but they’ve gone straight for it.
Leaving aside that a seismic survey is to fracking what an MRI scan is to open heart surgery, Shrubsole showed his ignorance of a key period of English history a bit more recent. Ineos are looking for oil and gas using today’s modern non-invasive and discreet methods of hydraulic fracturing, horizontal drilling, multi well pads and high tech computer imaging of the sub surface. They are doing so because the old fashioned way of drilling multiple vertical wells to reach shallow depth oil ,the completely inaccurate picture of “fracking” Shrubsole would prefer people to conjure up, has already been tried and very successfully at that. But not a lot of people know it. FoE certainly would have known, but they took Christopher Hope along for the ride without sharing this minor detail:
Forget bouncing bombs, the Enigma machine and radar – Sherwood Forest oil was the best kept wartime secret.
In 1942, Britain was on its knees – starved of oil supplies by the constant U boat menace at sea while trying to fight for survival.
The solution was as unexpected as could possibly be – a small oilfield of high quality oil in the middle of Sherwood Forest.
The only problem was getting the oil out, and getting it out fast.
According to the book The Secret of Sherwood Forest, US drillers from Oklahoma drilled over a hundred very shallow wells taking only a week each and produced over 3.5 million barrels of oil during the war. The oil replaced the key 100 octane aviation fuel that gave the RAF a key advantage over the Luftwaffe who had to use lower quality Romanian or synthetic fuel.
Fast forward to today and longer lateral wells take about the same time or even shorter and produce far more from triple the depth. Those depths are 3 kilometers under the deepest roots of the trees, and nowhere near it on the surface either. The last picture Shrubsole wants to put in people’s minds of is of today’s oil well pad. One hundred wells on a pad from miles way and most likely only one pad per ten square miles at worst.
Such an entirely accurate picture isn’t an interesting picture for Shrubsole to paint. Who could be scared by that? Certainly not Christopher Hope, so don’t mention the war. A constant disappointment of UK journalists is discovering how one drilling rig, about half the height of an average crane, lasting less than a week per well, will be the only picture they can get. That’s why they usually use pictures of demonstrators with colourful signs, repeating what Friends of the Earth can no longer say, claiming environmental and health damages. The lead that bleeds for journalists is demonstrators themselves, not what they are actually demonstrating against which is too boring for words.
We currently have the surreal example in Yorkshire of demonstrators disrupting traffic in order to call attention to the chance that shale would disrupt traffic. The media would generally not give the time of day to anyone who says that a one world government secretly controlled by aliens, responsible for 9/11 is poisoning the planet via MMR vaccines, secret chemical trails in the skies – and fracking. But fracking’s chief impact is to make journalists lose all sense of their craft and Ian R Crane , the leader of this band of not so merry men and women is actually given air time by the BBC. Take the pictures of demonstrators, say the F word and suspend belief. So what if Crane makes Shrubsole -or me – look like a Nobel Laureate?
The reality of fracking is that it all happens underground, out of sight and with feared damage only in the mind of either professional fundraisers or those misguided by them.
We can honestly say that no one should give slightly more than a Friar Tuck about oil and gas exploration under Sherwood Forest – or indeed anywhere else. But which journalist could sell that?