Like GMO’s fracking seems to be one of those things that people are either for or against and their attitudes, similarly, come with a passion totally out of proportion to their understanding of the pros and cons of the issue. Either they are convinced this method of extracting gas is going to produce environmental devastation, water contamination and Richter 9 level earthquakes or they see it as a benign technology able to deliver energy security and relief from the economic crisis. The fact is that it could result in all of the above, none, or maybe some of it, we really just don’t know.
Protests like the one at Balcombe in West Sussex have captured the public imagination and attracted demonstrators from all over the country many of whom seem to have an agenda over and above that of the local people who were initially concerned about the immediate impact of a test drilling site in their area and I can see this being a recurrent theme. Rural communities will not want any heavy industry spoiling their commuter belt idylls and so start a local campaign, this in turn will attract environmentalist ideologues who will swell the campaigner’s ranks and prevent any exploration or geological appraisal. But whilst I have sympathy with those who do not want such things on their doorstep if we are to ever know whether hydraulic fracturing is a safe and environmentally acceptable technique to use someone will have to accept that the preliminary research needs to be done somewhere near them.
Of course there is the other elephant in the room that is climate change and the assumption that any technology resulting in extracting more fossil fuels is necessarily a bad thing. Again, depending on the choices we make this could be a valid concern, but there are options such as substituting shale gas for coal, or using it to kick-start a hydrogen economy or even taking a short term carbon hit but direct the economic benefit towards greater investment in renewables rather than cheaper fuel bills. But unless we prove the technology and are willing to have an informed debate all routes to possible benefits, both environmental and economic, will be blocked by the NIMBYs and the professional activists determined to kill fracking at birth.
I’m not advocating for a headlong rush to shale gas extraction as the doom-mongers may well be correct in their beliefs. Even if they’re not it is perfectly proper that they give us pause for thought and insist we proceed with caution. But to not proceed at all based only on local self-interest, fear, ideology and precious little data is irrational and some controlled risk must be acceptable in order to understand what we’re really arguing about. In the meantime we should all be fracking agnostics.
"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"