The benefits of fracking are huge.
Most opposition to fracking is contradictory, even on its own terms. Yesterday George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, proposed generous tax breaks for companies that intend to exploit new technologies for extracting shale gas from beneath Britain.
According to Greenpeace: “The Chancellor is telling anyone who will listen that UK shale gas is set to be an economic miracle, yet he’s had to offer the industry sweetheart tax deals just to reassure them that fracking would be profitable.”
This is kneejerk stuff. Yes, under Mr Osborne’s proposals companies engaged in fracking will pay 30 per cent tax on their income, as opposed to the 62 per cent paid on new offshore oil operations. But, as any honest environmentalist could tell you, burning gas produces vastly less CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions than burning oil or coal — with CO2 of course being regarded as the key contributor to climate change.
Indeed, the American “dash for gas” has seen US emissions of CO2 fall far faster (by about 450 tonnes) than in any European country with hopes still pinned upon renewable energies. As with its lingering suspicion of nuclear power, the opposition of the green lobby to fracking continues to make the theoretical best the enemy of the practical good.
In truth, all opposition to fracking — hydraulic fracturing — has an emotive bent. The process involves blasting shale rock with water at incredibly high pressures, thereby releasing the gas contained within. This does, indeed, have the potential to cause tiny earthquakes, but even the great fracking boom in the United States has produced none large enough to be noticed by anybody other than attentive geologists.
It also seems likely that anti-shale gas concerns that toxic chemicals used in fracking might leak into groundwater are equally baseless. While such contamination is theoretically possible, there is no evidence that such an eventuality has ever occurred.
The risk of pollution, moreover, is an ever- present threat with coal power, oil power and, of course, most horrifyingly with nuclear power. Yet disasters of any sort are microscopically rare.
Where those opposed to fracking stand upon more solid ground is with aesthetic concerns. British shale gas is to be found underneath the Pennines, the Home Counties, and parts of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Extracting it can, at times, be an ugly process. But Mr Osborne proposes that £100,000 should be paid to local communities for each well, along with a percentage of revenues. Moreover, as the faltering windfarm industry has shown, rural communities have grown well able to see off unwelcome development.
The benefits of fracking are huge. Quite apart from its environmental advantages, a robust domestic gas industry would reduce reliance on imports. Britain stopped being a net exporter of gas in 2004 and increasingly must compete for supply from Scandinavia, Russia and the Middle East.