Less than a week ago I learnt that pre-planning applications had been made to Aylesbury Vale District Council for hydraulic fracturing. If that means nothing to you then maybe the term “fracking” does. It is highly controversial. It is time we started reading about this in our local newspapers. Fracking is quite an old technology but since oil prices have risen it has been dusted off and refined. It allows us to extract oil and gas from places we never previously considered to be economical. How about the Chilterns?
We shouldn’t be alarmist. We have been told that Aylesbury Vale is set on Oxford Clay which makes it “suitable for fracking”. That doesn’t necessarily mean we will see the oil and gas derricks lining up on High Wycombe High Street nor the AONB. Indeed NO formal applications have been put in at AVDC. But clearly the group called “Support Aylesbury Vale’s Environment” (SAVE) was adequately alarmed that they have put on a presentation called “Gas Fracking – Success or Vale Threat?” on the 19th September, from 7pm at the Oculus Conference Centre, The Gateway, Aylesbury. The talk is by “one of the Country’s leading experts”, Paul Hobbs. Anyone wishing to attend should contact TTHW and we will send on the details of the evening that were sent to us by BCC (via WDC).
This is dynamite stuff. No, really. Just do an online search for the movie “Gasland” to see just how charged this issue has become. The concerns emanate from the USA where the use of fracking to release shale gas has not been without difficulties. Minor earthquakes and contamination of groundwater to name but two. These aren’t just environmental concerns: one infamous section of the movie shows a man setting fire to his tap water. I kid you not. This is a quality of life issue. The US has vast open territory with low population density. Imagine if we had only a faction of these problems in an area as densely populated as northern Europe? Again, let’s not be alarmist. Despite the fact that fracking probably caused a minor earth tremor near Blackpool recently we need not necessarily imagine the worse. It is quite easy to imagine how the occasional drilling derrick in our countryside might be considered by some to be the least-of-all-evils. (A topic we’ll return to below.)
Such analysis disregards one obvious point: burning fossil fuels causes climate chaos. If you genuinely like the idea of gas wells in our countryside then you will only sleep at night if that gas can be burnt benignly, ie, with some kind of carbon capture and storage. Either that or you are a climate scientist with peer-reviewed research that overturns the overwhelming evidence that links our carbon emissions to climate change. (Somehow we doubt it.)
Scratch the surface on fracking and we expose a political divide in Whitehall between Coalition partners. The LibDems control the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). They are pushing for a greening of the energy system with a phase out of all fossil fuels within thirty years. Meanwhile over in the Conservative-controlled Treasury George Osborne has been vetoing such plans. In a recent speech to investors in Britain’s energy economy he spoke only of oil and gas – no mention of renewables. A recent (fact-free) blog on the Adam Smith Institute web site talked-up enough gas from fracking to last Britain a hundred years. It urged the UK Government to abandon all investment in renewables. Guess who George Osborne is listening to? There is no climate change in the Treasury. In one recent (and embarrassing) DECC press conference a reporter asked the question “Who controls Britain’s energy policy? DECC or the Treasury?” You could ask: who controls our future? The frackers or the wind farmers?
This comes down to what vision we have of a Britain fit for 2050. What should our children inherit? Should we have a pin-cushion Britain with a gas well around every corner? Or do we have hedgehog Britain with a wind-farm up every lane? How you answer that question betrays which side of the ideological divide you are on. In truth we will have a more mixed energy system in future. We’ll have both for a long time to come. Fossil fuels must be phased out. The choice for us is how soon we should do this? Do we choose to do this early or get forced to do it too late? Just read the information freely available from the Inter-Government Panel on Climate Change, the white papers of the International Monetary Fund, or the gas supply projections of the International Energy Agency. You could also read former-MP Colin Challen’s book “Too little, too late” where he describe’s Whitehall’s love affair with mega-fossil-fuel-energy projects & dislike of small renewables. The evidence is very clear: our energy security is on the line. We can choose futuristic solutions or we can dwell upon the past.
For me it comes down to a vision. George Orwell summed it up nicely in his novel 1984 when he wrote “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.” Is our future really all about the maintenance of an obsolete & grim energy system? (If that is the limit of our vision why did we overcome cholera and stop sending our children down the mines?) Can’t we aspire to something better? Ask anyone what vision they have for their future and you bet they are not thinking of smoke stacks and cooling towers. Practically every visual vision of modern Britain features a wind turbine whilst all forms of renewable, clean, energy gets overwhelming support from the British public in poll after poll. Clearly the people have chosen their future. We want to be modern. In theory.
If we reject fracking from our neck of the woods let us do it for very modern reasons. Let us keep our dirty fuels in the ground where they can do no harm. Can we share a vision of a clean, green, Britain? It will not always be an easy choice but visions require hard work and change. The Americans fought a very bloody Civil War to overcome slavery. Imagine a world where nobody was bothered? What does “being bothered” mean to us today?
It means we need other sources of energy and it means restructuring our transport infrastructure. It is the perfect storm in the Chilterns. A head-on fight between HS2, the wind farmers and the frackers. It is going to be a war fought over a vision for our British countryside. It will be fought between modernisers and conservatives. Cavaliers and Roundheads. A civil war all about a vision for our society. We fear the result will be unwise – we’ll keep our cars and our views. We’ll stick to our anti-everything stance and reject the future when it arrives. It means living in the past – forever – or at least until the past runs out. Like a temporary pop-up museum with no happy ending.
Whatever we say in the opinion polls, when it comes to our own back yards we want it ‘out of sight and out of mind’. We guess the Treasury know this. It is the Realpolitik of short-sightedness. The short term politics of what we want NOW, not what we need tomorrow. So choose. Make an informed choice. But don’t say you haven’t been warned. Some choices have legs. Some do not. Some choices don’t make problems “go away” – they only stall them for another day. And when that days comes… the choices will be gone.
Don’t forget that you can attend “Gas Fracking – Success or Vale Threat?” – a presentation by Pauls Hobbs – on the 19th September, from 7pm at the Oculus Conference Centre, The Gateway in Aylesbury. Contact us for details.