The politics of energy is an increasing concern, and Adam Corner explains why we’ll all be fighting over this thing called “fracking” in 2013. Part of our series of short contributions from figures on the left looking to the year ahead.
If one of the defining battles over energy and climate in 2012 was between those who favoured a ‘dash for gas’ over a ‘race for renewables’, then 2013 may be the year when the reality of developing new gas reserves hits home.
Some wish to paint shale gas (often discussed with reference to the process “fracking”) as an unproblematic transition fuel, cleaner than oil and coal, buying us time to develop more cost-effective renewable technologies and offering a degree of energy independence by reducing our reliance on imports. But any “dash” for gas is likely to be less a glorious sprint, and more of a clumsy, casualty-strewn steeplechase.
For a start, it is unclear how much shale gas the UK has. There are also serious concerns about the environmental impact, e.g. with respect to methane. And then there is the not insignificant matter of how local communities will feel about living in the proximity of giant, hydraulic, shale fracturing machines.
In 2012, the debate about wind farms – at least among certain sections of the Conservative Party and associated media – really turned toxic. To glance at the headlines in the Telegraph, you’d think that there was barely-contained national outrage against wind turbines (when in fact general attitudes are fairly positive, especially relative to shale gas). Certainly, the siting of wind turbines is contentious, and people (understandably) feel strongly about where they should be located. But this is by no means something peculiar to the siting of wind turbines – the siting of any energy infrastructure is contested – and you can bet your last barrel of oil that if people don’t want the landscape scarred by wind turbines, they won’t want it eviscerated by fracking either.
In Keynsham (near Bath), just as 2012 was drawing to a close, a planning application for exploratory drilling in a potential shale gas site attracted more than 500 objections. The end of 2012 also saw a wave of anti-fracking protests, including a 20ft drilling rig erected outside the home of Lord Browne (http://frack-off.org.uk/action/drill-rig-on-fracking-lords-lawn/). In 2013, expect more of this. Expect also to see controversies flowing from Matt Damon’s film "Promised Land" and the pro-fracking documentary “Frack-Nation”. The shale gas industry seems worried about activism, if a recent study from a risk consultancy is anything to go by. The dash for gas in 2013 promises to be a bumpy ride.
Adam Corner is a researcher and writer focusing on the psychology of communicating climate change and public perceptions of energy technologies and geoengineering.