I agree with Mr Wood there could hardly be a better time to think about fracking. Mr Wood says the country is ‘desperately’ short of energy, and as it gets scarcer, the price will rise.
I agree with him that the threat of earth tremors seems small and I haven’t noticed America being plagued with tremors despite its thousands of drilling sites. Then he argues that it’s all about money, and I have to agree with him on that, too. So why, then, am I against fracking?
Well, if the country is ‘desperately’ short of energy, it could be because we waste so much of it. Looking through two of the Observer supplements this week, I compared some figures. If only 29 per cent of students could manage better than a GCSE grade D, I think their school might not be so proud of itself. But in the property section 29 per cent is the proportion of houses for sale or rent that could boast an EPC rating of A-C. In fact, 65 per cent had an EPC grade of either D or E. The 145 properties I counted included five grade Bs and no grade As. How much less energy demand would there be (and how much better off would the homeowners be) if these figures were much better?
Of course money is important, and with energy we are talking huge world-class companies throwing their financial weight around in ways I can only guess at. But actually, money doesn’t keep your house warm: energy does, and insulation does. What really matters is the physics. We invented money and when financial systems get into difficulties we struggle to reinvent them, but we are all powerless to change the laws of physics: a lesson that very few politicians seem capable of understanding, unfortunately. So, yes, it is all about money, but we have to make financial systems cope with the physical realities of our world. There is no alternative. (umm, I’ve heard that before).
Now, science is telling us that if we want a ‘business as usual’ world, more or less, for our grandchildren, we have as a world, to leave 80 per cent of our fossil fuels in the ground. From now on. No argument. Perhaps Mr Wood could explain how his children and grandchildren will provide themselves with their home comforts when the fracked gas and oil has run down the way, in my lifetime, North Sea oil has done? Currently, the mad pursuit of fossil fuels means Shell wants to drill in the Arctic, now that climate change has melted the ice and made it easier, and Australia wants to blast a hole through the Great Barrier Reef so that large ships can export huge quantities of coal.
However, despite my anti-fracking view, I have to say I am no back-to-the-caves Luddite and on a good sunny morning like today I can be very optimistic about the future. A few facts about solar energy might help. First, the PV panels on my roof generate every year double the amount of electricity we actually use in the house, so effectively we are powering someone else’s house, too. Second, though of course I’m not suggesting it as a real project, if you wanted to supply Chichester with the equivalent of all the energy it needs, including all petrol and gas, you could plant a square just 2.4 miles on a site full of solar panels. So it’s not an unthinkably big problem. Thirdly, if you can imagine the entire energy consumption of the world for a whole year, then that’s how much the sun gives us, but every hour! There’s loads of it. And I haven’t even started on wind, waves, tides, biomass and geothermal sources of sustainable energy supply. All these alternatives can give the UK sustainable energy independence and none is harmful to the atmosphere. Fracking is a short-term stop-gap which, even in the most optimistic view, pollutes the atmosphere with methane and carbon dioxide, requires vast quantities of water, produces toxic waste that requires special treatment, requires constant lorry traffic, may very well not make gas any cheaper and will only last a few decades.
White Chimney Row