Revd Dr John Weaver, Chair of the John Ray Initiative
Recent events in Lancashire have highlighted questions raised about the safety of fracking and its impact on the water supplies and environment of the communities within which the drilling is planned to take place. However, public opinion and government decision-making processes have also been shaped by the need to ensure energy security and, if possible, reduce the cost of energy for UK industry and homeowners.
The arguments in opposition to fracking are many and various – some relevant and cautionary: some alarmist and misinformed – while the objective voice of scientific research struggles most to be heard. Dr Weaver maintained:
•There will be no large earthquakes shattering famous landmarks and causing the ground to disappear beneath our feet, as some suggest.
•Nor is there likely to be poisoning of the groundwater supplies as long as the boreholes and well-heads comply with safety procedures.
•Local roads may find it difficult to cope with increased heavy vehicle traffic, and there may be significant demands on local water supplies and issues relating to the disposal of wastewater.
•The local environment may suffer short-term degradation, pollution or both. However, there are strict regulations applying to all these aspects of any industrial or commercial enterprise.
Supporters of fracking are right to point to our dependence on gas supplies for domestic heating, industries and power supplies. They are also right to warn us about long-term energy security, especially when so much gas is imported from Russia and the Middle East, which are areas of long-standing political instability. It is also correct to point out that shale gas generates far less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than coal, which it could potentially replace for power generation.
However, methane (a more damaging GHG) leaking from wells could be problematic and while the potential jobs created by the shale gas industry may offset the loss of employment in other areas of fossil fuel extraction, the desired reduction in energy costs is less likely.
Dr Weaver was concerned that what few, even among the “green lobby”, understand is the potential danger of rapid climate change brought about by the continued increase in the burning of fossil fuels no matter how they are extracted or derived and we need to beware of becoming embroiled in simplistic arguments because we will remain dependent on fossil fuels for a considerable time.
Sources of renewable energy and alternative technologies are unlikely to fill the gap between supply and demand in the short term.
What are the issues and what would be a reasonable and balanced Christian response?
The significant issues are:
•Maintaining our energy security
•Ongoing petro-chemical industry operations
•Increasing or at least maintaining levels of employment
•Protecting the local environment
•Reducing GHG emissions and our dependence on fossil fuels
•Putting more investment into renewable sources of energy and alternative technologies
These issues highlight the need to balance the care of creation with the needs of human beings both today and in the future.
Christians are mindful of that balance: human consumption, providing for our own perceived needs, can be at odds with the command of God to care for creation as a whole. To preserve plant and animal species and protect the environment, we need to address climate change brought about by the GHG emitted through the burning of fossil fuels. We need to continue research into alternative technologies and work toward the development of low-carbon economies throughout the world.
Christians recognise that this is God’s world (Psalm 24:1) and that our call is to care for creation (Genesis 2:15). We need to seek God’s wisdom rather than engage in heated or politically motivated arguments. We are invited to share our lives with Christ, seeking God’s love to guide and shape our approach to the environment in general – and to fracking in particular. We live between the cross and Christ’s second coming, when God will renew the whole of creation, where all relationships will be redeemed and restored (Revelation 21:1-4). The now and the not yet acknowledges that we cannot resolve every issue, but nevertheless we can seek to act in a Christ-like way (Mark 8:34).
In the discussion that followed Dr Weaver’s presentation, careful and reasoned contributions were made by senior managers from INEOS, itself a significant player in the gas and oil industries, church representatives., local councillors and members of the public. The points raised by Dr Weaver were appreciated and the need for continuing debate, both in respect of fracking and the on-going power needs of our world, was recognised.
Further information is available from the John Ray Initiative website: www.jri.org.uk