Fracking – extracting natural gas by pumping water, sand and chemicals into cracks in rock – sounds worryingly like a junkie slurping up the last dirty dregs into the syringe.
Its impact on carbon emissions, groundwater pollution, even earthquakes, might be arguable. But the issue is really about what drives this nation.
Sober people agree current fossil fuel use costs too much economically, socially and environmentally. Low carbon, low pollution, renewable energy must be our nation’s top priority, as it is the basis on which everything else relies. We already generate more than 70 percent of our electricity renewably, and a recent report suggested we have enough wind potential to triple that.
But transport fuels are trickier. We still import 97 percent of our oil, and sadly most of the alternatives are locked in a chicken-and-egg situation: large-scale infrastructure is not being built fast enough because the customers aren’t there to pay for it. Biofuels are largely confined to fleet vehicles, hydrogen vehicles are still in la-la land and although all electric cars are hitting our shores, you would struggle to go more than 150km from home in one. And that’s before we even consider freight.
Meanwhile, instead of providing the funding and vision to break the deadlock, the government’s energy strategy just prioritises getting our oil and gas on the market. Hence mining in national parks, deep-sea oil exploration, and fracking.
Perhaps this might tide us over while we undergo a massive national transition programme, taking us as near as possible to 100 percent renewable energy as fast as possible. But this would mean galvanising public support around sustainable research and development, alternative fuels and public transport, combined with unprecedented efficiency regulation and stimulus packages. All things we see little sign of so far from the current government.
In the meantime, without a firm conviction to quit, and a practical plan for doing so, we are just another junkie.