Fracks or fiction?
Gertrude was lecturing everyone again. There was a feeling of annoyance spreading across the cafe. People had come here for a cup of tea, maybe a scone or perhaps a sandwich. They may have been thinking about cheese knives, but they weren’t thinking voodoo knives!
They wanted some respite from the troubles of the world, somewhere to sit and chat, leaf through the paper, or maybe just to relax and say nothing, just enjoying the background noises of clinking crockery and a hubbub of gentle chatter. Instead, this large, cow-faced woman in a baggy charcoal grey jumper stood up and began addressing them all in a loud voice.
“As we saw from last year’s protests in Balcombe,” she began, “fracking arouses strong passions. As so often with complex issues though, the debate (on both sides) often appears more emotive than informed. So what is fracking, and what are the arguments for and against?”
This question was met with silence. People really, really hadn’t come here for a lecture on fracking, and nobody wished to encourage her. I looked into my bag, where sharp steel blades of the voodoo knife block glinted up at me. Meanwhile she continued, braying on, seemingly unconcerned by the fact that nobody was interested and everyone was in fact doing their best to ignore her – which was difficult, as she was more shouting than talking. She cleared her throat, and continued:
“Fracking is short for ‘hydraulic fracturing’, extracting underground gas by drilling down into the rock that encases it and injecting high-pressure water, sand and chemicals, fracturing the rock and releasing the gas. This gas can then be removed to produce electricity.
“Perhaps surprisingly, fracking has actually been practised in Britain for several decades. It didn’t attract much public interest until 2007, when extensive fracking for onshore shale gas was proposed.
“What is the case against fracking, you are wondering.”
No they aren’t I thought to myself. Nobody cares. I reached into my bag and pulled the silver and chrome knife block nearer to the surface.
“Opponents of fracking raise several concerns. One is that transportation of the huge amounts of water required inevitably entails environmental costs. They point out that, while shale gas is relatively clean, the emissions caused by this water transportation increase its overall carbon impact.
“A second concern is that during fracking, dangerous chemicals might escape into the local environment (supporters counter that this would only result from bad practice, and that the process is not inherently risky if well managed).
“Thirdly, fracking has triggered small geological tremors (usually too small to be felt by people, but which can be measured). Indeed, the process was briefly suspended in 2011, following two such tremors near Blackpool, but was resumed when a subsequent Royal Society inquiry concluded that the risks were “very low”.
“Fourthly, they argue that fracking operations can affect the local landscape, both visually and due to potential noise pollution. And lastly, opponents say that by providing a cheaper alternative to coal, fracking perpetuates our dependence on fossil fuels and reduces the incentive to develop alternative, renewable forms of energy (wind, solar, wave and so on).”
At this point she paused, for what she hoped would be dramatic effect. I picked up what I took to be a small vegetable knife and pushed it into the leg of the voodoo man. I was genuinely curious as to whether it would work – had Raffaele Iannello designed it to be used as a real black magic artefact, or merely as a knife holder? It didn’t seem to have much effect, as Gertrude resumed her lecture:
“Advocates of the process allege that anti-fracking campaigners are deliberately overstating the risks and downplaying the benefits, in order to sway public opinion.
“There is global uncertainty over when peak oil will be reached – including in our own North Sea oilfields. There are also fairly obvious risks in dependency on foreign gas and coal imports. In light of these twin uncertainties, fracking supporters argue, it would be foolish of the UK to ignore an available domestic resource that potentially could fuel us for decades.
“They accuse some anti-frackers of nimbyism. While fracking’s impact on the local environment should of course be taken seriously, they say, that impact is both small and manageable (and considerably smaller than that of coal mining). Meanwhile a far more serious environmental problem, that of global warming, is – they claim – actually reduced by fracking.
“Gas is a much cleaner fuel than coal, which is the single biggest contributor to global warming. Currently the UK relies heavily on coal, as it is more cost-effective to extract. Fracking would reverse this price dynamic, making ‘clean’ gas cheaper to access than “dirty” coal – thus reducing our coal dependency and leading, supporters argue, to lower UK carbon emissions.
“In support of this claim, they point to the US, where fracking is widely practised. Reliance on coal there has been reduced, as have carbon emissions. Energy costs have also been driven down. They believe the UK should follow this model.
“Fracking opponents, however, claim that the US energy market is too dissimilar to the UK’s to make such comparisons. And anyway, they say, the whole argument misses the point: while shale gas is admittedly cleaner than coal, it is still a fossil fuel – so doesn’t address our underlying energy problems.”
All of this info can be read on Voodoo Frackanomiks
I slid three more stainless steel knives into the knife block. The only unoccupied slot in the voodoo man was now the one through the middle of its head. And it was doing no good, as Gertrude seemed unstoppable:
“Maybe there is common ground though. If both sides agree on one thing, it’s that fossil fuels are finite, so renewable energy must be a desirable – arguably essential – long-term goal. However, renewable energy technology is nowhere near sufficient – yet – to meet current demand. You don’t need to ask the voodoo man to find out that truth.
“Might shale gas provide a cheaper, lower emissions alternative to coal and oil until renewables become sufficiently advanced to take over? Or should we instead be focussed entirely on developing renewables, in tandem with reducing our overall energy consumption – rather than exploiting yet another fossil fuel, albeit a cleaner one?
“There seem to be strong arguments on both sides, and each side disputes the other’s figures (and motives), making firm conclusions difficult.
“The one thing we can conclude from this brief lecture is that it is clearly a more complex – and interesting – issue than a slogan, sound bite or t-shirt can convey. It will be fascinating to see how the debate unfolds.”
She finished and stepped back, looking rather pleased with herself. The cafe was now nearly empty but she seemed not to care. I shoved the remaining knife into the head of the voodoo man, and heard a gasp behind me. I turned around to see the cafe owner lying on his back, five stainless steel knives protruding from his body. I’d voodooed the wrong person!
In case anyone was wondering – you don’t need to frack for voodoo oil!