The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
London’s Mayor Boris Johnson Says, “Frack, Baby, Frack”

Boris Johnson, mayor of London, just jumped on the fracking train:

Our nukes are so high-maintenance that the cost of disposing of their spent fuel rods is put at about £100 billion – more than the value of all the electricity they have produced since the Fifties. The hills and dales of Britain are being forested with white satanic mills, and yet the total contribution of wind power isstill only about 0.4 per cent of Britain’s needs. Wave power, solar power, biomass – their collective oomph wouldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding. We are prevented from putting in a new system of coal-fired power stations, since that would breach our commitments under Kyoto. We are therefore increasingly and humiliatingly dependent on Vladimir Putin’s gas or on the atomic power of the French state.

And then in the region of Blackpool—as if by a miracle—we may have found the solution. The extraction of shale gas by hydraulic fracture, or fracking, seems an answer to the nation’s prayers. There is loads of the stuff, apparently—about 1.3 trillion barrels; and if we could get it out we could power our toasters and dishwashers for the foreseeable future. By offering the hope of cheap electricity, fracking would make Britain once again competitive in sectors of industry—bauxite smelting springs to mind—where we have lost hope.

The extraction process alone would generate tens of thousands of jobs in parts of the country that desperately need them. And above all, the burning of gas to generate electricity is much, much cleaner—and produces less Co2—than burning coal. What, as they say, is not to like?

Boris holds up the U.S. as an example of successful fracking:

Indeed, the Americans have now actually met their obligations under the Kyoto protocol on climate change—and they never even signed up for it. The shale gas industry is a huge employer, and has so far contributed $50 billion in tax. As for the anxieties about water poisoning or a murrain on the cattle, there have been 125,000 fracks in the US, and not a single complaint to the Environmental Protection Agency.

That last bit isn’t entirely true: there might not have been any “complaints” to the EPA, but there most certainly are legitimate concerns and formal studies on the detrimental effect fracking has on drinking water, air quality, and more.

But, wacky as Boris is, he has a point. Britain, like America and China, has lots of shale gas and oil. Getting it out is in several large and important ways good for the environment (it’s cleaner than coal), the economy (cheap gas creates incentives for business, like chemicals), and politics (no more “humiliating” dependence on Putin). And the downsides, which are under dispute, don’t outweigh the advantages.

Published on December 10, 2012 3:26 pm