There’s a fight going on in the tiny village of Balcombe that could have large implications for Britain’s energy security. The village has just a couple thousand residents, but it’s what lies underground that is causing the controversy. Cuadrilla, an oil and gas exploration firm, is drilling a well there to determine if the region’s Weald Basin has recoverable oil and gas. Over the weekend, hundreds marched on the drilling site to protest the imminent arrival of fracking in the UK.
One of the voices pitching into the argument over Britain’s shale prospects was a representative for the Church of England, who condemned the knee-jerk rejection of fracking. The FT reports:
Philip Fletcher, who chairs the Church’s group on mission and public affairs, compared condemnation of fracking to the mistaken belief that the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine was not safe.
“The evidence for that was totally unsound, yet the damage caused by denying children the benefits of immunisation was huge,” he told the Financial Times.
“Similarly, to deny ourselves proper testing and piloting [of shale reserves] is to shut off an option without considering it properly.”
Fletcher was careful to note that the Church holds no official position on the matter, but his plea for cooler heads echoes our own in the American context. The loudest voices in this discussion are often the ones least grounded in fact.
Britain has plenty of shale gas, an estimated 1,300 trillion cubic feet, but Cameron’s administration will have to mount a smart public relations campaign to convince the British that it’s worth the risks that come with drilling. Greens have found a rallying point in Balcombe; thus it might be a good idea for No. 10 to back down from this challenge and relocate exploratory well drilling to a more remote location. A strategic retreat could help center the debate on the merits of shale gas. Such a debate favors fracking.