There has been a lot of fuss in the national media recently about ‘fracking’; the extraction of gas from shale deposits by forcing water into the rock bed like an underground enema.
A naturally solitary and subterranean type, Badger is not sure he approves of fracking. Badger sees that attempts to cash in on the purported bonanza in America and other European countries have not produced as expected, either in terms of private profit or public benefit.
Badger is certainly unconvinced by the special pleading that suggests trapped gas is a boundless supply of energy that might save us all from freezing in our setts.
If that was the case, County Hall would be festooned with drilling equipment and the excess produced would be enough to provide each Pembrokeshire home with its own Zeppelin.
The evening news is populated by pictures of colourfully be-jumpered people who have woven their copies of The Guardian into yurts. Those camped out on vigil seem determined to prevent preliminary drilling being carried out for fear it might lead environmental Armageddon to be visited upon this apparently very green, very pleasant and very, very prosperous corner of England.
Periodically the protestors stop weaving muesli or playing their guitars to try to prevent something which is not happening. When they do so, they run into the Police, who are – with varying degrees of force – seeking to prevent damage to private property or, as the Police put it, ‘maintain public order’.
When the fracking protestors attempt to enter private property to carry out ‘direct action’, they appear to suggest the law of the land should allow them free entry. When they are prevented from entering and potentially damaging private property by the Police, the protestors claim to be unlawfully restrained.
If the protestors’ actions are legal, then the Police have no business stopping them from carrying out their proposed ‘direct action’. If the protestors’ actions are illegal, they appear to be claiming the protection of a system of laws parts of which they feel able to ignore when they feel like it.
Badger is confused. He suspects he is not alone in his confusion.
The idea of populating tracts of open countryside with drilling equipment and industrial plant is widely regarded as outrageous. On the basis that keeping something beautiful, well, beautiful is a good, Badger agrees.
But what are the viable alternatives?
Attempts to harness the tidal power of the Severn seem doomed to founder on concerns about its effect on wildlife. Wind turbines are widely alleged to be inefficient subsidy magnets that disfigure the landscape. Solar energy’s ability to deliver meaningful amounts of energy to the UK’s population is unclear. Biofuel crop growth restricts food output in countries that can ill afford to have less land available for growing food crops.
Years ago, Badger remembers a scheme to burn orimulsion at the old Pembroke Power Station. The CEGB (remember them?) said they would close the plant as unviable if permission was not granted. Cllr Brian Hall led a stormy public meeting at the Pater Hall, Pembroke Dock, at which few, if any, voices against the proposed development were allowed to be heard.
There was a furious campaign against orimulsion – dubbed ‘the world’s filthiest fuel’ – led by Friends of the Earth Cymru. Part of that campaign suggested the CEGB was bluffing when it said it would close Pembroke Power Station.
The campaign against the CEGB scheme was aided by fears raised by the Sea Empress disaster in the Haven around the time of the application and controversy.
Sure enough, the plans were called in by the Welsh Office.
The CEGB immediately gave up the application and closed Pembroke Power Station causing significant loss to the local economy.
And shortly afterward it was reported that one of the leading campaigners against the development had objected to siting a wind turbine next to a field containing his cattle.
Whichever option is canvassed has its detractors and opponents and consensus seems unlikely. Sometimes you just have to settle for whichever is the least bad option.
It’s a pity hot air cannot be harnessed as a viable energy source. It seems to Badger that, in the environmental debate, there is plenty to spare on all sides.