September 16: The risks and rewards of shale gas

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The Government’s enthusiasm for the energy source may be understandable, but so too is the public’s concern.

FRACKING is a word that provokes powerful and conflicting emotions according to where the listener stands on the question of fracturing rocks to extract shale gas.

To its supporters, it holds out the prospect of a reliable source of cheap energy. To its opponents, often living above the underground operations it requires, it carries too many risks, including earthquakes, environmental damage and water pollution.

Underpinning both standpoints is the fact that Britain faces some hard questions over the security and sustainability of its energy supply if the lights are to be kept on.

Climate change obligations mean coal’s days are numbered as a means of generating power, and whilst renewable technologies such as wind continue to grow and meet ever more of our needs, the country is heavily reliant on gas often coming from potentially volatile regions, such as the Middle East or an increasingly belligerent Russia.

Against such a backdrop, the Government’s enthusiasm for shale gas is understandable. Equally understandable, though, are the concerns of those residents – Yorkshire communities among them – over the potential harm to their homes and environment.

Both must be safeguarded if fracking goes ahead. The report by the task force on shale gas acknowledges the concerns and attempts to steer a middle course between them and the need for energy.

Its proposal that proceeds from fracking be used to accelerate Britain’s transition to renewable and low-carbon sources so that shale gas is the means to a greener future rather than an end in itself is a sensible compromise.

In seeking to minimise the impact of fracking, and suggesting that shale gas extraction may only be necessary for the next few decades, Lord Chris Smith is seeking to take the heat out of the arguments. Whether it is enough to allay the fears of worried communities remains to be seen.

The Few saluted

A grateful nation remembers

THE sight and sound of 40 Spitfires and Hurricanes in the skies to commemorate Battle of Britain Day yesterday was enough the stir the hearts of anyone, irrespective of age.

For those old enough to remember those perilous weeks of 1940, when Britain’s fate hung in the balance and invasion by Hitler’s forces was all too possible, the flypast held a very special resonance.

But for those generations born since then, these 75th anniversary commemorations were hardly less moving. Prince Harry’s enthusiastic attendance at the event was much to be welcomed, as symbolic of those younger generations’ knowledge of, and gratitude to, those who fought and won.

The unbreakable link between historic bravery and yesterday’s demonstration of admiration for it was emphasised by the presence of 95-year-old Battle of Britain pilot Wing Commander Tom Neil, who led the formation from a two-seat Spitfire.

The epic battle he and his comrades fought is seared into Britain’s psyche because tyranny was lapping at our shores. The freedoms our young people take for granted were hard won, and perhaps it was the realisation that it was men of their own age who fought in the skies above the cities and countryside that made this commemoration so widely appealing across the generations.

Let us never forget that the pilots of that epic battle were very young, overwhelmingly in their early 20s, and upon their shoulders rested an extraordinary responsibility. We must never cease being thankful to them, The Few, for they safeguarded our liberty.

Bags of money

Plastic carriers cost us dear

CONSUMERS are likely to be a little taken aback by the Taxpayers Alliance assertion that introducing a 5p charge per plastic bag at shop checkouts will cost the country £1.5bn annually.

But equally, they may reflect that since most people take their own re-usable bags with them to do their shopping these days, it is a charge that can be neatly sidestepped and potentially need cost the country far less.

Discarded bags are a blight on the landscape, and removing them – a charge that cannot be sidestepped nearly so neatly – costs £60m a year.

Shoppers in Scotland and Wales have already seen charges for single-use bags introduced, and there has been no murmur of protest. Use of their own bags has gone up, and the amount of litter blowing about the streets and countryside has gone down, which can only be a good thing.

There is every reason to suppose that precisely the same thing will happen in England.