Fracking fallout: Lord Lawson sees pound signs

As the fallout continues from the British Geological Survey’s shale gas announcement last month, another top political figure has lent his voice to the pro-fracking lobby. Lord Lawson of Blaby, Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1983 to 1989 under Margaret Thatcher, has penned a short op-ed in today’s Sun, swiftly dismissing all safety qualms over hydraulic fracturing; criticising environmental organisations, quangos and the government for green inertia; and cheerleading this potential cheap, new and British fuel source.

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It’s not unexpected that Lord Lawson is trotting out such lines. In 2009, he launched a climate think tank, ‘The Global Warming Policy Foundation’, which possesses a noble aim (“to restore trust and balance to the climate debate”) but sits on the extremely sceptical side of any climate change discussion.  In the article, Lawson says the caution exercised by Energy Secretary Ed Davey, his department, the Environment Agency and a range of environmental pressure groups over fracking originates in a “quasi-religious obsession that carbon dioxide… is somehow evil”.

That’s pure, unashamed climate change denial. But what else would you expect? What’s really worrying is how Lawson casts aside any vestige of scientific discussion in the face of an economic panacea. “We are a lucky people,” states Lawson, such is the scale of our shale reserves. Intriguingly, when Lawson talks of wanting his grandchildren “to grow up in a country that is prosperous and confident”, his rhetoric echoes Obama’s recent speech on climate action. However, it’s pound signs, not green and pleasant lands motivating the former Conservative minister.

In this financial call to arms, Lawson claims that only “unfounded” and “spurious” environmental worries, such as contaminated water supplies and minor earthquakes, are standing in the way of public acceptance for fracking. There’s no nuance or awareness of scientific uncertainty in play here. Apparently the fact that shale gas is drilled “deep, deep, down” makes groundwater contamination laughably implausible. It’s worrying that a money man like Lawson can brush away a subtle and complicated fracking debate so easily.

What’s more concerning perhaps, is how this blinkered view of scientific investigation finds a home in the UK’s most-read daily newspaper. The Sun’s average circulation for May this year was 2,269,238, almost half a million above its nearest challenger, the Daily Mail.[1] The tabloid’s website received almost 30 million global visitors in the same month, placing it fourth among British national newspapers.[2] We don’t know individual viewing figures for Lawson’s article, but he has been given an incredibly popular platform to air his simplistic view of the fracking debate. The question remains, how many readers will be influenced by this point of view?

I’m not anti-fracking. I think it could be a useful bridge fuel for the UK as we seek to reduce our total carbon output quickly and with as little economic pain as possible. But the potential financial boost should not be allowed to squash an important and informed debate about whether fracking for shale is a technology we can afford, in environmental terms, to invest in heavily.

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