Some of the arguments about fracking are foolish.
Earthquakes and carcinogens in the water supply, the closure of major petro-chemical plants, and no gas for our central heating systems reflect the agendas of particular groups.
Many opponents want to preserve local environments, while a large number of those in favor, despite their apparent sincere concern for fuel security and economic stability, are mostly focused on raising profits for shareholders.
These arguments generate a great deal of heat and media attention, but the real issue is the impact of our continued consumption of fossil fuels on climate change.
A much more significant question is whether investment in fracking will be at the expense of investment in renewables?
United Kingdom groups have recommended that shale fracking be put on hold because it is incompatible with our climate change targets and could pose significant localized risks to public health.
Questions have also been raised about the safety of fracking and its impact on the water supplies and environment of the communities within which the drilling is planned to take place.
However, public opinion and government decision-making have been shaped by the need to ensure energy security for U.K. industry and homeowners, and, if possible, to reduce the cost of energy.
The arguments in opposition to fracking are many and various, some relevant and cautionary, some alarmist and misinformed, while the objective voice of scientific research struggles most to be heard.
There will be no large earthquakes shattering famous landmarks and causing the ground to disappear beneath our feet, as some suggest.
Nor is there likely to be poisoning of the groundwater supplies as long as the boreholes and well-heads comply with safety procedures.
Local roads may find it difficult to cope with increased heavy vehicle traffic, and there may be significant demands on local water supplies and issues relating to the disposal of wastewater.
In addition, the local environment may suffer short-term degradation, pollution or both. However, there are strict regulations applying to all these aspects of any industrial or commercial enterprise.
Supporters of fracking are right to point to our dependence on gas supplies for domestic heating, industries and power supplies.
They are also right to warn us about long-term energy security, especially when so much gas is imported from Russia and the Middle East, which are areas of long-standing political instability.
It is also correct to point out that shale gas has lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – far less than coal, which it could potentially replace in the production of electricity through gas-fired power stations.
However, methane (a more damaging GHG) leaking from wells could be problematic.
While the potential jobs created in the shale gas industry may offset the loss of employment in other areas of fossil fuel extraction, the desired reduction in energy costs is less likely.
What few even among the “green lobby” understand is the potential danger of rapid climate change brought about by the continued increase in the burning of fossil fuels – however they are extracted and derived.
We need to beware of becoming embroiled in simplistic arguments when we will remain dependent on fossil fuels for a considerable time.
Sources of renewable energy and alternative technologies are unlikely to fill the gap between supply and demand in the short term.
What is a reasonable and balanced Christian response? What are the issues?
The significant issues are:
- Maintaining our energy security
- Ongoing petro-chemical industry operations
- Increasing or at least maintaining levels of employment
- Protecting the local environment
- Reducing GHG emissions and our dependence on fossil fuels
- Putting more investment into renewable sources of energy and alternative technologies
These highlight the need to balance the care of creation with the needs of human beings both today and in the future.
In this, Christians are mindful that human consumption, providing for our own perceived needs, can be at odds with the command of God to care for creation as a whole.
To preserve plant and animal species and protect the environment, we need to address climate change brought about by the GHG emissions given off through the burning of fossil fuels.
We need to continue research into alternative technologies and work toward the development of low-carbon economies throughout the world.
Christians recognize that this is God’s world (Psalm 24:1) and that our call is to care for creation (Genesis 2:15). We need God’s wisdom rather than heated or politically motivated arguments.
Our hope is in the gospel, not in economic growth and ever-increasing consumption.
Christ has come to redeem the whole of creation (John 3:16), and the cross is a sign of sacrifice that challenges a narrative of increasing exploitation of natural resources to serve our own ends.
We are invited to share our lives with Christ, seeking God’s love to guide and shape our approach to the environment in general and to fracking in particular.
We live between the cross and Christ’s second coming, when God will renew the whole of creation, where all relationships will be redeemed and restored (Revelation 21:1-4).
The now and the not yet acknowledges that we cannot resolve every issue, but nevertheless we can seek to act in a Christ-like way (Mark 8:34).
John Weaver is the chairman of the John Ray Initiative (JRI), an educational charity focused on connecting environment, science and Christianity in the United Kingdom. He was principal of South Wales Baptist College until his retirement in 2011 and served as the president of the Baptist Union of Great Britain in 2008-09. A longer version of this article first appeared on the JRI blog and is used with permission.
Editor’s note: Weaver published previously an eight-page JRI briefing paper on fracking and the environment titled “Is Fracking Good for Us? Energy Security, Energy Prices and the Environment,” which is available here.
Vice president of the John Ray Initiative (JRI), an educational charity focused on connecting environment, science and Christianity in the United Kingdom. Weaver was principal of South Wales Baptist College until his retirement in 2011 and served as the president of the Baptist Union of Great Britain in 2008-09.