Is Fracking Good for us? – Rev Dr John Weaver (JRI Chair)

‘Fracking’, which is short for hydraulic fracturing, is the process of drilling down into the earth and injecting water, sand and

Rev Dr John Weaver

chemicals into the rock at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well.

In December 2013, a report commissioned by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), said more than half of the UK could provide suitable sites for fracking. The report shows that 100,000 sq km of land is available for drilling. The figures in the DECC report are based on conjecture because it’s not known how readily the rocks in the UK can be fracked to release their gas. The British Geological Survey estimates there may be 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas present in the north of England alone.

In terms of fuel security, if Britain can extract 10% of its estimated shale gas reserves, it could supply the entire country for 50 years. Shale gas has certainly helped boost the domestic energy industry in the US in recent years.

The business lobby group, the Institute of Directors, suggest that shale gas could be a ‘New North Sea’ for Britain. Cuadrilla Resources announced in April 2014 that shale gas production in Britain could begin within four years.

In the United States fracking has revolutionised the energy industry, but a number of environmental concerns have been recognised:

• fracking uses huge amounts of water that must be transported to the fracking site, at significant environmental cost.

• potentially carcinogenic chemicals used may escape and contaminate groundwater around the fracking site.

• fracking can cause small earth tremors, although Dr Ernie Rutter, professor of structural geology at University of Manchester states that while this is a potential hazard of the technique, they are very unlikely to cause any damage.

• Finally, and from my point of view the most important, fracking is simply distracting energy firms and governments from investing in renewable sources of energy, and encouraging continued reliance on fossil fuels. We need a 21st century energy revolution based on efficiency and renewables, rather than increased burning of fossil fuels that will add to climate change.

What then is the Christian response to fracking?

The Incarnation brings into focus both the presence of God in creation and God’s desire to redeem a broken world. Without an understanding of God’s constant presence (immanence) in creation and of God’s ultimate purposes for creation, ethics becomes focused on what are the effects on human beings. There is an absence of the Christian tradition of understanding creation as belonging to God and not under human ownership. As human beings we experience our life in this world as a gift from God, whereby creation is under our care.

We have God’s faithful provision of natural resources; and a God-given human wisdom and understanding as part of our creation in the image of God, to whom we are each accountable. A call for wise stewardship questions the use and exhaustion of natural resources; the effects on global climate from Greenhouse Gas emissions; and our concern for all human life in this and future generations.

This is not solely a scientific problem but is based far more profoundly on human beings striving for power and control, which is the picture of the original ‘fall’ from grace in Genesis 3.

John Weaver was born and brought up in Cardiff. After taking degrees in Geology at Swansea, he taught at the University of Derby. John trained for Baptist ministry in Oxford and was then pastor of Highfield Baptist Church from 1981-1991. From 1992-2001 he taught theology at Regent’s Park College, Oxford, and from 2001-2012 served as Principal of South Wales Baptist College. He is a former President of the Baptist Union, and is the Chair of JRI. His main areas of research are: relating faith to life and work; theological reflection; adult education; and the dialogue between science and faith.

Response from Rev Dr John Weaver to comments on his blog post

There were a number of comments on John’s post both here and on Facebook. John has provided the following response:

“ I agree with most of the comments made, which I have developed in more detail for an article to be published in the ‘Faith in Business’ Quarterly later this year.

Chris Halliwell observes that there is the challenge of transporting and safely recycling the large volumes of waste water flowback from the fracking process, which will include chemicals naturally occurring deep underground, but which can seriously contaminate the flowback water.

Michael Roberts draws attention to Ernest Rutter’s comments in the Guardian last year that there are good scientific reasons to believe there is sufficient shale gas in the UK to have a major impact on fuel supply and that fracking and the associated fluid injection do not cause significant earthquakes. He is right to state that burning gas is environmentally cleaner than burning coal and that the reserves are probably higher than the conservative estimates.

But my main point remains: fracking has the potential to provide another source of relatively cheap fossil fuel, which will add to GHG emissions with a resulting impact on continued climate change.

This alone should make us wary of the pragmatic short-term economic decisions that are offered by the shale gas industry.”