Nick Grealy says UK fractivists are alter-ego Robin Hood characters looking to rob the poor to give to the rich – how true it is there (and here in the US).
Like all good insurrections, the opposition to “fracking” in Sherwood Forest risks snowballing and damaging everyone else unless some facts are allowed to enter the debate.
Facts certainly aren’t intruding into this story from the local paper. What could then happen is that, like the original Telegraph story, these “alternative facts” become viral. A local newspaper reporter, perhaps earning as little as £12 a year, writes a story essentially dictated to her by Guy Shrubsole of Friends of the Earth. Other reporters worldwide will find it via Google and embellish it for their local story, producing a digital palimpsest mirroring the medieval tone of the story. Result: anti fracking activists invigorate themselves as participants in a mythic battle.
At least in The Prince of Thieves, the Sheriff of Nottingham had a part. Ineos, which holds the license, is completely absent. I don’t know if that’s from their choice or not, but it is symptomatic of a long playing trend in the farce of UK shale. Starring roles go to Friends of the Earth (FoE), 38 Degrees, supporting ones to an actor who was once on TV 30 years ago, and this being the local press, “a local man says” always gets a walk on role. Imagine a drama where the villain never shows up. No wonder UK shale mirrors the absurdist classic “Waiting for Godot.”
I don’t know if Ineos chose not to comment, or simply thought the story so ridiculous, it would go away. Ineos only proposes a seismic survey. That’s as far removed from drilling an actual well in Sherwood Forest (of which over a hundred were done during another epic battle closer to modern times) as an MRI scan is from open heart surgery. (Using much of the same technology, by the way.)
Usually, if Ineos had at least been asked their opinion by a journalist possessing at least a nodding acquaintance with balance, the line would have included something like “Ineos did not respond to a request for comment.” We can assume they weren’t even given the courtesy of a request. After all, Ineos has hardly been a shrinking violet in the UK shale debate, unlike invisible license holders possessed not even of a web site, just a business plan to wait for Cuadrilla or Third Energy to do the hard work and sell out quick.
The question remains one of why wasn’t Ineos asked? One reason is that Friends of the Earth don’t want “frackers” to be revealed as anything except a caricature. They certainly wouldn’t want the shale industry to debate them over climate change for instance. FoE consistently says climate is the question. Just don’t ask the industry for any answers. FoE strategy is to always attack, but never engage. At least the Merry Men of the 1200’s had the guts to fight a battle at the end.
So, the “Frackers” belong to the mythic baddies encapsulated in the frackosaurus effigy FoE like to drag physically around. Frackers don’t have any right to reply. Whatever happens, don’t let journalists speak to frackers who drink water, breath air and have children just like everyone else. Certainly don’t speak to any frackers who point out that Phil Rose, Guy Shrubsole, and tens of thousands of people who signed the petition, heat their homes with natural gas just like almost everyone else too. Above all, definitely don’t speak to anyone who agrees with much of their agenda but who says the logical, if imperfect, climate solution is to use the lowest carbon fossil fuel of all — natural gas.
These modern day Robin Hoods are the inverse of the thirteenth century version. They rob from the poor and give to the rich. The “poor” include the owners of the resource, which, with an updated Royal theme, is the Crown. Unlike in King John’s time, the Crown today represents everyone in the United Kingdom – poor, just about managing and rich alike.
Preventing even exploration for shale is not just a symptom of a truly medieval mindset, it’s poaching of potential Crown resources. That’s a key fact never mentioned by FoE to local, or indeed any, journalists. This is after all, our gas. No one else’s. So we should all talk about whether or not we should leave it in the ground.
Under any scenario, natural gas will play a role in industry and power generation in the UK for many years to come. Yet, any mention of a scenario where the choice is renewables and natural gas is prohibited not only by the FoE, but by one part of UK Government policy as represented in consumer attitude tracking surveys. Both present “fracking” or renewables as either/or simplistic choices. The option of both isn’t available. Don’t ask the question, if you’re not going to like the answer.
Since natural gas is going to play at least some role in the UK energy mix going forward, the question of provenance, should be as important to the FoE, as their admirable Shop Local First campaign is.
But, as North Sea production falls into irrelevance both today and far more so in the future, disavowing, or literally de-owning, UK shale resources then gives the responsibly of supplying natural gas to imported sources.
Thus, the riches of the poor, are distributed to the rich. Jim Ratcliffe of Ineos is certainly rich. But, he will still have to give at least 40% of the cost of natural gas to the Crown in the form of company and petroleum taxes. Having just returned from what some saw as tax exile in Switzerland, it’s unlikely for him to begrudge paying them. Ratcliffe and I don’t share much in common, but one thing we do has been a consistent desire to give the UK government more of it’s own money (question 183 here).
The other rich are Norwegians; nice people, but far richer than us and most everyone else. Canadians are impoverished compared to them, for example. Russians are certainly poorer than us, but not the oligarchs who UK consumers pay for their natural gas resources. Qatar is not short of cash either, but they at least attempt to redistribute money, either to customers of Sainsbury’s supermarkets via their 25% share and if WikiLeaks is to be believed, to the deserving poor of ISIS too.
The other rich include FoE themselves who have consistently used opposition to fracking as central if not to their public fund raising efforts, at least to their salaries.
The peasants should revolt. Or, at least let a Little John or Maid Marian put in their point of view the next time the Not So Merry Men and Women hug the trees.
Editor’s Note: There are obvious parallels here in the US as gentry class funders of fractivism look to steal property rights from poor Western Marylanders, Upstate New Yorkers and Wayne County, Pennsylvania landowners, preventing natural gas development that would mean everything to their economic welfare, while the funders live in mansions and million dollar apartments heated by natural gas.