Preceding Michael Fallon’s comment that fracking for shale gas would “make houses’ walls shake”, George Osborne had argued that placing Britain at the forefront of the “shale gas revolution” had “the potential to create thousands of jobs and keep energy bills low for millions of people”.
Despite the clear dichotomy that exists within the rhetoric, media coverage has responded in relatively uniform fashion. Ever since the documentary ‘Gasland’ brought the detrimental effects of unsafe practices during the process of shale gas retrieval to the world’s attention, the term “fracking” has more often than not been a staple of negative headlines. Yet the outcome has been positive for the industry, as it has prompted urgent regulation to prevent water table contamination.
The success of these regulatory measures was confirmed this month with the publication of a report by the US Department of Energy (DOE). Having monitored the progress of a fracking site in western Pennsylvania, the DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory found no presence of contaminators making their way into water reserves.
The key difference separating the hydraulic fracturing of the moment from the unnerving scenes pictured in ‘Gasland’ is the depth of knowledge that has since been acquired. With the implementation of adequate research into the location of an area’s water table prior to retrieval, the risk of contamination is virtually non-existent. Similarly, Fallon’s claims of wall shaking tremors have been proven to be unfounded. Studies published in the journal of Marine and Petroleum Geology state that there have only been three tremors detectable by humans since 1929.
The impact of hydraulic fracturing in the US has been truly bilateral, enabling a dramatic fall in energy bills while boosting the economy with the creation of over half a million jobs. However, in the UK, President Obama’s recent statement that the US must “tap into this natural gas revolution that’s bringing energy costs down in this country” has failed to attract the same media response that Lord Howell’s PR blunder has.
Lord Howell’s comments may have dented confidence in the emerging UK market for hydraulic fracturing, but it serves as a timely reminder that a more considered and balanced approach from the nation’s media is necessary to re-frame the debate surrounding what has the potential to be a critical source of energy for the UK.