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Get cracking with fracking – or not

By Hamish Champ
Posted 22 February 2013

Tired after a long day at work? If you feel like you’ve run out of energy spare a thought for the UK economy.

Speaking at a media briefing to mark the British Plastics Federation’s (BPF) 80th anniversary earlier this week Philip Watkins, the BPF’s president, spoke of his fears concerning the reliability of UK energy supplies, which the evidence suggested were in danger of becoming perilously low in the not-too-distant future.

Watkins then repeated the BPF’s concerns about the government’s energy strategy, which he had previously outlined in a letter to Ed Davey, the energy minister.

Many business leaders are increasingly homing in on what is fast becoming a pressing issue.

The head of business organisation the Institute of Directors recently made a case for the UK to seriously look to its own shale gas reserves and be bold about its nuclear ambitions if it was to avoid a potentially crippling energy crisis.

Shale gas is set to transform the US economy, experts argue, thanks to large and generally accessible deposits of the stuff lying underground.

Not that everyone in the US of A is happy with the situation. Concerned residents living near shale gas rigs have been voicing their fears to any journalist who will listen to them.

Similar fears, unfounded or not, surrounding shale gas extraction via fracking in the UK are being picked up – and perhaps exaggerated – in the media; this despite the widely recognised need for new sources of energy.

On paper it makes more sense to harness wind, solar and water power to provide for our energy needs. We’re located in a windy part of the world, surrounded by often choppy waters and while we don’t get nearly as much sunshine as most of us would like, what there is can be harnessed.

Yet the relevant technologies are currently expensive. They can also raise hackles; many are vehemently opposed to wind turbines, regarding them as uneconomical, unreliable and unproven eyesores.

Far better to drill into the UK countryside for shale gas, critics of ‘green’ energy sources argue. Look at the US; if we need cheap energy and we can find it under our noses as they over there, what’s the problem?

The thing is, the impact of drilling for shale gas here is likely to be more acutely felt than in the [much larger] US. It's a solution, yes, but not a straightforward one.

At the end of the day we need reliable energy supplies and we want them to come at a reasonable cost.

If, as seems inevitable, shale gas exploitation in the UK is stepped up one has to hope that it is done in a considered and responsible way.

We will just have to accept there will be more of an environmental price to be paid for some energy supplies, wherever they come from, than for others.

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