By Paolo von Schirach
January 13, 2014
NAIROBI – The BBC is a great institution. And you get the BBC in many hotels around the world, including the one I am staying in here in Nairobi. And yet, watch out for very biased reporting. Case in point: the beginning of shale gas exploration in the UK.
Fracking in the UK
A major BBC TV news items dealt with the fact that Total, the French energy company, will invest up to US $ 50 million in exploring for and hopefully later on exploiting what seem to be very large “shale gas” reserves (this is gas trapped in rock formations) in the UK. The report went at some length to indicate that the UK Government is very much in favor of such efforts aimed at exploiting domestic energy resources, while Great Britain’s other known reserves have practically disappeared.
But the report also pointed out how British environmentalists are totally opposed to any drilling relying on the technology now known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. They are opposed because of real concerns –the report continued– of serious environmental damage caused by fracking. To stress this point about the negative impact of fracking, the report added an interview with an environmentalist who talked about the destruction that this type of energy exploration would inevitably bring about into the UK. Hence the need for sane people to stop it before it really begins.
Biased reporting, no mention of the US experience
So, fair reporting? “The Government and energy companies say this, but concerned citizens object?” Not at all. The report never mentioned that for well over a decade fracking has been used on a massive scale to exploit vast shale gas resources in the United States. In fact the technology has been invented and refined in the US. Because of fracking the US has increased its gas production, surpassing Russia. Because of added production, natural gas prices have plummeted and the US is now one of the countries with very low electricity costs, an enviable position. And all this bonanza is the result of fracking practiced quite safely. Again, no mention of any of this impressive safety record in the BBC report. Not even one word.
Indeed, there are literally thousands and thousands of wells exploiting shale gas through fracking in operation in Pennsylvania, Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio and many other states. This has been going on for years, with no major issues. And yet no word about any of this on the BBC. Would they argue that the US experience is not relevant in assessing the safety of fracking?
Americans against fracking
Certainly there are groups and organizations in America that are in principle against the exploitation and use of carbon based energy. And they have protested and are still active against fracking.
However, nobody to date has been able to provide any evidence that fracking is inherently dangerous.
Besides, the energy industry is highly regulated in America. There are environmental protection agencies in each state that constantly monitor drilling and drilling related activities. They are quite ready to stop operations in cases in which rules are broken. At the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, now in the hands of a Democratic administration generally suspicious of the activities of energy companies, has not found any reason to stop fracking. In other words, based on many years of experience, and thousands of wells in operation in a number states, the evidence indicates that fracking is safe.
It is safe
It is incredible that the BBC in a major report about fracking in the UK gives credence to unsupported “beliefs” about inherent dangers related to fracking, while it fails to even mention the impressive body of evidence gathered by more than a decade of US experience that indicates precisely the opposite. What kind of journalism is that?