This map shows the areas of Britain which are up for licence for oil/gas prospecting . The green areas are those which are not as they contain no suitable strata – geologically they were above sea level in Carboniferous times, so no deposition was taking place. The yellow squares are PEDLs already granted. You will note Lancashire and Yorkshire among them them. This paper deals with issues in the vale of Pickering in Yorkshires. A few days ago the government announced that fracking applications would be streamlined. This has caused consternation to some and relief to others.
At present possibilities for fracking are moving around the country and these are multiplying with a new round of applications for fracking throughout the country, with the support of the government. In July Lancashire County Council bounced fracking in Lancashire, and the next two hotspots are Nottinghamshire and Rydale in Yorkshire, with everything getting even hotter in Ryedale.
who have a twitter account and at times are rather intemperate as they were with this tweet, which they were persuaded to remove.
A local doctor, Tim Thornton is also active and follows the usual anti-fracking line of the Medact and other reports. Dr Thornton has both a twitter account and website; http://www.isfrackingsafe.com/references-and-useful-reports/ . The website contains are large number of articles but I will leave it to my friend Ken Wilkinson, a former oil engineer, to comment
To inform local people of the dangers of fracking Thornton organised a meeting in Pickering in July 2015. There were three speakers, all of whom were opposed to fracking and one of the addresses was by Bishop Graham Gray who argued for moral and Christian grounds for the rejection of fracking. His paper was entitled
The Ethical and Moral Considerations of Fracking
and is on Dr Thornton’s website;
Cray’s address was well written and I assume it was delivered well. He presented a plausible case, but had several flaws;
- He considers everything in relation to fracking through a lens of Climate Change. But his lens is a distorting one.
- Several times argues that fracking is wrong, because of the issue of Climate Change but does not explain why.
- His technical presentation of fracking, which though very brief, is highly biased and only from anti-fracking sources
- His argument that fracking will damage farming and tourism contains no evidence
- His linkage to climate issues in Africa etc is tenuous and not evidenced
As Graham and I come from similar roots within the Church of England, perhaps we should have come to the same conclusions but we are almost diametrically opposed on fracking. I consider it to be safe under the present stringent regulations, and necessary for energy security. We both came from the Conservative Evangelical wing of the Church of England, and have both somewhat moderated our positions, perhaps myself the more so.
As I discuss his paper I shall begin with our common ground and then expound where and why we differ.
Though I do not think Graham and I have ever met, we have served in the church since the 70s, and I knew of him as the successor to David Watson in York and then of his time at Ridley College, Cambridge – a theological college and then a Bishop of Maidstone. My path was different serving in parishes in Liverpool, North Wales and rural Lancashire, during which time I specialised in science and religion and wrote a book Evangelicals and Science (2008) and various book chapters and papers on Genesis, Geology, Evolution and Christianity. I would say our theology is very similar as both are thorough-going trinitarians, with a high view of scripture (probably both rejecting inerrancy or literalism). Neither of us go for hard-line evangelicalism. For both of us our ethics have a strong theological slant, but draws from other sources as well.
I would suggest as well that our attitude to the environment is very close. Forty years ago the churches did not have a developed environmental ethic as they were only a few voices like the American Francis Schaeffer or Prof R J Berry, whose little booklet published in 1973 was almost the only thing available, when we were first ordained. As I became concerned over the environment from 1970, when working for a mining company, I had to work out my own environmental ethic, which I did so from my theological and biblical study and from reading up on green issues. I was an avid reader of Resurgence and The Ecologist and was an active member of Friends of the Earth and voted for the Ecology Party in 1979. Green theology became the thing after 1990, with Climate Change being seen as a major issue after about 2010 in the wake of Copenhagen. On the day of the first Cuadrilla “earthquake” on 1st April 2011, I sent off the corrected proofs of my chapter on varying evangelical responses to Climate Change, where I was very critical of deniers.
In fact, that All Fools Day became significant for many reasons. In retrospect it marks a change of environmental perspective with an increasing polarisation. More and more to be an authentic green one had to be anti-fracking and see that all fossil fuels should be kept in the ground. Further, too often the choice is considered to be either fossil fuels or only renewables, which were classified as “dirty” and “clean” energy respectively. Despite the fact that many have argued for gas (fracked or not) as a bridge fuel for a carbon-free future, for many greens this was the ultimate heresy and thus secular and Christian green groups made policy statements against fracking, eg FOE, Greenpeace, WWF, as well as Christian groups like Christian Aid, Green Christian etc. I soon found myself in the no-mans land between ideological greenies and Global Warming Deniers, both of whom I dissented from. Here I think I stand with those like Mark Lynas and the Ecomodernists.
Thus in respect to fracking, commentators from the Church of England are almost entirely anti-fracking. Apart from Peter Foster, Bishop of Chester who is a GW denier and associated with Nigel Lawson’s GWPF, I am the only priest who has spoken in favour of (regulated) fracking, despite being opposed to it initially. Ironically my diocese of Blackburn is the only diocese which has published “discussion” papers of fracking. The three are all anti-fracking and are also inaccurate in their presentation of fracking. The last produced this January (2015) by a group of mostly clergy relies heavily on the work of Mike Hill of Lytham. The paper and my rebuttal is found on the Church’s Together in Lancashire website. http://www.ctlancashire.org.uk/issues/ https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/lancashire-churches-get-fracked/ . None of the group had any technical skills in relation to fracking. I will return to that later with the help of St Augustine.
That’s enough for a preamble, and too much for those who do not share the common faith Graham and I have! So let’s consider what Bishop Cray has to say in;
The Ethical and Moral Considerations of Fracking
(Quotations from Cray’s article are in italics)
Cray is open about his starting point;
My views on the morality of fracking are set within the overarching issue of climate change, and our responsibility to our neighbours and for future generations.
This is the most common position not only of green Christians and most Greens who have considered fracking, or almost any environmental issue. In fact, it is almost the default position. With the seriousness of bad effects of Climate Change it seems a reasonable stance, but my observation is that it has resulted in a very narrow, and often distorted focus. Its weakness is that if everything is Climate Change, from fracking and flooding to drought and extinction, nothing is Climate Change and the result is simply shrill rhetoric.
If everything is Climate Change, then, nothing is Climate Change.
It also results in ignoring other issues e.g. pollution, as with the agricultural pollution of our local rivers. Too often any environmental issue is blamed on Climate Change as a matter of course. It can also result in a purely ideological approach, rather than a rational and critical weighing of the evidence and effecting the best solution. In my experience, it is used as a trump card to shut up discussion when awkard questions are asked.
(I ought to add that I do not start from Climate Change as my real concerns for the environment started by considering tailings ponds at Kilembe Mines in Uganda in 1969. If these leaked the effluent would have flowed directly into Queen Elizabeth National Park. From then on I was concerned by the whole gamut of environmental concerns to which Climate Change was added in the 90s. I do not have ONE overarching issue.)
Cray is not alone in objecting to fracking on this perceived ground and thus not considering other alternatives, like fracked gas being a bridge fuel. He continues;
To quote John Weaver of the John Ray Initiative: ‘fracking is simply distracting energy firms and governments from investing in renewable sources of energy, and encouraging continued reliance on fossil fuels.’ …. ‘the real issue is the impact of our continued consumption of fossil fuels on climate change, and a much more significant question is whether investment in fracking will be at the expense of investment in renewables?’[i]
Weaver gave no evidence for his statement. Most firms, e.g. Cuadrilla, involved in fracking and the government do not see fracking as an alternative to renewables but see the two working together. It is interesting that the fracking capitol of Texas is also the capitol of wind turbines, as BOTH have expanded rapidly in the last decade. This alleged dichotomy is part of the Green myth on fracking and it is sad to see the John Ray Initiative falling for it. There is also no consideration of shale gas as a bridge fuel.
Lord Sachs, the former Chief Rabbi says ‘The great faiths teach a different kind of wisdom: reverence in the face of creation, responsibility to future generations, and restraint in the knowledge that not everything we can do, should we do.”[ii]
In particular, the fact that we can extract shale gas, is no moral reason that we should.
I simply cannot see the logic of this. Sachs came out with a valid comment, yet the Bishop uses it to say that means we have no moral reason to frack. That could apply to any technology. After all, we could build a motor road up Scafell and build a car park on top! I think I would become a protestor……..
Cray then goes on to argue that because various countries are suffering from Climate Change, then fracking must not be allowed – despite the fact that fracking is carried out in many lands, – USA, Argentina (the Pope’s homeland), China and will soon be done in so many countries. He says of countries suffering from Climate Change;
These are not distant lands to us, they are the homes of friends and colleagues. To give to aid agencies which are working to ameliorate the consequences of our carbon emissions, while approving the sourcing of a new fossil fuel, shale gas, is a moral contradiction.
We, in the developed nations, have a moral responsibility for the effects of our energy policy on other nations.
No right-thinking human can disagree with his first sentence, especially myself as I have lived in and visited many of the countries in East and Central Africa. However he makes too many jumps without giving proper explanation. It is too simple to claim all aspects of changing climates are due to carbon emissions as there have been cases of climate changes in the recent past i.e. the last 10,000 years, particularly in the Sahara region. I would agree that we have a moral responsibility for the effects of our energy policy. However it is too simple to think a blanket opposition to one kind of fossil fuel shows our moral responsibility as the carbon footprint of shale gas is far less than coal. Perhaps the moral responsibility should focus on ridding coal first, and, horror of horrors, use nuclear and shale gas to reduce emissions as has happened in the oil-loving state of Texas. Here an ideological moral stance would actually make things worse rather than better.
The following statements reflects a great moral concern;
Climate change is also an ‘intensifier’ of other problems and conflicts in these nations. It makes them harder to solve. (You have all heard of Darfur, where climate change aggravated an already bitter conflict.) We have a problem with migrants, with refugees at the moment. It will seem trivial if we fail to reduce carbon emissions and more land becomes desert or perpetual flood. Prepare for the arrival of the climate refugees.
Darfur is cited as if it were a proven case in point. However since Ban Ki Moon made this connection/conjecture in 2007, it has been under serious question as a survey of the responsible literature on the subject shows. In fact, conflict has been rife in the Sudan since the 1950s, which rather pre-dates Climate Change. Then there was the drought and famine in neighbouring Ethiopia in the 80s. Sadly drought and famine have been endemic in Africa for a very long time. No one can deny the problems in so much of Africa, nor of migrants and refugees, but to focus purely on carbon-induced Climate Change is to deny every other factor, many of which are long standing.
And so Cray asserts rather simplistically
For the sake of the poor of the earth – we need to keep shale gas in the ground
would he also say that all African countries should keep their gas, shale or not, in the ground? What about Kenya with its recent discoveries? Or South Africa with immense shale gas resources in the Karroo, when the population relies on coal and firewood causing both unnecessary deaths through air pollution and removal of the last few trees – I cannot say deforestation. Yes, I have lived in a desert, where those who, unlike me who could afford to buy expensive bottled gas, had to go further and further afield to find a few twigs for heating and cooking. (Yes, I am one of those who considers that shale gas will help the poor of the world.)
Thus I cannot accept his claims and would argue the opposite
To give to Save the Children or Children in Need while supporting fracking is a moral contradiction.
For our children and grandchildren’s sake we need to ‘keep shale gas in the ground’
And so he moves to a more local perspective;
To frack here is contrary to the long term wellbeing of this district and county.
This conviction has been arrived at cumulatively. I took time to make my mind up.
But then I read the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee report from last January[i]. Compiled by a cross party group of MPs including Caroline Spelman, who was Secretary of State for Environment, Agriculture and Rural Affairs. The report lists question after question where there are unsatisfactory or unproven answers. ([i] House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee: ‘The Environmental Risks of Fracking’ free PDF available from publications.parliament.uk)
Groundwater quality, the quantity of water required, waste water and its safe disposal, air emissions, methane (20 times as damaging as CO2 as greenhouse gas), health as we have heard tonight, habitat and biodiversity, seismic activity as in Lancashire, noise and disruption, and inadequate and fragmented monitoring regimes.
We need much better answers if we are to believe that fracking is safe and good.
Did he read and understand what was said? The report was biased against fracking and a close reading will show that these are no more than questions. The bishop needed to have read much more widely than this and to note that this MINORITY report went against almost all other Government publications and those from DECC, the RS/RAE commission of 2012 , BGS , PHE and the EA. All those issues sound scary but the Audit Committee went for the worst case scenario and minority view rather than detailing the variety of scientific opinion.
This type of comment is common when amateurs wade into the fracking debate when they have little or no technical skills. At present British Christians seem very adept at this
At the Westminster Hall debate on shale gas, initiated by our MP Kevin Hollinrake, one of the contributions was by Alan Whitehead MP, also an author of the Environmental Audit report. ‘The estimates are’ he said ‘that, in order to divert, let us say, 10% of our gas supply from conventional gas into shale gas we would need to drill somewhere between 10,000 and 18,000 wells, and they would have to be re-drilled over a period. Of course, those wells would not be evenly distributed throughout the country. Wells would be concentrated in the two areas of the UK where there are reasonable shale plays. Those shale plays are geologically faulted and difficult to get at; nevertheless, they are the main areas: Bowland shale in the north-east of England and across the weald in the south.
This paragraph demonstrates that the bishop has a weak grasp of fracking. He seems unaware that there can be up to 50 wells on one pad reducing his 10,000 to 18,000 to 200 to 360, which would be added to the 2000 or so already in existence. We need to distinguish between pads which contain many wells and the actual wells as the number of wells can be disconcerting, though they are spaced a few feet apart on a pad.
The last part on shale plays is rather muddled. Everywhere in Britain is geologically faulted and one only has to look at a 1:50,000 geological map to see how common they are. Obviously they make extraction harder but no practising geologist I know of regards it as insurmountable. The only person who does is emeritus Professor of GeoPHYSICS David Smythe who retired in 1999 and has not worked since. He has tried to show that Lancashire is too faulted for successful extraction, but no one bar fractivists take any notice of him. Elsewhere he has shown a limited understanding of geology as with his scare story that Witney (Cameron’s constituency) was not available for prospecting. The reason is simple as Witney was part of the Brabant massif which was LAND in Carboniferous times and possible deposits were too thin to give any possibility of economic gas. A veritable moose pasture as they say! He seems unaware that the Bowland Shale is also found in the North-west and under much of Lancashire, especially in the areas applied for by Cuadrilla, as well as in Yorkshire. The type area for Bowland Shale is around Clitheroe in Lancashire and outcrops in all the lowland between Preston and Settle and underlies the gritstone hills of Lancashire. It is found 2 km below surface where Cuadrilla wish to prospect in the Fylde. East of the Pennines it lies well below surface. To sum up, Bowland shales either outcrop or are below surface in most of Yorkshire and Lancashire.
(Bowland shale outcrop in Fiendsdale)
It is very frustrating when people pontificate on any technical issue from a position of ignorance be it fracking, GMOs and other issues. It seems that all churches in Britain have sprouted experts in these areas over the last five years. They have come to dominate the churches’ responses, despite their skill being in irrelevant subjects like literature, languages etc. Some may have scientific expertise in another field, but as with Creationists when engineers “critique” geology and evolution, that does not mean they have an authority in another field. What is more concerning is that they do not consult the real scientific and engineering authorities, but rely on half-baked pseudo-technical reports from anti-fracking groups. It is vital to read material from all perspectives and to consider whether the author has any real competence.
If I am allowed to boast as St Paul was (see 2 Corinthians chap 11!!), I have moderate geological skills and a background in exploration and mining geology. Hence I have to find out who the experts are and take note of them and not just one person who confirms my prejudices! Thus on seismic events connected with fracking and drilling, I draw on many sources and am in contact with professionals from the UK and USA to ensure I get things right. Simply throwing a comment out like “Seismic activity in Lancashire ” as Graham did is not good enough. A vast amount of nonsense has been written since the two tremors in Lancashire and Greenpeace has used it in their inaccurate scaremongering campaign Not for Shale, cashing in on a limited understanding of earthquakes (https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/not-for-shale/ ).
This has been made worse by the numbers who cannot distinguish between the very few tremors actually caused by fracking and those (larger) ones caused by waste injection from any gas and oil wells, which has nothing to do with fracking per se.
It is interesting to note that both Tim Thornton and frack free Rydale are WRONG about seismicity as is seen from their websites. (I shall make further comment on this, when I have more details from a Christian geologists in Oklahoma who has specialised on these tremors.)
UK geology is thought to be more heavily fractured and faulted than that of the US, so we would expect more earthquakes from the same amount of activity, as the limited experience in Lancashire has shown. http://frackfreeryedale.org/2015/04/
There is much more I could say about Graham’s shaky technical understanding. It does seem that he has not studied at depth but relied on the standard anti-fracking on-line publications. That is simply not good enough. The result is that his arguments against fracking force a wry smile to any who know a little about oil and gas production. He has fallen into the trap of going beyond his own expertise. He could do well to consider this quote from St Augustine, who at least understood the science and technology of his day.
Saint Augustine (A.D. 354-430) in his work The Literal Meaning of Genesis (De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim) provided excellent advice for all Christians who are faced with the task of interpreting Scripture in the light of scientific knowledge. This translation is by J. H. Taylor in Ancient Christian Writers, Newman Press, 1982, volume 41.
Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion. [1 Timothy 1.7]
This quotation of St Augustine is often used to point out how Creationist Christians should take note of what science is, rather than putting forth their wayward version. It is amazing that some today still believe the earth is only 6000 years old. It also applies to the Christians who despite their lack of technical and scientific knowledge pass judgement on the technicalities of fracking. This includes many from Christian environmental groups such as Green Christian and Operation Noah. It also applies to those who have written about shale gas in the Blackburn diocese. They and Bishop Cray should take heed of St Augustine. Rather than making a positive contribution to questions about fracking they simply make the churches look silly and ill-informed.
And so the Bishop moves to local concerns like tourism and agriculture
We are in danger of undermining the long term prosperity of this area – tourism, food, agriculture – for dubious short term energy gains.
It is absolutely crazy to do so at this time – After The Tour de France and Tour de Yorkshire have drawn the attention of the world to this beautiful place. It is not just the National Park and Areas of Outstanding Beauty. It includes all that you can see from them, and what you are doing under them. Let alone the wellbeing of local communities.
Yet again, we are given bald assertions in place of evidence and argument. Such sweeping comments are irresponsible. He gives no indication how tourism, food and agriculture would be undermined. There is simply no evidence on this, beyond superficially comparing potential “fracking areas” with areas of mineral extraction. Granted some coal-mining areas are in a bad state but what about the whole Northern Pennine Orefield from Settle to Alston, which is partly the Dales National Park and part AONBs? Even so the opencast coal mine near where I lived in the late 80s in Chirk caused little dust, and had no effect on farming and tourism. No one was concerned by it but many objected to the appalling pollution from a chipboard factory. Fracking would have less impact than either the chipboard factory or that small opencast mine. Then consider the highest pub in England – Tan Hill – at 540 metres which is surrounded by old mine workings, and mines are to be found all over the place and are recorded on the I:25,000 map. To return to fracking he forgets that shale pads are an acre or two and if screened with trees and hedges as at Elswick in Lancashire or Wych farm in Dorset are scarcely noticeable. At Wych Farm house prices are often over £500,000 and it is an ANOB near Studland beach. The impact of a fracking pad would be comparable to a compressor station for the gas National grid of which there are a dozen or so on the Fylde. As they are screened it is easy to miss them as I often do when cycling in the region. Unless one believes the unfounded scaremongering of the Medact and other reports there will be minimal effect on farming or health. Further Graham does not consider the fact that drilling is for only a limited time then a pad is left with a few Christmas trees and compressors, as with this example in Pennsylvania a matter of yards from a house. (Note this was before landscaping, and how two photos taken two hundred yards apaprt give a different perspective.)
One area which has been researched on this is Pennsylvania and in fracking counties like Bradford County both toursim and agriculture have gone UP since fracking began in 2008. We have visited Bradford county and found none of the downers one is led to believe. We had some negative comments – a minority – but there was woodland, upland and farming in the valleys, with no of the ill effects often claimed. One house was a few yards from a well-pad with about 10 wells, as shown above. However research in Germany suggests windfarms have a detrimental effect on tourism http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/65946/1/MPRA_paper_65946.pdf.
About the ill-effects to farming and tourism the bishop gave no argument and jumps to a conclusion against shale gas based on opinion and not evidence and argument
So for the sake of Rydale we need to keep shale gas in the ground.
I hope I have given a fair summary of what Bishop Cray said about the moral considerations of fracking. I have not given a discussion of all of his paper but have selected key issues. He simply has not made a good moral case against fracking for several reasons. He has failed to consider any evidence in favour of fracking and only uses hostile accounts. Nowhere has he given a reasoned and evidenced argument against fracking but simply jumps from a few concerns to an assertion that shale gas should remain in the ground.
Unfortunately this is being taken as an episcopal blessing for opposing fracking, but to make a case for or against requires a much wider and deeper range of study and give cast-irons reasons for or against. This he has not done.
It is a great shame that none of the churches in Britain have used their considerable resources to make a reasoned presentation of all the pros and cons of fracking, and instead have simply been an echo chamber for ill-informed green arguments.