[Update at end of post]
There has been much enthusiasm in and around the climate change denial lobby regarding the potential of shale gas: quite apart from the advertised reserves of the stuff, exploration has been, in the words of James “saviour of Western civilisation” Delingpole, “Oop North”, and so it’s someone else’s problem if it causes earth tremors, water pollution and other environmental damage.
But the game changed this week as Cuadrilla Resources, the people behind the exploratory wells near Blackpool and Southport, revealed that they are exploring the potential of shale gas reserves in the South East: the three sites are at Tunbridge Wells in Kent, Lingfield in Surrey, and Balcombe in West Sussex. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is coming to the stockbroker and solicitor belt.
The news was carried not only by the deeply subversive Guardian, but also – to its credit – by the Maily Telegraph, both telling that Cuadrilla CEO Mark Miller had volunteered to meet the concerned residents of Balcombe (population less than 2,000) on Wednesday evening. More than 10% of those residents felt strongly enough to turn up, squeezing into the village hall.
And the reception accorded to Miller was unequivocally hostile: the news from the North West preceded him, as did a screening of a film showing the less pleasant side-effects of fracking across the USA. He gave it his best shot, but the locals were not impressed. And they carry far more clout than folks in Blackpool and Southport, because this is where the kind of people live who work in press and TV.
Those with no connection to the media also carry clout, through their business contacts and dealings. And if fracking is unsafe in the South East, it follows that it is equally so anywhere else in the UK that has a similar population density. So a defeat for Cuadrilla in Balcombe, or Tunbridge Wells, or Lingfield, could mean the shale gas “revolution” being stopped in its tracks.
So where are those who have been arguing for fracking and telling how there is no problem with the process? Where is the forthright denunciation of the residents of Balcombe from Delingpole or his mentor Christopher Booker? That well known Astroturf lobby group the Global Warming Policy Foundation has supported fracking in Balcombe, although their pal Nick Grealy has been rumbled by those locals.
Seriously, are those who have been shilling for shale going to keep up the volume now the action has moved closer to London? The likes of Grealy, who has been described as a “shale gas missionary”, are so zealous they cannot help themselves. But those Telegraph readers who were not previously concerned might look at events in Balcombe and wonder if this is really such A Good Thing after all.
Fracking may yet be a game changer. But not in the way that had been expected.
[UPDATE 15 January: no mention at all from James Delingpole of the coming of fracking to locations much nearer where he lives - in fact, he's not majored on shale gas since before Christmas. Christopher Booker is also silent on this development, choosing instead to paint HS2 as part of a dastardly EU plot. Come on, you two, don't be shy, your adoring public needs to know that you still want fracking, even if it's not "Oop North"]