As the screws of British sanctions tighten upon Moscow, the British government has announced that it will stop importing Russian oil by the end of 2022. Whilst the EU obtains 40% of its gas and 27% of its oil from Russia, in the UK these percentages are 4% of gas and 8% of oil. As the British public are already suffering through a cost of living crisis, with many people torn between the choice of eating or heating, energy prices continue to soar. The expectation is that due to this ban on Russian oil the already squeezed British consumer will suffer the consequences. However, as proposed by nearly 40 conservative MPs the solution to this drop in energy supply could come in the form of shale gas from the controversial practice of fracking.
Even though a spokesperson from the British government has announced that there will be no changes to current policies on fracking, which includes wells being decommissioned on the 30th June. However, this is best taken with a large pinch of salt (which could come from the increased salt levels in water surfaces produced by fracking) considering this government’s persistent U-turns in policies. As well as the fact that the 2019 moratorium on fracking is not set in stone, as it was mainly used to curry favor with voters before the General Election.
Already groups such as the Global Warming Policy Foundation and Conservative Net Zero Scrutiny Group are pushing the debate for fracking. The argument is that Net Zero goals should be thrown aside (they claim temporarily) in the name of pragmatism and to use fracking as a way to detox from the current ‘addiction’ to Russian gas which is said to help fund war crimes in Ukraine. As many members of these groups were players in the Brexit campaign, the European Union is attacked for foolishly following ‘Green’ concerns and becoming entangled in reliance upon Russia for energy. According to this view Putin even supposedly had a hand in funding environmental groups that pushed for fracking bans. In summary, under this so-called realist perspective Britain is faced with the binary choice of either: energy security with fracking or the current road to decarbonisation supported by immoral energy purchasing. It supposedly can’t be both.
However, there are many flaws with this argument: Firstly and most obviously, the widespread condemnation for the damages of fracking, including earthquakes and a range of health impacts from cancers, childhood leukemia and birth defects.
Secondly, fracking would not be an instantaneous solution, as experts say it would take nearly a decade to notice any benefits in the form of energy costs for the public. It is not clear that even after this decade that the public would reap any benefits. Considering the Conservative government’s hatred for any form of nationalization, fracking facilities would be sold on the international market with companies charging whatever they wish (as previously shown by the disastrous move to sell the UK’s North Sea oil rights).
Thirdly, the decision to scrap Net Zero goals in favor of fracking would be highly unpopular as there is large amounts of support for these goals with 63% of polled British people supporting them. Added to this is the fact that in 2020 42% of the UK’s electricity came from renewable sources, that is higher than the level of electricity from both coal and gas combined.
In light of the looming climate catastrophe, as shown by the most recent IPCC report’s “bleakest warning yet”, any call for energy security must contend with the pressing need for climate security. There seems to be two paths ahead: Rather than reverting to carbon solutions, this shock to the energy supply could be the impetus for the British government to invest heavily in renewable technologies to make up the energy shortfall. Alternatively, as theorized by Naomi Klein, in any time of great shock, such as the current war or the ongoing pandemic, there are those who will use the chaos to implement long held plans for personal profit.