The fracking question
To frack, or not to frack. That is the question many householders in Dorset and other southern counties must be pondering, as the Prime Minister steps forward with a plea for support to a venture he claims will benefit both the country as a whole, and the consumer.
There are, however, many who clearly believe that it is not nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, as they consider the possibility of large drilling towers rising like triffids beyond the trees of their peaceful and picturesque village and of strange subterranean goings-on below their gardens. What "fortune"?
There is a tendency to believe that when you buy land, you acquire with it a fine tapering cone from its boundaries to the centre of the earth. Of course, you know that the poor devils in the North of England sometimes had coal mines running under their houses, occasionally leading to subsidence, but that was in the grimy old industrial past.
Unfortunately, not much has changed. The ground under your home is not actually yours, any more than the air space above it. We accept that if aircraft pass over our houses, so long as they do not pass too close to the chimney, we must put up with it. But to have a machine that heats, blasts and possibly contaminates the water table underneath us is, for many, a step too far.
David Cameron's campaign is beset by failure of information. Does fracking pollute the water table, or doesn't it? Does it risk earth tremors of significant size, or not? How long before domestic insurance policies slip an exemption into the small print that removes cover for subsidence caused by fracking?
And who will actually be the actual beneficiaries of the process? Is it true that gas prices will fall as a result of this energy revolution? Some voices are already denying the likelihood of cheaper gas – and remember that there are many who do not have access to the gas main. The sceptic, viewing the way their savings in bonds, ISAs, and other investments vanish into the void of agency, bank, management and adviser fees, will wonder who exactly is going to benefit. Might it just be possible that the shareholders of the exploiting companies will have priority, as they do with most privatised commodities and services? Isn't it time our politicians treated us as intelligent beings by providing us with a balance sheet?
And if the country genuinely benefits, might the rush for fracked gas distract from our growing scientific advantages in the field of alternative and cleaner energy supplies? We stand to gain hugely by innovative scientific advances in alternative technologies.
Even those most hardened opponents to wind turbines might one day sigh and wish if only they had one of those graceful windmills at the end of the village, rather than that tall noisy steel tower lit up 24 hours a day.