“How fracking low can carbon go?”

The fracking debate in Europe continues to fascinate and provoke. The most fascinating part? The concerns voiced by opponents are not their real concerns. And the real concerns are rarely discussed.

 

The topic of shale gas exploration (commonly known as fracking) remains heated. Last week Brussels hummed with discussion after Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth noisily broke up a meeting discussing the issue.

There are two levels to the debate – one of which rarely emerges.

The superficial debate revolves around the question “is fracking dangerous or not?”. This prima facie is the central question. Environmental groups are raising complaints, using powerful emotional statements and evoking things like ‘earthquakes,’ ‘radiation,’ ‘contamination’ or ‘fire-risk.’ Industry is trying to answer with rational science.

The real debate, however, is a different one: if the full reserves from fracking are exploited, what does that mean for the supply of hydrocarbons… and therefore for the efforts to lift the price of carbon? What does this mean for climate change? This is the real concern of fracking opponents; yet this is less discussed, attacked or defended.

The pro-fracking forces probably have the upper hand right now. European governments look enviously at the recent riches from the United States, or at the Bulgarian government collapsing this month over the issue of domestic energy bills.

Over the next few years it will be interesting to see how the debate ebbs and flows. What happens as the industry works to answer the superficial concerns? At HLC we are wondering how much discussion will continue to focus on the superficial technological questions and how much will focus on the real concern, the price of carbon?

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February 27th, 2013