Belfast Telegraph

Why we need a proper debate... not all this fracking hysteria

By Lindy McDowell

Update on global warming ... According to UN scientists, yes, man is to blame and yes, it's getting worse. Yet surprisingly among the unlikely weapons against eco-Armageddon currently getting the nod from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is fracking.

Yup. Fracking. The ultimate F-word for the environmentally fanatical.

The system for removing shale gas is classed as a low carbon alternative and in its latest report, the IPCC suggests it as a "bridging" energy source until mankind comes up with a better way of minimising CO2 emissions.

All of which surely, must come as a bit of a gunk to those eco-activists in hand-knit jumpers and angel wings who have been gluing themselves to the gates of proposed fracking sites in protest.

Whose side are they on now?

It's also an issue here – potentially a very big issue – because there are plans for extensive fracking in Fermanagh.

In fairness to the eco-anxious, fracking does sound a bit iffy. On every level. Even the name has an unfortunate ring to it. What were they thinking, the fracking lobby, when they settled on such a brittle verb to describe their business?

And the process doesn't exactly sound reassuring either. It involves drilling down and then forcing highly pressurised liquid through shale rock to release the trapped gas. There are concerns about contamination of water supplies. And fears about what all this drilling and whooshing does to the stability of the ground beneath our feet.

In Ohio, where fracking has been going on for sometime, the authorities are now having second thoughts given a marked increase in earthquake activity in the region. Then again, you could argue, not every place will have such obvious concerns. Fermanagh for example, is hardly on the San Andreas fault.

And fracking is lucrative. It could provide a massive boost to the local economy. The unanswered question is – at what price? Would you like to live beside a fracking field?

The problem is that we don't get to rationally debate the issues because, as with so many important questions, hysteria and emotion gets the upper hand before we even get to consider all sides of the argument. Without actually having all the cold, hard facts, people find themselves swayed by popular campaign, smart slogans and in some cases, political allegiance.

And fracking ... well, it just doesn't sound right, does it?

But couldn't we, shouldn't we try to be a bit more open-minded, learn a bit more about the process and study the experience of others? If it's clean and it's even a bit green, isn't it worth at least some serious consideration before we rush off down to the drill site with our frack-off placard and the tube of UHU?

Wind farms are amazing, majestic (in my opinion anyway) but there is a limit to the energy they can provide. The same with solar and hydroelectric power. Long-term, the scientists talk about carbon capture and containment – ie burying it in the ground – which you just know is not going to be popular either.

As the global economy expands and production hots up something has to give.

If the prestigious UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is on the side of fracking surely it has, at least, to be worth consideration and calm, informed debate without the usual hosing of high-pressure hysteria from all sides.

Our problem, as in so many things, we're far too fractious about fracking.


Preachy campaigns are so out of fashion

I think Mahatma Gandhi is an inspirational figure. That doesn't mean I want to dress like him. Which is precisely the point, I think, where the latest, and much derided, campaign by M&S has hit the buffers.

While we may have considerable admiration for all – or at least some – of the women in the current M&S Leading Ladies ad campaign, is this enough to make anybody want to actually rush out and buy the clothes they're wearing? Especially as some of the stars in the ad look as though they're wondering themselves just what they're doing togged out in Per Una.

Fashion has become increasingly preachy and pretentious down the years but in this instance it seems to have entirely lost the run of itself.

"Because we're worth it" was one of those genius sales slogans which did work.

I'm not sure the same applies to "because they're worthy".


Oscar trial making an ass of the law

Is Oscar Pistorius innocent? Who really knows? At the start of the trial I thought his story, while convoluted and improbable, could be true. Because sometimes improbable does happen.

Remember, for example, Lindy Chamberlain? The cross examination of Rottweiler prosecutor Mr Nel, has raised doubts. But not enough that I'd convict.

How can we ever be sure what happened that night? The court's verdict is unlikely to create consensus among onlookers. There will always be those who believe Pistorius guilty. And those who believe him innocent.

Maybe the one thing we can all agree upon is discomfort at the circus this high profile case has turned into. The judge has had to warn that it's not entertainment. And as a friend said to me, you do sometimes have to remember that it's not an episode of Diagnosis Murder. Fascinating viewing, granted. But is this really good for justice?

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