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8 December 2014

Let's not rule out fracking until we know all the facts

Martina Anderson
Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson

The hallmark of the Luddites was their mindless refusal to consider the benefits of modern machinery. Sadly, that tendency is alive and well in Fermanagh, where the scaremongers are driving the debate about fracking, a newish technology which involves extracting gas from shale formations by injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals and which has had startling success in the US in driving down the cost of living.

Instead of blocking exploration by frightening people, surely Northern Ireland should be experimenting and calmly weighing up the pros and cons? And surely its politicians should want Ireland to have affordable energy?

Most of us want enough reasonably-priced energy to keep our lights on, our houses warm, our appliances working, factories working and whatever else is necessary to keep us comfortable and productive.

Unless we're lunatics, we'd like this energy to do as little harm as possible to the health and safety of the planet and its inhabitants.

The problem is that there's no source of energy that doesn't have a downside. Fossil fuels pollute the air, oil rigs pollute the oceans and Chernobyl, Fukushima and our inability to deal with nuclear waste frighten us.

While renewable energy might seem like the answer to a decent person's prayer, it relies on heavy subsidies from the taxpayer and, so far, is technologically incapable of providing more than a modest proportion of our needs. And, besides, wind turbines ruin the landscape and massacre birds.

Germany is a scary example of what happens when your energy policy gets hijacked by an ideological Green agenda.

In 2000, the Greens forced a federal decision to phase out nuclear energy; in 2010, Angela Merkel, who looks over her shoulder at them, promised massive cuts in C02 emissions of 3.5% a year; and, in 2011, after Fukushima, she accelerated the timetable for closing nuclear power stations.

Then, in 2013, with energy costs soaring, her government announced plans to legislate for fracking, but after an hysterical reaction from politicians, Press and public, a moratorium was declared.

Renewables haven't done the job, household electricity bills are 46% above the European average, extensive use of lignite (aka "dirty" coal) means CO2 emissions have fallen by only 0.7% a year, household electricity bills are 46% above the European average and almost 40% of natural gas and oil imports come from Russia.

The prime opponents of fracking are - unsurprisingly - countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia that are dependent for economic survival on their energy exports.

Putin is in trouble, anyway, waging a war against Ukraine that he can't afford and with the rouble tumbling along with oil prices and the prospect of an imminent recession.

He's spending a fortune on propaganda, as with the English language TV station Russia Today, and is trying to gain influence in the EU by becoming friendly with populist parties of the Left and Right. Russia recently lent Marine Le Pen's Front National €9m (£7m). Putin is looking for every opportunity to bankroll environmental activists. Now, so far, there's no evidence that Sinn Fein is taking money from Russia, but it's certainly acting in a way that Putin would approve. Certainly, they're helping to block efforts by other politicians to have a sensible public debate.

In August, Gerry Adams denounced fracking and - ludicrously - assured us that renewables would do the job for Ireland and Europe.

In October, Michael Colreavy TD denounced the UK (the major supplier of our oil and gas) for investing in nuclear energy and promoting fracking and Martina Anderson MEP announced she'd be bringing a major European anti-fracking conference to Fermanagh (who's funding that, Martina?) to help "ensure that fracking will not take place on the island of Ireland".

I had to hunt a bit to see what Sinn Fein says about Russia these days. "Sinn Fein," said Sean Crowe TD, its "spokesperson on foreign affairs" in April, "condemns the political, military and economic interference in Ukraine and Crimea by the US, EU and Russia". (Note the order.)

Dialogue and democracy were the only path, he explained, while pointing out that he was worried at the "inclusion of extreme Right-wing neo-nazis in key ministerial positions" in Ukraine.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards