It’s Official. Our Lord, God Almighty, has given the thumbs-up to exploring for shale energy – at least in England.
After setting up an ethical and doctrinal working group two years ago on fracking for shale gas, the Church of England has concluded that there are no doctrinal reasons to ban fracking (as is ‘temporarily’ the situation in Scotland) and that public health and safety can be assured within a robust regulatory regime.
The Church’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group has adopted a new climate change policy which sets out a comprehensive, distinctly Christian approach to climate change and responsible investment, demonstrating commitment to a transition to a low carbon economy through divestment from companies specialised in the extraction of the highest carbon fossil fuels (thermal coal and oil sands), seeking out low-carbon investments and engagement with companies and public policy.
The Council comprises a representative group of bishops, clergy and lay people with interest and expertise in the relevant areas, and reports to the General Synod through the Archbishops’ Council. The Environment Working Group was set up in 2014 in response to a motion passed at General Synod, to be a voice in the public square arguing for environmental responsibility.
The Rt Rev. Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury, and Chairman of both the kirk’s Mission and Public Affairs Council and its Environment Working Group, said:
“The policy is grounded in Biblical and theological reflections. Our key theme is that:
‘Humankind has a divinely mandated responsibility for the physical world, for its creatures and for one another, especially the weakest and least. This mandate also requires us to do all we can to minimise damage to creation and God’s creatures, and to promote all that is good and that brings the kingdom of heaven into ever greater realisation on earth’.”
The church’s policy notes that shale gas may help reduce greenhouse gas emissions as part of the transition to a low-carbon economy, but that this does not negate the importance of other issues such as environmental impacts and the effect on local communities.
But the Bishop adds: “Some Christian NGOs take a campaigning stance, opposing fracking because of the impact of fossil fuels in exacerbating global climate change and noting research by the International Energy Agency that, in the absence of a strong climate policy, continued global expansion of gas supply from unconventional resources, alongside exploitation of other fossil fuels, could lead to global temperature rises of 3.5°C, well above the 2°C rise that is necessary to keep below to avoid dangerous climate change.
“However, this is where it becomes important to distinguish the arguments about fracking as a technique from arguments about how to transition to a low(er) carbon economy.
“If developing the techniques of fracking provides an alibi for relaxing efforts to reduce carbon consumption, it is obviously unhelpful.
“But the government’s commitment to COP21 means that overall carbon consumption in the UK must be constrained whatever its source.
“And, as shale gas is a cleaner option than some alternatives, the case can be made that, as transition to a low carbon economy is a gradual process, shale gas has an important place in such a policy.
“It is indeed true that if the exploitation of global shale gas resources were additional to existing expected carbon consumption, there would be potentially catastrophic global temperature implications. But the substitution in the UK of domestically produced shale gas for other carbon sources (both coal and imported natural gas) would be a different matter.”
For the Church, the case for and against fracking depends first on conclusions about the role of shale gas in a transitional energy policy.
Shale gas is a potentially useful element in achieving a transition to a much lower carbon economy. The government’s public commitment to reducing the UK’s carbon emissions under COP21 provides a context which should ensure that shale gas is not treated as an alibi for ducking carbon reduction commitments.
Bishop Holtam added: “The key to whether or not fracking is a morally acceptable practice thus turns on three points:
- the place of shale gas within a transitional energy policy committed to a low carbon economy
- the adequacy and robustness of the regulatory regime under which it is conducted, and
- the robustness of local planning and decision-making processes.
“Having concluded that shale gas may be a useful component in transitioning to a low carbon economy, we are persuaded that a robust planning and regulatory regime could be constructed.
“However, these are aspects that will need constant vigilance. Ongoing research and monitoring of impacts on health and environment will be needed.
“We recognise and sympathise with the concerns of individuals and communities who are directly affected by fracking activities in their neighbourhoods. It is essential that their legitimate concerns are heard and appropriate protections and compensation are in place.
“Many communities are asked to accept disadvantage for the sake of the good of society at large but it is not right that this should be a one-way transaction – extractive industries cannot put back what they have extracted so they must seek ways to put back resources into communities in other ways.
Following discussion of the paper in draft, both groups have found it helpful and representative of both groups’ current thinking. It is therefore offered to others in the church, and beyond, as a resource for ongoing, evidence-based, discussion.”
God’s Word can be read here.
FRACKING SITES IN UK AT OCTOBER 2016: A map of the areas currently licenced for shale gas exploration and extraction can be found here: https://www.ogauthority.co.uk/data-centre/interactive-maps-and-tools/
Fibbing by Friends of Earth with false fracking claims will make Scot-Govt’s final public consultation on shale gas worthless