Editorial: Fracking Things Up Or Making Them Better

Tim Haïdar

"I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one."- Mark Twain (1835-1910)

This past weekend, supermajor Total became the first multinational integrated oil and gas company to invest in the British shale story, taking a 40% share in the drilling operations in the Gainsborough Trough.

Prime minister David Cameron announced that the UK government was "going all out for shale", announcing that local councils would keep 100 per cent of business rates from sites where the controversial hydraulic fracturing process was liberating hydrocarbons from shale, instead of the usual 50 per cent. Local communities will also receive one per cent of revenues from any site and a £100,000 ($164,000) fee whenever a test well is fracked.

Some people would, and have, called that bribery. For others, it’s simply politics. Emotion and science will continue to clash over this issue as long as groundwater is purportedly poisoned and tremors shake the landscape, but maybe the case of Gainsborough can work as a microcosm for why shale will take the United Kingdom by storm.

Gainsborough was Britain’s most inland port, a feeder for the maritime hub of Hull and 90 kilometres from the North Sea. The demise of British industry is one of the contributing factors that has seen bustle turn to bust, with the town of 20,000 topping the list of places in the UK with the largest percentage of inhabitants claiming unemployment benefits in 2012.

When millions are grounded and jobless, the cost of living is rising and 250,000 Britons work under "zero-hours contracts" in which employers provide work for staff on an "as and when" basis, the problems that rear their heads the day that fracking comes to town might just be offset by a feeling seldom experienced in many parts of a deindustrialised nation: hope. And that is to be seized with both hands.