The low hanging fruit of the world’s energy tree is so, so gone now that we’re throwing caution to the wind, frantically shimmying up the trunk, clambering out onto the limbs and putting all the weight of our demands onto its uppermost, and very tenuous, branches. The laws of supply and demand mean that as a resource declines, its worth goes up, and thus there’s not only ever greater pressure to drain the very last drop, there’s also increasing incentive to do so — at least for industrialists without a conscience (they themselves being a ‘resource’ in seemingly unlimited supply…).
Unfortunately it works like this until the cost of retrieving an energy source is higher than than its usable value. Even then, if it no longer makes financial sense, we can just jiggle the books until it looks attractive again. We’ve done it with corn ethanol, by ignoring the cost differential and subsidising the hell out of it with tax-payer dollars, and we’ve done it with oil, by using taxpayer dollars to finance military intervention to secure it. We can continue cooking the planet, just by finding imaginative ways to cook the books. As Bush senior said, the American (high energy) way of life is not negotiable — even if we must ignore the exponential function and every mathematical law to do so. Even though many suffer the consequences, it seems that, with fracking, so long as there are still a few making a buck, it will continue.
And, thus, to get the greatest return on investment in the expensive equipment necessary to undertake this exploitative work, there’s also a huge incentive to externalise all overheads associated with it. The invisible hand works wonders here. The less gas remaining to be fracked, the more you can sell it for, but the harder and more expensive it is to retrieve. This translates to turning a blind eye to collateral damage to people and place. Clean-ups cost, as do precautions.
Instead of objectivity ruling over this free-for-all nonsense, short-term economic gain takes precedence above all else.
As an example, less than a month after a report came out on how much money New York was losing due to its fracking ban, the ban was lifted.
Fracking is supposedly a bid to reduce dependency on foreign oil. But it’s more than that. Foreign oil is drying up too. Saudi Arabia, supposedly the most blessed in energy of all nations, is itself reaching deeper into its own cupboard, trying to pry out some of its uglier stores — those they’ve not wanted to approach until now — whilst worldwide demand is still growing. This year we’ve hit a record worldwide consumption rate of 88 million barrels of oil per day. As both the quantity and price of the oil we consume rises, the energy component in our national budgets is getting out of whack compared to items in the other rows on the spreadsheet. Yet, we are not so much giving up on the energy as we’re just playing with the figures. As energy costs rise, shopping trolleys are getting lighter (instead of raising prices, we just shrink the product!).
Unfortunately, even if short-lived, it seems the immediate future for fracking looks ‘bright’, even if the road to this future will be littered with toxic watersheds and diseased people and eco-systems.
There is some good news to be had in this — France has banned fracking within its borders. We the people need to stand up and ensure those who are supposed to be working in our interests and on our behalf are doing just that. If these things are left to market forces alone, well, we’ll end up in ‘fracking heaven’.