Activism / Christianity / Church / Religion / Science

August 19: Church of England should not endorse fracking

The Church of England’s intervention into the debate about fracking (or hydraulic fracturing) is wrong-headed, ill-informed, and in direct contravention of the Biblical injunction to be stewards of the environment (Genesis 1: 28).

And it is to be welcomed.

Coupled with Archbishop Welby’s welcome attempts to stop Britain being turned into a financial Wonga-Wonga land, this shows that at last the church is beginning to see it should take up positions on matters of significance.

Of course, this is not a new trend in church affairs. From the expulsion of the money-changers from the temple, right up to the present day, there have been devout churchpeople who saw their task as challenging the principalities and powers of this world. Even in the 19th and early 20th Century, the names of Charles Kingsley, Conrad Noel and Jack Putterill stand out in the struggle against the gnostic other-worldliness that is still to be found in some churches today.

It is true, as Philip Fletcher, Chair of the Church of England’s group on Mission and Public Affairs said on August 16, that “there is a danger of viewing fracking through a single issue lens and ignoring the wider considerations”.

Indeed, the enthusiastic endorsement of fracking by David Cameron and Lord Howell (the latter unsure whether Blackpool is in the north-east or the north-west) is just such a single lens. It ignores the wider considerations of what fracking, drilling into the earth and splitting shale deposits to release oil or gas, will do for the environment.

It could be claimed, as Mr Fletcher appears to claim, that the jury is still out on this issue, but his implicit endorsement of the frackers stands in opposition to contrary views expressed by people who are hardly wild-eyed anti-frackers.

Though the chair of the Environment Agency, Lord Smith, declared in May last year that fracking should be part of the UK’s “energy mix”, his own agency has now highlighted the danger of pollution caused by the chemicals pumped into the ground, causing “contamination and loss of resources, injury, ill

health or death, loss of or damage to a habitat”, plus a “medium” risk of pollution and damage from seismic activity.

The National Farmers Union has warned that “the fracking industry does represent an additional water user which could increase water stress in times of shortages”.

Though much has been made of the fact that gas obtained from fracking would be cheap, financial experts such as Bloomberg, Ernst & Young have warned that the cost of extraction alone may be higher than the current wholesale cost of gas. KPMG has also expressed concern about the costs of the process.

It would be interesting to know on what authority Mr Fletcher presumes to speak for the Church of England on this issue. As far as I can see, there has been no Synod discussion of this issue. Rather than throwing his hat into the ring on behalf of the frackers, should he not rather be using his authority to begin a debate on the issue, both inside the church as well as outside?

His intervention needs to be seen against the background of the Church Commissioners’ use of the Land Registration Act of 2002 to register their mineral interests by the end of October. “Certain historical rights and interests in mines and minerals owned in most cases for many years and in some cases for centuries might have been lost if not registered or otherwise protected within a strict timeframe,” they say.

Indeed, this statement is appended to Mr Fletcher’s intervention in the debate, so clearly it is all about protecting the Church’s revenue from future fracking.

But the Church cannot serve God and mammon. As the Bible says, (Proverbs 13:22), “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” Is that inheritance to be an environment disturbed by seismic disturbances and pollution of the water table, or protected by responsible stewardship?


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