Really, what the frack are they thinking of?

SOMETIMES you know something is wrong and never mind how much the snake-oil salesman offers words of placatory slipperiness.

Now it is probably unfair of me to bring out the snake oil when talking about fracking, but that’s just the way things roll round here occasionally.

Snake oil was originally found in America, much like fracking, where it featured in the 19th-century practice of selling cure-all elixirs in travelling medicine shows. All sorts of benefits would be dubiously claimed for snake oil, much in the way that fracking companies make assorted claims for the economic benefits of blasting huge quantities of water, chemicals and silica sand down to 10,000 feet to fracture deep-buried rocks and release gas.

Some of the objections to fracking are based on what hard-headed sorts would characterise as misguided romanticism getting in the way of economic reality. Well, I am all for that imprudent sentiment on this matter.

Tomorrow, North Yorkshire county council will hear from some of the thousands who object to the planning application to frack a well close to the small Ryedale village of Kirby Misperton.

To even think of allowing fracking in the beautiful North Yorkshire countryside, some of the loveliest to be found anywhere, seems little short of mad and criminally irresponsible.

I don’t wish on this occasion to explore what might or might not happen when the earth is blasted to release the gas trapped below. Some of the horror stories from the US of fire burping out of taps may or may not apply here. But what we should instead concentrate on is the thought that some of our loveliest green acres could be contaminated by this process.

In last Sunday’s Observer, the journalist Madeleine Bunting delivered a good and intelligent emotional blast against gas exploration in the countryside where she was born and grew up. Bunting is a noted commentator and also the author The Plot: A Biography of My Father’s English Acre.

The acre in question is a plot of land not far from the White Horse at Kilburn. Bunting’s sculptor father bought this land and built on it a chapel as a memorial to those who died and fought in the Second World War. I haven’t yet read the book, but I have stood on that plot with its long views over a fine panorama, taking a diversion there during a walk with friends, one of whom had read Bunting’s book.

Bunting makes many good points. Here is one: “What’s at stake here is whether an industry developed in relatively lightly populated areas of the rural US, Canada and Australia can be accommodated in England without being too obtrusive.” She adds that this is no consensus on this point: fracking company Third Energy says it will do things differently in North Yorkshire; thousands of local residents remain sceptical.

One of the best points Bunting makes in relation to the tiny village of Kirby Misperton is that fracking will lead to dozens of heavy goods vehicles driving down the narrow village lane for 12 hours a day. If this is true, it is complete madness – and reason enough, in the phrase used by the protest groups, to tell these modern-day prospectors to “frack off”.

Never mind how the company attempts to shield the drilling site, you cannot hide HGVs thundering along previously peaceful roads in North Yorkshire countryside.

Bunting makes the point that what’s at question here is “how we value the countryside and its particular qualities of quietness and slowness”; and how we maintain that “quality of placidity so quintessential to English rural life”.

What seems odd is that a Conservative government should be so keen on fracking – and therefore so seemingly hell-bent on allowing intrusive industrial processes to intrude on our lovely countryside. Once Tories genuinely wanted to preserve our way of life; now they seem happy to see it blasted to bits in the name of ideology or a quick buck.

I recognise that I live in the city and visit the countryside for recreation, and some supporters of fracking will dismiss my complaints on those grounds. All I can say is that potentially harming areas of the North York Moors or the Howardian Hills just in the name of eking out our gas supplies for a little longer is madness. Especially when this government has decided to turn its back on alternative forms of energy, and instead go in for a bit of macho earth-juddering.

Really, what the frack are they thinking of?

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