With evidence of climate change becoming clearer than ever, European countries should think carefully before allowing fracking in their territory. Although hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — offers the benefits of abundant supplies of unconventional oil and gas and lower carbon emissions than other combustibles such as oil and gas, it is not a sustainable solution due to its large environmental costs and its potential contribution to climate change. Moreover, the short-term economic promises fracking it offers are also taking our sense of urgency away from transitioning to more renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar power.
Although natural gas has come to be seen as an ideal form of clean energy, the unburned methane gas that escapes during the fracking process can pollute the environment much more than conventional energy sources such as coal and oil. According to studies carried out in Colorado in the United States, three percent or more of natural gas can leak during the drilling process for shale gas. This gas is 80 times more toxic to the environment than coal.
Now fracking is coming to Europe. In 2011, France declared its moratorium on fracking. The German Government did the same just after its 2013 election pending an environmental risk assessment. However, during the the past few days Berlin announced that it is ready to lift the ban on fracking oil in early 2015, mainly to reduce the country’s dependency on gas imports from Russia. Unfortunately this decision is not a sustainable solution. The temporary relief of geopolitics should not be achieved at the long-term cost of environmental degradation. To put our economy and our world on a path to sustainability, governments and companies need to focus on doing real good for society and not just doing less harm, as seems to be the case with fracking.
We know the economics of sustainability, but who will pay? To quote Albert Einstein “We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”. Over the past 30 years, the triple bottom line concept that consists of focusing on the sustainability of the environment and society as well as profit has not helped the productive sector do real good for the world.
Fracking in Europe would provide short-term economic benefits at best, and what is clear is that developed societies cannot continue consuming as we do now if we want to ensure the sustainability of our world for future generations. Europe needs to find a new way of thinking.