The National Trust is one of Britain’s best-loved charities – as quintessentially English as tea (out of a proper pot, of course) and scones, as much a part of our heritage furniture as Stourhead (which it owns) or Lundy island (which it manages on behalf of the nation).
So when an organisation as widely cherished as the National Trust teams up with an institution as similarly renowned as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB being Europe’s largest wildlife charity with over a million members) to produce a report on the dangers of fracking, it ought to be an issue of great concern to us all.
Why? Because if the report is correct and fracking does represent a genuine threat to Britain’s landscape and environment then clearly we should start to worry.
But if the report is flawed and inaccurate to the point of outright dishonesty then what we have here is something more worrying still. We have two once highly respected organisations exploiting their cachet and abusing the public’s trust in order to advance a skewed political agenda which has no basis in objective reality.
It’s the second of these two options, unfortunately, which appears to be the case.
In a section on Water Pollution it says: “Shale gas extraction is likely to add to the problem.”
On Water Resources it says: “The shale gas industry could add even more pressure.”
Of Wildlife Disturbance it warns: “Shale gas drilling activity, construction noise and the increased movements of vehicles and people are all likely to have adverse impacts on our wildlife.”
The report is careful to hedge its scaremongering claims with “likely to” and “could.” But the overall picture is clear: fracking in the UK is a problem which needs heavily regulating and which certainly has no place in any of Britain’s national parks.
What actual evidence though can it produce to support this conclusion? The report looks superficially impressive: lots of charts and maps (eg a colour-coded one showing water distribution in the UK); links to various scientific reports.
But the devil is in the detail.
For example, as Bishop Hill has noticed, there’s a citation from a report by the National Parks Conservation Association on the impact of noise from shale gas compressors in the Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. What the RSPB doesn’t tell you is that the decibel figures it quotes are purely theoretical: that’s because they were never physically recorded but are based on computer models. (Hmm computer models used to make a tendentious political point about the environment. Where have we come across that before?)
Elsewhere, as an example of the species that might be threatened by fracking, we’re treated to a pretty little box section featuring pink-footed geese. Apparently they are “particularly vulnerable to human disturbances.”
Well maybe they are but it’s not like they’re in any danger. The pink-footed goose – as the RSPB report authors would surely know had they any ornithological expertise – is rated “least concern” on the IUCN Red List of threatened species, their population having risen tenfold in recent years.
Most disingenuous of all, though, is its section on Wildlife Disturbance – in which we are invited to worry about the potential noise and light pollution disturbance to fragile species like the barbastrelle bat and those aforementioned geese.
There’s a problem here and it’s so glaring it’s a wonder that the authors of the report were able to write this section without burying their heads in shame and wishing the earth would swallow them up as punishment for their intellectual dishonesty and positively Gorean levels of hypocrisy. The fact that they were capable of doing so speaks volumes as to just how out of touch with reality environmentalists like the ones who have taken over the RSPB hierarchy have become.
That problem – *exasperated sigh* – is this: if the RSPB is really concerned about the potential disturbance to wildlife of a few noisy lorries and drill rigs (which, let’s not forget, are only up for a short period, after which they are replaced by a silent extraction device called a Christmas tree), how come it’s so cheerfully complacent about the epic numbers of rare birds and protected bats which are sliced and diced (or, in the case of bats, barotraumatised – i.e. made to implode) by the industrial wind turbines which the RSPB not only champions but from which it benefits financially.
Yes that’s right. The RSPB – supposed guardians of Britain’s birdlife – makes hundreds of thousands of pounds in partnership with the wind industry, despite the fact that wind turbines around the world kill as many as 22 million birds every year, including rare and protected species such as America’s national bird the Bald Eagle, Whooping Cranes and Hen Harriers.
And how many birds does the fracking industry kill each year? Well, put it this way: the number is an awful lot closer to zero than it is to 22 million.
Perhaps, in this light, the RSPB should rename itself Royal Society for the Prevention of Birds.
This problem is not confined to the UK. In the United States, the RSPB’s equivalent – the Audubon society – has decided that it too believes in what it calls “properly sited wind power” which apparently “helps to reduce the threat to birds and people posed by climate change.”
Welcome to the insane world of environmentalism where policy has long since parted company with logic, commonsense or scientific evidence.
You might have thought, for example, that given the choice between dealing with a real and proven threat (the indisputable fact that turbines are chomping up wildlife at the rate of between 110 and 330 birds per turbine per year) and dealing with a so-far purely theoretical threat (the idea that at some time in the future climate change might disrupt certain species), the environmentalists would tackle the most urgent and evident problem first, on the same triage principle that battlefield surgeons use when deciding which casualty to treat next.
But no. Such is the power of the environmentalist religious dogma – that man-made climate change is bad, m’kay; that renewable energy is good – it has overridden all sense of proportion or rationalism. Green activists have now persuaded themselves that the only route to salvation is for everyone to be forced to drink the renewable energy Kool-Aid (and never mind any unfortunate side effects it may have: just trust the Rev Al – he knows!).
Hence this latest report on fracking by the RSPB – and the National Trust, the Angling Trust, the Salmon and Trout Association and the Wildlife Trust. It has almost nothing to do with real world evidence and almost everything to do with the ongoing war being conducted by the environmental movement against free markets, cheap energy and economic growth.
It is, in fact, a confection of smears, half truths and deep green propaganda. That line, for example, about the theoretical risk of water contamination. It’s just a paranoid fantasy, as Matt Ridley has noted:
Nor, with a mile of rock between the fractures and theaquifers, does it cause groundwater contamination. Last year there were125,000 fracs in the United States. According to the EnvironmentalProtection Agency, no frac has ever contaminated groundwater.
Yet because it’s the dear old RSPB and the lovely old National Trust pumping out this drivel there’s a strong possibility that ordinary people will be inclined to believe it. And if ordinary people do believe it – and force politicians to act accordingly – there could be real problems ahead for Britain’s energy revolution.
The regulations being recommended in the report may sound reasonable. In fact, though, as Reuters analyst John Kemp notes, what is really going on here is an attempt to strangle the nascent shale gas industry with bureaucracy.
The strategy might be called strangulation by regulation. Ithas proved remarkably effective in the United States. By makingregulatory barriers and the permitting process insurmountable,environmental organisations have been able to stop most frackingon lands controlled by the U.S. government.