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The Ethical and Moral Considerations of Fracking

The Right Reverend Graham Cray made a very moving and thoughtful address at the meeting in Pickering, Yorkshire on 29th July. The text of the his address is shown below and is reproduced with permission:

The Ethical and Moral Considerations of Fracking

Personal introduction:

I am a retired but still active bishop in the Church of England. Formerly a vicar in York for 14 years. Later I was Bishop of Maidstone in the Diocese of Canterbury, then working nationally for the Archbishop’s in partnership with five other Christian denominations. I am speaking this evening in my own capacity, not on behalf of the Church of England or the Diocese of York.

At its meeting in York earlier this month the General Synod of the Church of England debated and overwhelmingly supported a motion on climate change, in advance of the forthcoming Paris summit.[i] It also endorsed a new policy on climate change and investment which has already seen the Church Commissioners disinvest in £12 million pounds worth of shares in 13 oil and mining companies. And there is more to come.[ii]

Now a declaration of interest:

I live in Main St Kirby Misperton. My wife and I have had a house in the village for 18 years, and moved there permanently 15 months ago. So if anyone has a right to be a NIMBE its me! (The Energy Secretary Amber Rudd said recently she quite enjoyed seeing wind farms but wouldn’t want one near her home. Even David Cameron would be a NIMBE if they wanted to frack as near to his house as they do to mine!)

But I’m not a NIMBE. I’m a NIABY (Don’t look for it in a dictionary – I made it up) Not In Anyone’s Back Yard. I believe fracking raises moral issues, and is a threat to human flourishing. Tonight I want to explain why.

I spoke recently on the phone to the Energy Editor of the Daily Telegraph. She had contacted us because we are local residents opposed to fracking. She heard my reasons and then said ‘Do you mean you think this is a moral issue?’ It didn’t seem to have occurred to her before.

Faith Communities

So let me give you my reasons. You do not have to be a believer in God to share these, and most of my comments will not be exclusively religious, but I am a Christian leader and faith communities bring an important perspective.

Christians share with the adherents of most faiths that we are answerable to the Creator, for the way we treat creation: That the planet is a gift, not a possession just to use as we wish.

This is the conviction of a wide range of denominations and religions, and is important because, to quote Pope Francis, ‘The majority of people living on our planet profess to be believers.’ It is fascinating that the first non Western Pope for centuries has chosen climate change as the topic of his first encyclical.[iii]

In it the Pope says ‘The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.’ He appealed for a rapid reduction in the use of fossil fuels. His stance was endorsed by the Dalai Lama at this year’s Glastonbury Festival.

In June the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Ecumenical Patriarch (senior bishop of all the Orthodox Churches in the world, and a leading campaigner for environmental responsibility) published a joint article in support of a new report by the Lancet and University College London, which highlights ‘the inalienable and undeniable link between climate change and human health.’[iv]

This month leaders of different denominations and world faiths in the UK signed the ‘Lambeth Declaration 2015 on Climate Change’[v]

‘As leaders of the faith communities we recognise the urgent need for action on climate change.

From the perspective of our different faiths we see the earth as a beautiful gift. We are all called to care for the earth and have a responsibility to live creatively and sustainably in a world of finite resources.

Climate change is already disproportionately affecting the poorest in the world. The demands of justice as well as of creation require the nations of the world urgently to limit the global rise in average temperatures to a maximum of 2oC, as agreed by the United Nations in Cancun.

We have a responsibility to act now, for ourselves, our neighbours and for future generations.

The scale of change needed to make the transition to a low carbon economy is considerable and the task urgent. We need to apply the best of our intellectual, economic and political resources. Spirituality is a powerful agent of change. Faith has a crucial role to play in resourcing both individual and collective change.

My views on the morality of fracking are set within the overarching issue of climate change, and our responsibility to our neighbours and for future generations.

To quote John Weaver of the John Ray Initiative: ‘fracking is simply distracting energy firms and governments from investing in renewable sources of energy, and encouraging continued reliance on fossil fuels.’ …. ‘the real issue is the impact of our continued consumption of fossil fuels on climate change, and a much more significant question is whether investment in fracking will be at the expense of investment in renewables?’[vi]

Lord Sachs, the former Chief Rabbi says ‘The great faiths teach a different kind of wisdom: reverence in the face of creation, responsibility to future generations, and restraint in the knowledge that not everything we can do, should we do.”[vii]

In particular, the fact that we can extract shale gas, is no moral reason that we should.

If we want to avoid taking unacceptable risks with the planet we need to leave most of that fuel in the ground – either forever or at least until there’s an affordable and scalable way to stop the gases building up in the atmosphere.

For people of faith there is an inseparable link between love of God and love of neighbour. Faith in God is only authentic when it results in love for people. When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment he replied with two. ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ (Lk 10:27)St John wrote ‘Those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.’ (1Jn 4:20)

Morality is about the consequences of our actions, or our failure to act, and especially the consequences for others. It might not be necessary if we were individual islands, but we are not

I’m a child of the 60s, and I used to have the long hair to prove it. The 60’s had two mottos. ‘Do your own thing’ and ‘All you need is love’ But . ‘Do your own thing’ eventually destroyed ‘All you need is love’ In 1970 I sat in a field in the Isle of Wight for three days to hear Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, The Who and many other bands. I find it slightly ironic that 1970 is also the key date for the start of the marked increase in carbon emissions. I hope not triggered by the 600,000 of us who crossed the Island to get to the festival!

Moral choices are rarely black and white, they are judgements about the effects of our actions. Jesus teaching about ‘doing to others as you want them to do to you’, and ‘loving your neighbour’ has abiding relevance.

So my question is how does fracking effect others? What are its moral consequences?

When Jesus quoted the text ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ he was asked ‘Who is my neighbour’ He then told the story of aid to a person in need, across racial and religious boundaries. We call it the parable of the Good Samaritan.

So who is my neighbour when it comes to fracking? Whom do I have a moral responsibility to help?

My first answer is – The poor of the earth

‘As Climate change continues, it is the poorest in our world who will suffer the most.’ (Sir John Houghton)[viii]

The Lambeth Declaration stated ‘Climate change is already disproportionately affecting the poorest in the world.’

If you support an Aid Agency: Oxfam, Christian Aid, Cafod, Tear Fund, Muslim Aid, Islamic Aid and so on, you will find them all campaigning about climate change. Because they are dealing with its consequences in the poorest parts of the world now, and they try to address the causes in the West as well as the consequences in the South.

Many of the poorest countries in the world are already experiencing the impact of increased carbon emissions, and it will get worse because of the delay, the inertia, in the system

I was a bishop in the Diocese of Canterbury, and we were twinned with the Anglican Church in Madagascar; with Bishop Gilbert, Bishop Todd. It is one of the poorest countries in the world. The impacts of climate change in Madagascar directly threaten the survival of the island nation’s unique biodiversity, and the welfare of its people.

Earlier this year my wife and I visited South Sudan, a country devastated by decades of war, to support the development and other work of a new friend, Bishop Moses. But rainfalls have decreased in South Sudan by 10-20 % and temperatures have increased by more than 1 ºC (It got to 42 when we were there.) since the middle of the 1970s. The new nation’s Ministry of Environment has established a climate change unit but it is not operating due to lack of financial and human resources.

My colleague the Bishop of Salisbury recently led a delegation to Tanzania recently, in preparation for the General Synod debate; because Tanzania is one of the African nations most vulnerable to climate change.

Jackie and I remember meeting Bishop Michael, leader of the little Anglican Church in Bangla Desh, the nation most vulnerable to climate change in the world, where rises in sea level are devastating in a land already subject to serious flooding.

These are not distant lands to us, they are the homes of friends and colleagues. To give to aid agencies which are working to ameliorate the consequences of our carbon emissions, while approving the sourcing of a new fossil fuel, shale gas, is a moral contradiction.

We, in the developed nations, have a moral responsibility for the effects of our energy policy on other nations.

Climate change is also an ‘intensifier’ of other problems and conflicts in these nations. It makes them harder to solve. (You have all heard of Darfur, where climate change aggravated an already bitter conflict.) We have a problem with migrants, with refugees at the moment. It will seem trivial if we fail to reduce carbon emissions and more land becomes desert or perpetual flood. Prepare for the arrival of the climate refugees.

For the sake of the poor of the earth – we need to keep shale gas in the ground

My next neighbour is The next generation

‘Gases emitted now will cause atmospheric changes up to 50 years hence.’ (Michael Northcott)[ix]

Climate Change effects the poor of the earth now. 50 years on it will effect everywhere..

‘Intergenerational solidarity’ involves choices about what sort of world we pass on to our children.

‘The year 2050 – when the impacts of climate change will be strongly felt – may seem like the distant future for politicians, but it’s our children’s future and they have a right to have it protected.’ So say Save the Children

‘If present humans are making the earth uninhabitable for future generations and species, and for some presently existing peoples, by their lack of prudence in burning excessive amounts of fossil fuels, then they have a clear and urgent moral duty to moderate such activities,’ Professor Michael Northcott[x]

To give to Save the Children or Children in Need while supporting fracking is a moral contradiction.

For our children and grandchildren’s sake we need to ‘keep shale gas in the ground’

My next neighbour is The planet itself

Our home, where we are part of a ‘community of creatures’.

In our recent history we have treated the earth a though it was the local take away open 24 hours a day. Have as much fast food as you like! But it is our own home, which we are degrading by our way of life. To change the metaphor, we are in danger of cutting off the branch on which we are sitting.

According to a recent analysis of 131 research reports,[xi] one in six of the planet’s species will be lost forever to extinction if world leaders fail to take action on climate change – a tragedy with serious ramifications for people as well as ecosystems.

The study suggests that the risk of extinction accelerates with every degree increase in global temperature, But even if governments do manage to hold global warming to 2C, one in 20 species (5.2%) still face extinction.

Flamingo Land is in our village. Its partnership with the University of York Environment Department, the Udzungwa Forest Project[xii], is an integrated conservation, research and education project based in Tanzania, one of the country’s most threatened by climate change. How ironic that Ryedale could be simultaneously a source of increased carbon emissions, and the home of a program for conservation aimed at reducing the damage they cause!

For the sake of the planet, and its biodiversity, we need to keep shale gas in the ground.

My next neighbour is Rydale, our immediate home

My first concern is wellbeing.

To frack here is contrary to the long term wellbeing of this district and county.

This conviction has been arrived at cumulatively. I took time to make my mind up.

But then I read the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee report from last January[xiii]. Compiled by a cross party group of MPs including Caroline Spelman, who was Secretary of State for Environment, Agriculture and Rural Affairs.

The report lists question after question where there are unsatisfactory or unproven answers.

Groundwater quality, the quantity of water required, waste water and its safe disposal, air emissions, methane (20 times as damaging as CO2 as greenhouse gas), health as we have heard tonight, habitat and biodiversity, seismic activity as in Lancashire, noise and disruption, and inadequate and fragmented monitoring regimes.

We need much better answers if we are to believe that fracking is safe and good.

My second concern is about Scale

At the Westminster Hall debate on shale gas, initiated by our MP Kevin Hollinrake, one of the contributions was by Alan Whitehead MP, also an author of the Environmental Audit report. ‘The estimates are’ he said ‘that, in order to divert, let us say, 10% of our gas supply from conventional gas into shale gas we would need to drill somewhere between 10,000 and 18,000 wells, and they would have to be re-drilled over a period. Of course, those wells would not be evenly distributed throughout the country. Wells would be concentrated in the two areas of the UK where there are reasonable shale plays. Those shale plays are geologically faulted and difficult to get at; nevertheless, they are the main areas: Bowland shale in the north-east of England and across the weald in the south.

We are looking at 10,000 to 18,000 wells concentrated in two parts of the country.’[xiv]

John Dewar’s evidence to the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee indicated Third Energy’s plans for 19 sites each with between 10 and 50 wells.[xv]

So how many wells here? how many lorries? How much water? How much waste water? How much capacity to process it? Etc

We are in danger of undermining the long term prosperity of this area – tourism, food, agriculture – for dubious short term energy gains.

It is absolutely crazy to do so at this time – After The Tour de France and Tour de Yorkshire have drawn the attention of the world to this beautiful place. It is not just the National Park and Areas of Outstanding Beauty. It includes all that you can see from them, and what you are doing under them. Let alone the wellbeing of local communities.

So for the sake of Rydale we need to keep shale gas in the ground.

And then of course there’s Kirby Misperton and KM8

As we say ‘It all begins with one well’

So for the sake of Kirby Misperton, and all the other local villages, we need to keep shale gas in the ground.

 

Fracking is not for the Common Good’

It has no ‘social licence’ and if it is imposed, then democracy will be further undermined.

Such is the seriousness of carbon emissions that there would need to be a strong moral case in favour of developing a shale gas industry in the UK, rather than establishing a moral case against.

The only possible moral reason to allow fracking, assuming it were safe, would be as a brief interim solution until renewables can replace fossil fuels. ‘To keep the lights on’ as they say.

But that is unlikely to be the case. What energy company is going to invest for just a few years and then stop although most of the gas remains.? To quote the Environmental Audit Committee again –

‘Any large scale extraction of shale gas in the UK is likely to be at least 10–15 years

away. By that time, it is likely that unabated coal-fired power generation will have been phased out

to meet EU emissions directives, so fracking will not substitute for (more carbon intensive) coal. Continually tightening carbon budgets under the Climate Change Act will have significantly curtailed our scope for fossil fuel energy, and as a consequence only a very small fraction of the possible shale gas deposits will be burnable.’

Or we breach our international climate change commitments.

‘A moratorium on the extraction of unconventional gas through fracking is needed to avoid the UK’s carbon budgets being breached in the 2020s and beyond, and the international credibility of the UK in tackling climate change being critically weakened.’[xvi]

Most troubling have been our new Government’s commitment to ‘deliver shale’, while cutting subsidies on renewables. Especially concerning is the axing of plans to make new homes carbon neutral from 2016. It does look as though the policy is for shale gas to substantially replace renewables – or that will be the result id not the intent. Either way that is disastrous for the planet.

The British Academy is one of 24 national institutions (including the Royal Society) which have written a joint letter to the government, ahead of the Paris summit, urging immediate action on climate change. Its president Lord Nicholas Stern, said “The UK led the world with both the modern scientific revolution and the industrial revolution, and must lead again now on the creation of a safer, cleaner and more prosperous world,”

In other words, we have a moral responsibility to act on this.

But these institutions go on to say that ‘While the threats posed by climate change are far-reaching, the ways in which we tackle them can be a source of great opportunity. There exists vast potential for innovation, for example in low-carbon technologies. Capturing this potential quickly and effectively will drive economic progress. There are also significant additional benefits available from climate mitigation and adaptation actions, including food, energy and water security, air quality, health improvements, and safeguarding the services that ecosystems provide.’[xvii]

In other words there is a better way.

Fracking is being promoted as part of the delusion that climate change is not really as serious as the science indicates. Or that it can be solved without significant changes in our way of life. The problem is not that the science is wrong, but that it is inconvenient! That is a moral issue.

Climate change is an issue which effects us all morally in a way few others have –

‘The predicted extent of climate change is a novel moral problem. … Most people in British Empire did not own slaves, even though an important proportion of the wealth of the Empire was built on the profits from slave labour plantations. But every individual who has driven a car, or flown in an aeroplane, lived in an energy hungry modern house, bought clothes or computers made 10,000 miles away, or bought shares in a large corporation, is fractionally involved in global warming.’ Michael Northcott[xviii]

There is great generosity in the UK – we give when there is an overseas crisis, but at the moment we also fail to recognise that we are contributed to the greatest crisis of our age.

Some energy companies speak of ‘Sacrifice zones’ to describe the areas most impacted by their activities. But climate change requires a different form of sacrifice of us all – we need to keep less lights on.

There are two forms of immorality – doing what is wrong, and doing nothing about what you know to be wrong.

The greatest moral threat, to which fracking contributes, is being blind to the possibility of a genuinely better life. If we use shale gas and other fossil fuels to try to sustain our current way of life, all we do is degrade it – carbon emissions have no mercy. But we have the God given ingenuity and creativity, as the British Academy suggests, to create a better, more sustainable way of life more in tune with the limits our planetary home impose on us.

I oppose fracking for the sake of my neighbours, and in favour of a better way of life.

 

[i] ‘That this Synod, believing that God’s creation is holy, that we are called to protect the earth now and for the future, and that climate change disproportionately affects the world’s poorest, and welcoming the convergence of ecumenical partners and faith communities in demanding that the nations of the world urgently seek to limit the global rise in average temperatures to a maximum of 20C, as agreed by the United Nations in Cancun:

  1. (a)  urge all governments at the COP 21 meeting in Paris to agree long term pathways to a low carbon future, supported by meaningful short to medium term national emissions pledges from all major carbon emitting nations;
  2. (b)  endorse the World Bank’s call for the ending of fossil fuel subsidies and the redirection of those resources into renewable energy options;
  3. (c)  request the Environment Working Group to develop Shrinking the Footprint to enable the whole Church to address the issue of climate change, and to develop and promote new ‘ecotheological resources’, as proposed by the Anglican Communion Environmental Network in February 2015;
  4. (d)  request the Ministry Division to hear the call of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network bishops for programmes of ministerial formation and in-service training to include components on eco-justice and ecotheology; and
  5. (e)  encourage parishes and dioceses to encourage prayer and fasting for climate justice on the first day of each month.

 

[ii]‘That this Synod, accepting that the threat posed by climate change to the environment and human wellbeing requires urgent action to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, and recognising that achieving this effectively without creating damaging and unintended economic consequences requires political subtlety, flexibility and a focus on achievable change:

    1. (a)  affirm the policy on climate change and fossil fuel investment developed following the Southwark DSM passed by the Synod in February 2014, recommended by the EIAG, and adopted by the National Investing Bodies (‘the NIBs’);
    2. (b)  welcome the disinvestment by the NIBs from companies focused on the extraction of oil sands and thermal coal;
    3. (c)  urge the NIBs to engage robustly with companies and policy makers on the need to act to support the transition to a low carbon economy and, where necessary, to use the threat of disinvestment from companies as a key lever for change; and
    4. (d)  request the EIAG and the NIBs to report to the Synod within three years with an assessment of the impact of the policy adopted, including the efficacy of engagement and the progress made on portfolio decarbonisation.’

 

[iii]ENCYCLICAL LETTER LAUDATO SI’ – ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME w2.vatican.va

[iv]Archbishop and Ecumenical Patriarch make joint call for action on climate change Friday 19th June 2015 archbishopofcanterbury.org

[v]Lambeth Declaration 2015 on Climate Change 16 June 2015 churchofengland.org

[vi] Revd. Dr. John Weaver Chair of the John Ray Initiative: connecting environment, science and Christianity

Former President of the Baptist Union 2008-9

[vii]Jonathan Sachs ‘The Dignity of Difference’ P172

[viii]Sir John Houghton chaired the Science Working Group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the its third and fourth reports

[ix]The Revd. Professor Michael Northcott is the Professor of Ethics at the University of Edinburgh and a leading authority on the ethics of climate change.

[x] Michael Northcott ‘The Moral Climate’ DLT 2007 P22

[xi]One in six of world’s species faces extinction due to climate change study. theguardian.com 30th April 2015

[xii]Udzungwa Forest ProjectSee flamingoland.co.uk

 

[xiii] House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee: ‘The Environmental Risks of Fracking’ free PDF available from publications.parliament.uk

[xiv]Full text of the debate available at publications.parliament.uk Daily Hansard Westminster Hall 13th June 2015

[xv]Up to 50 fracking wells for Yorkshire sites. The Yorkshire Post 10th March 2015 yorkshirepost.co.uk

[xvi] House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee: ‘The Environmental Risks of Fracking’ free PDF available from publications.parliament.uk

[xvii]Act on climate change now, top British institutions tell governments. The Guardian 21st July 2015 theguardian.com

[xviii] The Moral Climate P55

[1] ‘That this Synod, believing that God’s creation is holy, that we are called to protect the earth now and for the future, and that climate change disproportionately affects the world’s poorest, and welcoming the convergence of ecumenical partners and faith communities in demanding that the nations of the world urgently seek to limit the global rise in average temperatures to a maximum of 20C, as agreed by the United Nations in Cancun:

  1. (a)  urge all governments at the COP 21 meeting in Paris to agree long term pathways to a low carbon future, supported by meaningful short to medium term national emissions pledges from all major carbon emitting nations;
  2. (b)  endorse the World Bank’s call for the ending of fossil fuel subsidies and the redirection of those resources into renewable energy options;
  3. (c)  request the Environment Working Group to develop Shrinking the Footprint to enable the whole Church to address the issue of climate change, and to develop and promote new ‘ecotheological resources’, as proposed by the Anglican Communion Environmental Network in February 2015;
  4. (d)  request the Ministry Division to hear the call of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network bishops for programmes of ministerial formation and in-service training to include components on eco-justice and ecotheology; and
  5. (e)  encourage parishes and dioceses to encourage prayer and fasting for climate justice on the first day of each month.

 

[1]‘That this Synod, accepting that the threat posed by climate change to the environment and human wellbeing requires urgent action to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, and recognising that achieving this effectively without creating damaging and unintended economic consequences requires political subtlety, flexibility and a focus on achievable change:

    1. (a)  affirm the policy on climate change and fossil fuel investment developed following the Southwark DSM passed by the Synod in February 2014, recommended by the EIAG, and adopted by the National Investing Bodies (‘the NIBs’);
    2. (b)  welcome the disinvestment by the NIBs from companies focused on the extraction of oil sands and thermal coal;
    3. (c)  urge the NIBs to engage robustly with companies and policy makers on the need to act to support the transition to a low carbon economy and, where necessary, to use the threat of disinvestment from companies as a key lever for change; and
    4. (d)  request the EIAG and the NIBs to report to the Synod within three years with an assessment of the impact of the policy adopted, including the efficacy of engagement and the progress made on portfolio decarbonisation.’

 

[1]ENCYCLICAL LETTER LAUDATO SI’ – ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME w2.vatican.va

[1]Archbishop and Ecumenical Patriarch make joint call for action on climate change Friday 19th June 2015 archbishopofcanterbury.org

[1]Lambeth Declaration 2015 on Climate Change 16 June 2015 churchofengland.org

[1] Revd. Dr. John Weaver Chair of the John Ray Initiative: connecting environment, science and Christianity

Former President of the Baptist Union 2008-9

[1]Jonathan Sachs ‘The Dignity of Difference’ P172

[1]Sir John Houghton chaired the Science Working Group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the its third and fourth reports

[1]The Revd. Professor Michael Northcott is the Professor of Ethics at the University of Edinburgh and a leading authority on the ethics of climate change.

[1] Michael Northcott ‘The Moral Climate’ DLT 2007 P22

[1]One in six of world’s species faces extinction due to climate change study. theguardian.com 30th April 2015

[1]Udzungwa Forest ProjectSee flamingoland.co.uk

 

[1] House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee: ‘The Environmental Risks of Fracking’ free PDF available from publications.parliament.uk

[1]Full text of the debate available at publications.parliament.uk Daily Hansard Westminster Hall 13th June 2015

[1]Up to 50 fracking wells for Yorkshire sites. The Yorkshire Post 10th March 2015 yorkshirepost.co.uk

[1] House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee: ‘The Environmental Risks of Fracking’ free PDF available from publications.parliament.uk

[1]Act on climate change now, top British institutions tell governments. The Guardian 21st July 2015 theguardian.com

[1] The Moral Climate P55

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Frack Free Lancashire
Fracking In the UK
Fracking The UK

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