Fracking academic responsibility

  • Academic freedom without responsibility is criminal theft.
  • We need best available supervision of shale gas development.

By Bill Butterworth

30 January 2015

Cuttings on hand off seive

On the hand are cuttings from deep drilling. These have come off a final screen (or “sieve”) and, after testing and receiving approvals from the Environment Agency, were recycled to farm land to help replace the 2 to 3 million tonnes of soil we loose to the sea every year.

I have long argued in these posts that the best people in the world to keep an eye on fracking are universities and the British Society of Soil Science (BSSS). It has been leaked to me that the university I attended 50 years ago and the BSSS are very cautious about fracking and do not want to get involved.

Being caution is understandable, but not wanting to get involved is criminal irresponsibility. It is irresponsible for one very clear reason. If a person or institution has a skill, experience and a depth of knowledge, then that body has a responsibility to their community to use that talent for the good of all. Further, if they are funded with public money – for whatever purpose- and do not face that wider responsibility, then acceptance of any cash is theft. Remember the story about servants who were given “talents” and one of them just sat on his?

When I went to Reading University 50 years ago, it was the best place in the world to study agricultural science – and it probably still is now. That is not an excuse for the university hiding its talent under a stone.

There is no doubt that exploration and production of shale gas could very significantly change the economy of the UK and bring funding into our health service, care of old people, local authority services, and so on, reducing personal taxation, reducing imports etc. Not all of the experience in the USA was bad, but some of it was catastrophic and we would not wish to repeat it.

Some would not trust Government to see that mistakes elsewhere are not repeated here. Indeed, there are no absolute guarantees from anywhere. However, as Professor Brian May pointed out in an interview with John Humphries on Radio 4 on Friday, 30 January, we probably have the best scientists in the world. Hopefully, Professor May might transfer some of his enthusiasm onto the BSSS and Reading University – not to sanction shale gas and fracking, but to get involved in applying the best available knowledge and professional responsibility to see that we do this job properly.