Risky business? Fracking and the future of energy

Thursday 13 November, 19.00 until 20.30, The Victoria, 48 John Bright Street, Birmingham B1 1BN UK Satellite Events 2014

The prospect of how to provide cheap and reliable sources of energy – with global demand expected to double by 2050 – has become an increasing concern for policymakers. In the UK, amidst disenchantment with rising fuel costs, some have raised the possibility that black-outs could soon become a regular feature of our lives. Over the past few years, EU rules have led to the closure of many coal-fired power stations. But after much prevarication by politicians, the generating capacity to replace these stations will not be available immediately. For the second half of this decade, the gap between peak demand and total power-station capacity will be close to zero. While much discussion focuses on increasing energy efficiency, the need to increase the absolute amount of energy available is still an urgent priority.

Yet despite this challenge, alternative energy solutions come mired in controversy. Nuclear power’s reputation remains haunted by the Fukushima crisis in 2011, with even once ardently pro-nuclear nations such as France losing their enthusiasm. Onshore wind farms, biofuels and hydroelectric dams can prove equally divisive in terms of their social and environmental impacts. Meanwhile, shale gas - often touted as a low-cost, lower-carbon, ‘bridging’ energy source - has already attracted noisy opposition even from test drilling. Here environmentalists and NIMBYs have united to ensure ‘fracking’ is seen as the source of multiple dangers.

Do those who play up the risks of different energy sources fail to take into account the bigger problems that could ensue if the UK’s energy crisis is not resolved? Or should we look beyond quick fixes such as shale and wind, toward still more innovative solutions? Are the potential benefits of an Age of Gas, and indeed those of shale oil too, worth the cost of ‘breaking the earth’? Why do other radical innovative solutions – for example, nuclear fusion – seem beyond our reach, despite the fact that energy supply looks set to stay so tight? Altogether: how can the UK keep the lights on, as the world’s population moves towards 9 billion by 2050?

Chris Crean
regional campaigns coordinator, West Midlands, Friends of the Earth

James Woudhuysen
visiting professor, London South Bank University

Dr Helene Guldberg
director, spiked; author, Reclaiming Childhood: freedom and play in an age of fear and Just Another Ape?

Produced by
Dr Helene Guldberg director, spiked; author, Reclaiming Childhood: freedom and play in an age of fear and Just Another Ape?

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