A few nights ago, over dinner, the discussion turned to fracking. A friend looked in my direction in the understandable expectation I would have an opinion on the matter – possibly a ferocious one. I do not, I informed her. “How can you not even have an opinion?”, she asked. Here’s how.
Like my dinner companions, reports of flaming tap-water and swarms of earthquakes make me wonder whether this whole business isn’t just the latest example of our reckless, selfish, craven species plundering the earth to within an inch of its life. It is also tempting to conclude that governments and regulators must be complicit, turning a blind to the environmental consequences of fracking in return for the revenue windfall.
If that was the extent of my inklings on the subject, I would straightforwardly oppose fracking as a hazard, and damning proof of capitalism’s insatiable, destructive appetites. Point me to the barricades.
But I have a whole other set of contradictory intuitions. For one thing, the media reports we have seen and read invariably skew to extreme cases of fracking-gone-wrong – so I temper my intuitions accordingly.
For another, at least some fracking opponents are likely to be conspiratorial hysterics who should not be trusted on this or any other subject.
And, most importantly, because the institutional opponents of fracking – the environmental lobby, in other words – are likely to oppose any conceivable form of oil and gas extraction, and because their insistence that fracking destroys the planet could withstand any weight of evidence to the contrary, their persuasive power is greatly diminished.
Greenies oppose fracking because doing so falls squarely within their ideological and political remit. They will, and do, cherry pick evidence accordingly. For this reason, I am as likely to take their word on these matters as I am Liz Cheney’s on the subject of Dick Cheney.
Anti-frackers will dispute this, insisting it is industry “bad guys”, lobbyists and the politicians in their pockets who engage in rhetorical trickery and manipulate evidence. They, the “good guys”, wouldn’t dream of such things; having, as they do, science, evidence, and the purest of motives, on their side.
This I cannot accept. In fact, this peculiar strain of self-righteousness – claims to moral superiority coupled with an overabundance of certainty – leaves me deeply suspicious and not a little irked. This is not to deny that forces for good and evil exist in the world – they most certainly do – it is just that, on the subject of who falls into which category, I have learned to trust the most vociferously opinionated the least.
This latter set of intuitions – those that make me second-guess my own thoughts about the merits of fracking – can stir inside me a certain bloody-minded contrarianism. I resist, not always successfully, the urge to embrace positions in perverse overreaction to the smug self-certainty of people on the other side of a given subject. (Here’s an example, awkward to confess: I am far less enraged than I ought to be about the mass surveillance practices of the U.S. government out of a visceral loathing of the viscerally loathsome Glenn Greenwald. I am not proud of this).
Faced with countervailing intuitions, the upshot is I have no view worth sharing on the subject of fracking. If I had the time and inclination to delve into a sufficiently wide and diverse range of sources, I could possibly overcome this ambivalence. But geology is not a strong suit – and fracking is hardly a ditch short of willing corpses.
The dinner proceeded quite peaceably without me saying any of this.