Church of England Won't Condemn Fracking

August 19, 2013 - 2:24 PM

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby after his installation on March 21, 2013 in Canterbury Cathedral. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The Church of England is weighing in on the hydraulic fracturing debate as a matter of social justice by condemning “blanket opposition” to fracking, voicing support for its potential to alleviate "fuel poverty," and stressing the importance of proper management to avoid environmental damage.

Justin Welby, who became the Archbishop of Canterbury earlier this year, “worked in the oil industry” for 11 years, and was “group treasurer of a large British exploration and production company” before becoming an Anglican priest.

Noting that the Church has "no official policy either for or against" fracking, "blanket opposition to further exploration for new sources of fuel fails to take into account those who suffer most when resources are scarce,” Philip Fletcher, chair of the Church of England’s group on Mission and Public Affairs, said in a press release.

“Clearly all carbon based fuels contribute to global warming and are less than ideal in terms of climate change. However, it should also be recognised that gas is less damaging than coal and to preclude properly managed technical development is to risk denying ourselves more important, less polluting and less costly options than the energy sources on which we currently rely,” he said.

Fracking--the process of forcing natural gas from shale rock formations using pressurized fluids--was suspended in the UK in 2011 after a well was fractured in northern England and believed to be the probable cause of subsequent seismic tremors.

Acknowledging that “no case has yet come to light in which it has been confirmed that fracking has contaminated an aquifer,” Edward Davey, the UK’s secretary of state for energy and climate change, said last December after an investigation of the incident, "I am in principle prepared to consent to new fracking proposals for shale gas, where all other necessary permissions and consents are in place.”

Fletcher cited a Royal Academy of Engineering review which found that fracking “can be managed effectively in the UK as long as operational best practices are implemented and robustly enforced through regulation.”

The Church of England statement highlighted “the importance of proper controls in relation to any form of fracking--we do not want cowboys and cavaliers digging up the land in a free for all exploitation.”

Calling carbon-based fuels “less than ideal in terms of climate change,” the statement also noted “that gas is less damaging than coal and to preclude properly managed technical development is to risk denying ourselves more important, less polluting and less costly options than the energy sources on which we currently rely.”

"Fuel poverty, the creation of jobs, energy self-sufficiency and the development of technology that may reduce the impact of more polluting fuels are just some of the factors which need to be taken into account in any debate alongside the concern we all have about the impact of fossil fuels upon climate change," Fletcher concluded.

But Dr. Martin Warner, the Bishop of Chichester, encouraged further debate about fracking last week, stating, “It is easy, but also dangerous, to claim the moral high ground in complex debate about the environment and our quest for new energy sources. The rich resources that fracking can unlock come with some questionable consequences.”

Last month, the UK Treasury announced 2013 budget proposals that will feature a 30 percent tax break for shale gas “to increase our energy security, create jobs and generate substantial tax revenue.”