Brisbane-based Linc Energy’s media release last week suggesting there could be in the order of $20 trillion worth of shale oil sitting under Coober Pedy set markets a-flutter and, for a while, Linc’s shares into the stratosphere. The news also ignited the predictable round of horror from environmentalists aghast at the idea that Australia might become a net exporter of petroleum products rather than fulfil their dreams of quietly fading into a daytime-only economy of basket-weavers fuelled by solar panels and wind farms coast to coast.
And while there was also the usual scepticism of the ‘they would say that, wouldn’t they?’ variety in the business press, it is still fun to play with the idea. Australia as the new Saudi Arabia sounds almost like the basis for a comedy film: The Castle would no longer be a humble Bonnydoon but an honest-to-God 87-room castle owned by a minor local princeling (and here people thought McMansions were vulgar).
Plus with all that oil money flowing in, the government could pay Australians who didn’t want to work to go set up home on, say, the NSW Central Coast where they would never have to lift a finger again.
Hang on, that already happens.
And the Clash, or what’s left of them, could get back together to remake their classic video for ‘Rock the Casbah’, with an echidna instead of an armadillo and, rather than a Hasidic Jew and a khaffiyeh–wearing Muslim dancing in joyful harmony, a fluoro-vested miner and a stovepipe jeans-wearing inner-city hipster grooving away. The traditional animosity between the two tribes is, after all, just as intense.
But even if Linc’s forecasts turn out to be overcooked, it is worth looking at Australia’s energy potential, not just in shale oil, but in natural gas, which is easy on the greenhouse gases but whose extraction through ‘fracking’ has been the subject of a pretty comprehensive demonisation campaign. Here it is worthwhile observing what is going on overseas, specifically in the US, where the same methods have been just as comprehensively cruelled by the environmental movement but where, paradoxically, they are doing a great deal to save both the economy and cut pollution.
As it stands, the US is on track to meet its 2020 emissions reduction targets. Crucially, this is not because of the efforts of Congress but thanks to such technologies as natural gas extraction, i.e. fracking, and other innovative techniques.
This sort of innovation is also that country’s last best hope of paying off its gargantuan deficit and pulling out of what might otherwise turn into a southern Europe-style economic death roll.
Of course, in the US as in Australia, the opposition to shale gas, fracking and pretty much any energy source that is not ‘renewable’ (read: expensive, impractical, and in the case of solar, simply a means of exporting pollution to countries like China) is intense. In both countries, those who suggest otherwise are quickly relegated to the category of shills who must be in the pocket of ‘Big Oil’. (For the record, yours truly has never received anything more from ‘Big Oil’ than supermarket petrol vouchers.)
Matt Damon’s pseudo-documentary Promised Land, which is regularly trotted out as ‘evidence’ that fracking will destroy the planet, and anyway oil and gas executives are big meany greedheads, was bought and paid for in no small part by the government of the United Arab Emirates — which, if dots need to be connected, has, along with its neighbours, a fair bit to lose if countries like the US and Australia become energy-independent.
Similarly al-Jazeera, with its extensive ties to the Qatari royal family, recently paid half a billion US dollars — a figure so absurd not even saying it aloud in a Dr Evil pinky-finger voice does it justice — for failed US presidential candidate Al Gore’s little-watched Current TV channel, a station so obscure most American pay-TV customers don’t even know it’s on their box.
Even when there is no financial payoff for supressing the good news about fracking, there is a philosophical one. Australian broadsheets will run any scare story they can on the subject, though even the Sydney Morning Herald recently conceded in an editorial that ‘large-scale gas drilling is intrinsically a part of the climate change conversation being forced on Australia’. Fewer such admissions have been forthcoming in the United States, where in New York State — led by Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo — the local health department produced a study showing that fracking can be, when done properly, perfectly safe. What was that about accepting the science again?
In Australia, too, a proper embrace of fracking could also lead to revitalised fortunes for Labor.
Really it is a wonder that the ALP have not taken up the cause of fracking with gusto. It is just the sort of issue that could re-unite them with their core blue-collar constituencies, allowing them to jettison once and for all their marriage of inconvenience with the inner-city Greens. And because, as even the Herald admits, a prosperous functioning economy requires petroleum products, wouldn’t it be better to get them at home rather than buy them from a bunch of obscurantist theocracies who bring new meaning to the word misogyny?
James Morrow blogs about food, politics and culture at prickwithafork.wordpress.com.