Two months ago, co-reporter Hendrik Dependau envisioned an intensified debate on fracking as a gas exploitation method. His research led to the “Fracking: Underground Money” article in the new edition of Checks&Balances (Volume 9, Issue 2). Since then, mayor European newspapers such as the Sunday Times have spent pages polarising and simplifying fracking into an economy vs. environment debate. To get a better grasp on the true nature of Europe’s most relevant natural resource debate, Checks&Balances had the pleasure to interview Shell’s vice-president of Environment: Allard Castelein.

First off, Castelein explains, fracking is not a new concept as it has been around for decades and has been practiced in over a million drillings worldwide. The inclusion of test drills and the larger amount of drills needed for this process in comparison with conventional base drillings must nevertheless be mentioned. As a result of the claimed conventionality of the fracking process, Castelein refutes the existence of ‘unknowns’.

Then why did France ban the process of fracking in 2008?  Castelein, as a spokesman for Shell, believes that the European debate on fracking is primarily driven by moral assumptions that have been falsely drawn from horror stories. Closer to home, the addition of a high population density makes for the increased level of hesitation in the implementation of the fracking process in the Netherlands.

Castelein furthermore points to the tempering effect of the assertive stakeholder influence on the European policy-making process. While Europe is not unique in this aspect, the important stakeholders do encourage that all the question marks will be addressed.

In comparison with the US, Europe has apparently no boundless desire to generate a resource autarky and simply fears the unknown. In order to dismantle the existence of unknowns in the process of fracking, Castelein claims that environmentally sound fracking was technologically possible from ‘day one’, metaphorically speaking, as it does not involve a difficult technical process. Shell acknowledges and even pushes the European regulatory process behind fracking as the ‘industry will be judged by the worst, not the best’.

Can Europe actually afford to fear the unknown? The certain loss of economic gains must be closely evaluated in comparison with the possibility of decreasing environmental costs as technological advancements continue and the capacity to regulate sensibly increases. Although technological efforts in the field of environment should never be hindered, we must ask ourselves if our fear of the unknown should be seen as environmental cautiousness or technological conservatism.

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