Thursday, March 13, 2014

Fracking up Europe

Continuing my fascination with the unintended consequences of the Ukrainian crisis, it occurs to me that a big loser long-term might be the European environmental movement.

Sitting here in America, I have always been impressed by the might of the European Greens. Although they are always the minority party, they have a degree of influence and political viability that I just don't see on this side of the Atlantic. Our Green Party has turned into little more than a Naderite vanity project, and the Democratic Party, with its endless attempts to woo big business donors, is a poor stand-in for real environmental advocacy.

You can see the result of the difference between the U.S. and Europe on environmental policies in the state of fracking. Fracking is booming in the U.S. because the powers that be simply don't care all that much about poisoned water supplies or evidence that it causes earthquakes. Natural gas is cheap and plentiful, even throughout this unusually cold winter, people are getting rich, and it is domestic energy source. So who gives a shit if the water catches fire when it comes out of the tap. Throughout the American gas boom, Europe initially banned fracking because of those environmental concerns. That is something that I just could not see happening here, to the credit of the European Greens.

On the other hand, Europe is moving gradually towards fracking. Last year, the EU has sought to allow fracking with more strict regulations than we have in the U.S. But those regulations are under attack and now it looks like the rules will be set on a country-by-country basis, which will probably fuel a race-to-the-bottom, which will put further pressure on each country to relax its environmental rules.

The crisis in Ukraine is just going to make this worse because a lot of Europe depends upon gas that is supplied by Russia and is piped through Ukraine. The energy independence argument for fracking is now more powerful. The continent was moving in that direction anyway, but I think this crisis will accelerate the day when someone in Germany will be able to light the tap water on fire.