So what are we to make of fracking?


It’s strange how sometimes a verse or a phrase jumps out at you from a familiar Bible passage.

So I was reading Deuteronomy.  Here Moses is seeking to motivate his people in their quest to enter the land promised by God as part of his covenant with them.

And in a passage relevant to our Harvest weekend, he tells them:  There is plenty of food in that land. You will have everything you need. Its rocks have iron in them. And you can dig copper out of its hills.” (Deuteronomy 8:9)

I don’t think I had noticed that before – the land producing not just its harvest but also its minerals, both as a blessing promised by God.

In a few moments our school celebrate God’s gift of harvest. Always a delight to see the children’s faces as they offer their harvest gifts.  Some deep vein in our consciousness is tapped, simply saying “Thank you” to God for his provision.

But if we take Moses’ words at face value, we may also thank God for the iron, copper and other minerals mined from the earth.  It is his gift – although Moses makes it very clear that you have to dig for them.  Hard work.

So what are we to make of fracking?

You may have seen that yesterday Communities Secretary Sajid Javid overruled the objections of the Lancashire planning committee and has given his approval for fracking just 25 miles north of us, on the other side of the Ribble estuary.

Clearly a contentious issue.  As it happens the Environment Agency along with the HSE, the Oil and Gas authority and Public Health England are holding an informal drop in session in the Ministry Centre this Wednesday afternoon.   They are working hard to convince us that fracking can be safe.

At one level whether to allow fracking is a technical matter. Clearly there are environmental implications whenever we drill deep holes in the ground  – and we need to understand these, not least what happens when huge amounts of water are required to ‘develop’ the well.

But such research can only take us so far.   And we are all wary nowadays of expert opinion.

But stepping back, we do need to see the big picture.  And that is the lonely responsibility of politicians – because we can’t have it every way.

So we cannot expect our computers to run, our cars to work, our homes to be heated and yet discourage every form of energy generation for different reasons.  A huge windmill in my backyard?  A solar farm just down the road?

So P.D. James writes in The Children of Men:  You desire the end but close your eyes to the means. You want the garden to be beautiful, provided that the smell of manure is kept well away from your fastidious nose.”

The danger here is that we become nimbies. And yet such rampant individualism is the very opposite of the Bible’s teaching on community.

But this also means that we have a responsibility to those communities who may have to pay the price of environmental degradation.  We’re in it together.

And incidentally that includes the peoples of the Third World.  We are not to export our smokestacks out of sight to the Indian subcontinent, dump our toxic waste on unsupervised African shores.

So is there a Christian standpoint on fracking?

Think of mining and most of us think of polluted streams, scarred landscapes and black lung disease.   As human beings we don’t do mining very well.  Greed so easily trumps social conscience.

Here the Bible is clear.   These minerals do not belong to us; they never have.  “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1).

We are simply his stewards, answerable to him.  We are to mine them in such a way to honour his creation.  We do not despoil his earth for our own gratification, to wreck God’s world for our short-term gain..

And yet God promises the people of Israel iron and copper. “You can dig copper out of its hills.”  Mining is meant to bless.  Our whole way of life depends on such industry.

But it has to bless everyone, especially the weak, the vulnerable and those who live on the margins.  And not just now but those generations who follow us.  They are not to clean up our mess.  We owe it to them.

So Pope John Paul II teaches us:  “The earth will not continue to offer its harvest, except with faithful stewardship. We cannot say we love the land and then take steps to destroy it for use by future generations.”

As ever we pray for wisdom for those who make difficult policy decisions often under huge pressure and with limited information.  Like Moses himself.