On surfing and fracking

Image source: The Daily Telegraph
By guest contributor Charlotte Webster
I’m just back from a week surfing in Portugal. It was glorious, as always. Having grown up by the sea I learned to sail at ten, started racing dinghies at 13, collected multiple bumps and bruises, lived on a boat on the Thames in London and, it’s safe to say, I feel at home in the water.
Ok, some of us are real water babies, others less so. A friend of mine simply won’t go near the sea for fear of waves. She’s in her thirties but still terrified by its power. Fair enough. Not ideal when it’s your holiday buddy on a surf trip, but hey.
You can see what’s coming here. Quite simply, water plays a vital role in our lives – for surfers and non surfers alike. It’s arguably the world’s most precious resource and something we interact with daily. Mineral water providers have long been extolling the virtues of the ‘purest’ water, in a continual game of one-upmanship. One can even buy the ultimate in purity shipped over from Fuji. I just also happen to find it peaceful to be near and in, most of us do.
The human body is 60 per cent water so, fundamentally, when we protect it we’re protecting over half of our own selves, our physicality. So, as the pressure on our natural resources grows, the content of our food and water systems becomes increasingly questioned, is it any wonder we hold water in such high regard?
Which is how I get to fracking. To begin, I believe clean technology is the answer to our energy future. I want to see us moving away from fossil fuels as fast as feasibly possible, and know wholeheartedly that this is the answer to a sustainable and prosperous economy.
But, opinion aside, I am also in the world of communications. As drilling finally begins at Balcombe in West Sussex, fracking is facing a major backlash from the public here in the UK and across the world. It’s in the middle of a PR tornado and flailing around without direction. I want to ask why, from a bottom line public relations perspective – what’s gone so terribly wrong.
1. Non admittance of fault
There have been issues with water contamination from fracking in the US,undisputed fact. This needs to be transparent and addressed. Yet the Environment Agency in the UK is happy with the industry to proceed here. Why, what apologies have been made, what’s been resolved and what assurances do we really have?
2. Lack of listening
Rural communities feel ignored. Not a good start. They are angry and can communicate better than ever online to galvanise themselves. It just doesn’t cut it to treat the public as ‘others’. Historically the oil and gas industries have faced local objections to pipelines, but never before have they had to work so closely to win the public’s affection. They’re not in their ports, they’re in their gardens now. And this is Britain, it’s a battle for the castle.
3. Poor communication of facts
We know the profit figures of the gas industry, but anything else? Water matters, transport and noise matter, as does health and the wider natural local environment.  But we are still unclear on the BIG WHY. The public needs to know not only the real science, but the real economic figures in terms of reduction in fuel bills, increased employment and GNP from exports. Above all, we need the emotional and rational arguments on why it’s going to bridge the gap until our renewable future.
4. No demonstration of progress
Is there a commitment to renewably powered fracking, low carbon transport, environmental diversification? These things fundamentally matter now. If I wereOsborne and the industry (hmmm which is which), I would make a public commitment to invest national income from fracking to our low carbon future making it a genuine bridge technology for our energy future. It is the very least the industry can do.
5. Hidden spokespeople
There’s simply no point hiding, it makes you look worse. Is it Osborne that’s the advocate, or is it the industry? All very confusing who’s running the show here, adding to the industry’s dubious reception. We can only listen to someone who’s talking, and clearly, after all.
With all the above, us water lovers; environmentalists; non- environmentalists; rural folk; city folk and generally rational people, simply don’t have a chance to make a measured decision on fracking. It may well be a bridge to a low carbon future, but its aggressive ‘just take it’ approach isn’t working.
Right now, the public at large can’t make the call that with fracking we’ll be drinking high quality water, experiencing the peaceful countryside we value, seeing lower gas bills and witnessing sustained, green, economic growth. That is what we need to hear. If one needs to be compromised, we need to be damn well sure we know why and hear it from someone we trust.
This is a lesson for us all across the energy industry. It must be a conversation, not a one way aggressive enforcement. Emotions are running high and someone needs to get out there, respectfully, with the facts – and fast.


Finally, anyone know any fracking surfers?

Charlotte is head of clean technology at CCgroup, having joined them in June 2012. Former PR Manager at Solarcentury, Charlotte has over eight years’ Clean Technology and sustainable business PR experience. Charlotte co-launched SolarAid, a charity that aims to replace kerosene lamps with solar alternatives in developing countries. She holds a BSc. in Geographical Sciences from the University of Bristol and has trained in PR, journalism and documentary production. 

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