Fracking – hydraulic fracturing of shale to extract the oil trapped therein – looks like it is going to be the next pitched battle between environmentalists and industry. The effete treehuggers stand arm in arm, singing vacuous Live Aid bromides about the mutual ownership of the world, whilst the mustache twirling capitalists order their bulldozers to level the last remaining habitat of the wood nymph.
Hyperbole aside, fracking is a chance for us to apply the lessons of a century of vigorous regulation. Our modern sensibilities teach us to regard energy production with suspicion, at best an unpleasant necessity of our high-tech age. Unless we think God designed us to be an agrarian species for all of history (apologies to Jefferson and John Crowe Ransom), we must reject these instincts.
A lot has gone wrong in our nation’s industrial history. Early zeal for development and wealth led to overuse and mismanagement of shared resources. That worship of profit, though, has been replaced with worship of Earth, and many of the poorest suffer because of the unreasonable obstacles to development. Recall Deepwater Horizon. The energy that we derive from oil allows even the very poor to heat their homes and feed their children (more indirectly). The BP oil rig was only so far ashore because of ill-conceived environmental regulations that prohibited drilling closer in.
We should protect our beaches and coastal economies from reckless exploitation. But often the cure is worse than the disease. As with so many things, Christians must ply a third way.
Both of these symbols – Gaia and Mammon – are valuable when subordinated to a True God. Gaia is our home, the mother whose womb was the Garden we lost. She is not sentient, conscious or powerful; she is, instead, well-designed, an artistic masterpiece from the hand of the unrivaled Artist. Wealth represents the fruits of our labor, the mingling of our sweat with the earth; the yield that God promises us for that. It is a mark of wonder that even in a cursed world, even on a Gaia darkened by our rebellion, He has given us that. Money does not give us dignity nor represent our value; neither should we be ashamed of reaping from our toil.
Already we have seen the start of the same old tactics. The documentary Gasland opened with a scene of someone’s tap water bursting in to flames, playing to a thoroughly discredited image to play on the fears of the masses. And while states like Pennsylvania have developed well-constructed regulatory schemes in conjunction with the industry and local communities, the clamor for Federal intervention drones on loud as ever.
Let the people of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Nebraska toil the earth for their just rewards. Christians in those states should pressure the companies and the government to ensure that the operations proceed safely and with due regard for externalities (a fancy economic term for impacts beyond a certain actor’s normal consideration). Let’s keep histrionics out of it, whether they are dire warnings about the impending socialist world government because counties don’t want oil in their rivers, or ridiculous scare tactic documentaries foreshadowing the end of all life.
There is no shame in harvesting from the earth. We are its stewards and it is here for us, not we for it. The privilege of this trust comes with great responsibility, and there is One who will call it to account.