Last week I attended a conference in London called ‘Energy Live.’
I was there as a guest speaker and felt out of depth the moment I entered the venue.
This was a gathering of leaders in the field of energy supply and distribution, massive gas and oil corporations, industrial scale solar and wind companies, the national grid, renewable investment funds, you name it, the big guns were there.
It was a day of seminars and panel discussions ranging across all manner of topics related to the future of energy, where it might come from and how we distribute and use it.
Just before I was due to appear a rather scowling but hugely enigmatic and entertaining man called Chris Faulkner took to the stage.
Mr Faulkner is the Founder and CEO of the Dallas-based Breitling Energy Company. They frack. They frack like hell, if there’s one thing Mr Faulkner loves, it’s fracking.
He was forceful, funny, dogmatic, dismissive and enormously entertaining.
His obvious dislike of environmental activists was exposed with charm and wit, this guy was a brilliant speaker, a fantastic figurehead for an industry with a fairly severe PR problem in the UK.
He argued the case for fracking as well as anyone possibly could, the enormous economic benefit the American economy has experienced since fracking was introduced on a truly massive scale.
The decrease in coal burning at power stations, the increase in manufacturing and jobs in all sectors. The vast amounts of tax the fracking companies have paid to the government both at a state and federal level.
Due to the success of the process the cost of gas has fallen through the floor, so much so that’s it’s currently not worth a company like Mr Faulkner’s investing in new drilling sites in the USA.
So guess what folks, they want to do it here.
I was surrounded by a lot of people who work in the fossil fuel industry in one way or another, you would think he was preaching to the converted and although he got laughs, won rounds of applause it didn’t seem like he’d fully convinced people.
He left the stage to tumultuous applause and he deserved it, he was a Texan showman bedecked in Cuban heeled boots and rhinestone cufflinks.
There is no denying it, Mr Faulkner is exactly what a Brit audience wants from an American oil man. No punches pulled, shoot from the hip, speak your mind, fracking is the future people, get used to it.
Then I was introduced, a bumbling wet liberal electric car driving, solar panel owning middle class English pillock.
As I said to the audience when I took the stage, ‘back in ’87 I had to follow Robbie Coltrane at a big benefit concert in Edinburgh where the audience was 99% Scottish, I thought that was a tough gig!’
Believe me, that was nothing compared to following Mr Fracker.
I did my best, he’d set the tone, he’d raised the bar.
It was all or nothing, instead of bumbling and being apologetic went in six shooters blazing.
I suggested that while the immediate economic benefits of drilling and burning were undeniable, we might be at a pivotal point in the great human story where we needed to stop burning stuff.
While it might be possible to safely drill through the water table and pump highly toxic fluids deep underground to desperately try and extract the last vestiges of hydrocarbons from the planet, there just might be a longer term downside.
While it is foolish not to consider all the options available to us after the chronic failures of all governments over the last 25-30 years to prepare for the energy gap we are now facing, maybe fracking should be put on the back burner for now.
Now I’m not going to pretend I can remember everything I said, I know at one point I talked about drilling in my garden and fracking the hell out of my home and shitting all over my grandchildren’s lives, I now recall that moment with some shame.
Yes, it got a laugh but that kind of cheap reaction to the massive and powerful industry that Mr Faulkner represents is not constructive.
Thankfully I also suggested we concentrate instead on developing massively distributed, local, individual and community owned power generating networks, grid level storage and and a non drill and burn attitude to sustainable energy production.
I may have mentioned that 97% of new power generation capacity in Germany is not owned by mainstream utilities, meaning quite simply that it’s owned by the people who use the power.
A distributed system like this is more reliable, more robust, less vulnerable to attack or mass blackouts, more able to adapt to new technologies, the list goes on and on.
What was truly encouraging was the response my rather unfocused and over emotional tirade got from this very professional and well informed group.
It felt very positive.
Maybe they were just being polite to an old bloke but I think there is something bigger going on.
People in the industry and particularly engineers understand that we need to start doing something radically different to the old model.
I can only hope that they succeed.
But seriously, respect to Mr Faulkner, the simplicity of the model is undeniable.
Frack, extract gas, sell it cheap, make a shit ton of cash, screw Mr Putin, screw the Saudi’s and experience an economic boom.
Hell, you only live once.
Drill and burn baby. Drill and burn.