The Manchurian Candidate is a 1962 John Frankenheimer movie about a Soviet plot to brainwash an American soldier and replace the US president with a Russian ‘sleeper’. 

One could be forgiven for thinking that Chancellor Angela Merkel, in her energy and defence policies, was as much a stooge of Russia as the Manchurian candidate. It is a dubious role that she shared with her predecessor Gerhard Schröder who Putin lured with big bucks onto the board of Gazprom.

In their race to import cheap Russian gas, both chancellors ignored Europe’s national security interests. In 2021 Europe imported 155 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas from Russia – some 40% of its gas imports. 

Russia is now threatening to shut that off. In April, Poland, Bulgaria, Finland, Netherlands and Denmark, were cut off from Russian gas. Latvia, which recently barred embargoed Russian goods from entering Kaliningrad, has recently been added to Russia’s naughty step. 

Divide and rule is Moscow’s order of the day. Putin’s friend, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, is still granted Hungary’s full gas rations. Meanwhile Germany, in spite of doing diddly-squat to help Ukraine, is on short rations. On spurious grounds of ‘maintenance’ Russian gas supply through the Nord Stream 1 has slowed to a trickle; Germany cannot now replenish its stocks for winter. In response to this impending energy crunch, the EU has coerced its 27 members, minus Hungary, to accept a 15% reduction in gas usage. 

The threat of energy shortages in Germany has been exacerbated by Angela Merkel’s other disastrous energy decision, bowing to pressures from Germany’s eco-fanatics to decommission Germany’s nuclear plants following the Fukushima disaster in 2011. This was a panicky overreaction. Only one person died from radiation at the Fukushima plant. Even the Chernobyl catastrophe killed just 31 workers. 

Contrary to abundant fake news, these nuclear accidents did not cause any other deaths. Yet within weeks of Fukushima, Merkel committed to the withdrawal from nuclear power by 2022. Merkel, the scientist, did not follow the science. As ever in her chancellorship, short term political expediency and self-interest ruled. As recently as last year nuclear power still supplied Germany with 13% of its renewable electricity.

In the short term, the options to mitigate Europe’s energy crisis are limited. Even if there were plans to ramp up the building of nuclear power stations, which there are not, it would take 10 – 20 years to bring them on line. 

On the plus side energy from wind and solar may grow even more rapidly. Renewables provided 34% of the EU’s energy in 2019, a share which is growing at about 3% per annum. A fall in domestic gas usage as a result of increased energy prices will also help this year and next. Poverty will crush demand. In European homes this winter, underpants and tee shirts are likely to be replaced by thermal trousers and thick pullovers. 

In much of Europe the eco-fanatics’ ‘net zero at any cost’ policies are likely be put on hold. 

Coal plants will be fired up. And Europe is on a crash course to add to its 19 LNG (Liquid Natural Gas) terminals. Imports of LNG from Qatar will likely increase. So too will shale gas supply from America. 

That Europe is gagging to import US shale gas in the form of LNG shows the insanity of European governments’ banning of shale gas fracking. Remarkably it is the one energy policy that has barely figured during the current crisis. If the US can frack why not Europe?

As far back as 2013 Germany's Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources reported that technically recoverable shale gas reserves in Europe amounted to 14 trillion cubic metres (tcm). If developed, European shale gas could replace all of its current imported gas requirements for 93 years. France has the biggest reserves. But northern Germany, Southern Sweden, Poland and the United Kingdom also have significant shale gas fields. 

Investors cannot wait to develop this industry. Unlike renewables, government subsidies are not required. Jim Ratcliffe, the billionaire owner of UK petrochemical giant Ineos, whose name you can see plastered on Mercedes Benz’s Formula 1 cars, is pleading with the UK government to let him get fracking. Moreover, unlike nuclear power, a shale gas well can be brought online in less than a year. 

A viable industry would take longer, but not that long. In the time it takes to build a single nuclear power station, shale gas has transformed the US from being a net importer of gas to being the world’s second largest exporter of gas - 150 billion cubic meters (bcm) per annum, compared to Russia’s 199 bcm, Qatar’s 143bcm and Norway’s 113bcm.  

Fracking to extract shale gas in America was used as far back as 1949. It is a technique that uses sand, water and chemicals to crack open fine sedimentary rocks. But up until 1997 shale gas only existed only at the margins of supply. 

Thereafter technological developments in hydraulic fracking, attributed to the maverick Texas oilman George Mitchell’s Barnett Basin wells around Fort Worth, transformed the industry. Then the adoption in America of horizontal fracking, ironically first developed in the 1980s by the French energy giant Elf Aquitaine in south west France, turbocharged the US shale gas revolution. The EIA (US Energy Information Administration) estimates that these US reserves will last for 98 years. 

So why are Europe’s eco-fanatics so hostile to fracking? Their arguments can be broken down into three main components; pollution, earthquakes, and environment. None of these concerns hold water:

  1. Fracking is done well below the water table. According to the US Enviromental Protection Agency typical shale gas wells are 1.6 – 3.2km deep. American experience has shown that as long as waste waters and chemicals are stored, treated and recycled according to strict environmental regulations, as in the US, pollution is not a problem. With regards to air pollution, shale gas produces half the CO2 of other carbon energy.
  1. As for earthquakes, millions of these occur naturally every year. The vast majority of these are less than 0.2 on the Richter scale – a logarithmic scale based on kilograms of dynamite. Earthquakes of this magnitude, typically more powerful than those produced by fracking, are a thousand times less than 2.5 on the Richter scale, a level at which they cannot be felt and do no damage. Quakes produced by fracking are little different to those produced by quarrying or mining.
  1. The environmentalist arguments against shale are at best spurious. Shale gas wells once drilled are replaced by small, discrete heads. In size and social disruption, they pale into insignificance by the side of wind turbines and are much less disruptive than reservoirs, dams and hydro-electric plants.  

There is a fourth, largely unspoken, reason for the rejection of fracking, namely anti-capitalism. The majority of ecologists are ‘watermelons’ – green on the outside, red on the inside. The reality is that most eco-fanatics are leftists hostile to economic growth, full stop. Perversely, by opposing renewable nuclear power for a generation, the ecology lobby has held back the de-carbonisation of Europe.

Other ecologists’ beliefs are quasi-religious, indeed pantheistic; planet Earth (Gaia) is a Goddess, man is a plague. With rare honesty, the Anglo-French environmentalist, Teddy Goldsmith, who founded the The Ecologist magazine, was an advocate of de-population and startlingly promoted economic destruction in his book, The Great U-Turn: De-industrialising Society [1988]. He, along with the United Nations, also supported Pol Pot’s genocidal de-urbanization policies in Cambodia. Of course, not all environmentalists are quite as loopy but you get the picture. 

For a generation, International and European governmental, media and educational bureaucracies have absorbed the ideologies of the eco-fanatics. It is a luddite tendency that has done immense damage to Europe’s economies and to its hopes for peace and prosperity. 

In the current crisis, fracking should be considered an essential tool to pay for a ‘zero carbon’ future. Shale gas can aid the transition to a renewable future … yes, nuclear power included. The long-term benefits of this hybrid approach to combat the risks of climate change are self-evident. 

So are the geopolitical benefits of ‘draining the swamp’, the removal of financial liquidity from obnoxious energy rich totalitarian states. The problem for Europe is political leadership. The science is clear. But where are the European leaders with the intellect and courage to challenge head-on the dogmas of the eco-fanatics?