So, Horizon, BBC 2, 9pm, Tuesday.
Professor Iain Stewart presented a 1 hour documentary about fracking. Yes, it was one hour long, it was balanced, it gave both sides of the story, sort of, and told us…… nothing.
The problem for the Horizon team behind this show was the truly brilliant and far more informative documentary ‘Gasland’ which is biased, opinionated, unbalanced and incredibly informative.
You can watch Gasland knowing nothing about fracking and at the end of it you know a lot and you can decide that the man who made it, Josh Fox, is an idiot greenie fascist do-gooder, or a young man with a fresh take on an absurdly short sighted and dangerous industry.
Josh Fox made the Gasland film, the decisions on what to include and the style of the show himself. The result is his fault.
Not the case with Professor Iain Stewart who, I’d like to point out, is a scientist and not a TV producer. The producer of the program, Jeff Wilkinson, will have had a far greater input into what we saw.
So this isn’t a criticism of Professor Iain Stewart or his opinions, I’ve got no idea what they are, we are none the wiser on that point after an hour of television, this is a criticism of the style of the program, the ethics behind it and the evidence that this show came out of the protective bubble of the BBC and their deep terror of being seen as ‘biased.’
For a start, we had to watch Iain driving and rubbing his chin for such extended periods of time it was hard to believe. This was a style choice, this didn’t just happen, this was padding to a degree we are not used to in modern fast cut TV.
We had to endure endless shots from a car driving through rural Pennsylvania, the car driving down long country roads, or even a car driving through English towns at night. At times it appeared to be some kind of advert for Chevrolet or Nissan.
Again, not the fault of the man on the screen, but the baffling choices made by the production team. It was padded out to such an extent the very act of padding was saying something to us.
Was it saying ‘this show is an hour long and we can’t say much, it’s too contentious so let’s pad with moody shots and relevant music clips?’
I don’t know but I’m guessing they shot a great deal more and due to the very nature of fracking it was possibly more alarming than the top brass at the beeb thought wise to release.
We are being cajoled through various outlets to feel good about fracking because ladies and gentlemen, we are about to be fracked. For the outraged UKIP members who are horrified by wind turbines, just wait until there are 40 drilling derricks on the horizon, surrounded by ten million gallon ponds of highly toxic water.
All the way through the program I got the intense feeling that Prof. Stewart was ready to burst, he was holding back so much. It was the uncomfortable way he spoke to camera, I could almost sense the person behind the camera giving him a stern look. Be balanced, be careful, this is dangerous stuff. Hang on, let’s cut to you saying nothing and driving, that’s safer.
I’m not sure which way he might have gone if he’d blown his top and started ranting at the camera.
‘Look, you pathetic head in the sand anti progress hippies, fracking is amazing! It’s a huge new super cheap energy source that can transform our economy overnight with no side effects! Look what’s happened in America, it’s employed thousands, it’s made gas cheap, it’s transformed their economy!’
‘For pities sake, wake up, this isn’t the solution, this is shortsighted madness! We drill and pump and waste billions of gallons of fresh water extracting this stuff, we burn it, we increase carbon in the atmosphere and then it runs out. Remember ‘North Sea Gas?’ Yes it’s easy and a stopgap and a final, last ditch frenzied attempt at keeping the crumbling edifice of the fossil fuel corporations going, but it’s insane.’
So the whole exercise was a massive waste of time and money, we don’t know what Prof Stewart thinks but it’s fairly clear the producers behind the show are from the shrug and head shake ‘what else can we do? brigade.’
‘We’re reliant on this stuff.’ Said the Professor standing by the big ships bringing gas from the middle east and Russia.
Simple statement of fact. Not ‘should we be reliant on this stuff? Should we maybe find another way of keeping warm, lighting our homes that doesn’t require us to burn gas, or coal, or nuclear fuel.’
No, that’s unbalanced and opinionated. But explaining, very badly I might suggest, that drilling two miles underground and then pumping vast quantities of water and chemicals of such skin peeling toxicity that no one is allowed to know what they are and then not asking ‘this is a bit desperate isn’t it’ is balanced.
I came away from watching this thinking one thing. Balance is bullshit. I’d rather watch James Dellingpole tell us fracking is awesome, or some dreadlocked activist shouting ‘fracking is the human race pulling the trigger for the 6th time in fossil fuel Russian Roulette.’
After a tip from someone on Twitter, I had a quick look at Professor Iain Stewart's Wiki page, and then at the page of The Centre for Research into Earth Energy Systems for which he is a member of the board of directors. They do research into Petroleum Exploration and Production, Carbon Capture and Storage and that old favourite 'Clean Coal.' Oh yes, and Geothermal, good job.
There is no need to infer from this information that the Professor is paid by oil companies, bribed to paint a positive picture of fracking or any other scandalous conspiracy theory. However it does imply that he resides in a world where extracting 'energy' out of the ground is seen as 'sensible' 'economically viable' and 'the only way we can do things.'
So, massively biased in favour of fracking.