Shale gas is Rearden Metal

For my summer holidays I have been mostly reading Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand has her faults but, boy, was she prescient.

One of the things she foresaw was the current nonsensical, dishonest, canting campaign against shale gas. In Atlas Shrugged it takes the form of Rearden Metal, the miracle technology which is going to transform the US economy if only the progressives will let it. But of course, Rand’s fictional progressives don’t want Reardon Metal to succeed any more than their modern, real-life equivalents want shale gas to succeed.Why not? For the same rag-bag of made-up, disingenuous reasons which progressives have used to justify their war on progress since time immemorial: it’s unfair, it uses up scarce resources, it might be dangerous. Rand doesn’t actually use the phrase “the precautionary principle.” But this is exactly what she is describing in the book when various vested interests – the corporatists in bed with big government, the politicised junk-scientists at the Institute of Science (aka, in our world, the National Academy of Sciences or the Royal Society), the unions – try to close down the nascent technology using the flimsiest of excuses.

Here’s an excerpt from the book. (The story so far: in an ailing economy brought low by the sclerotic regulation of the bloated state, a dwindling band of entrepreneurs try to stick up for free enterprise. One of them is Hank Rearden who forges a new kind of metal, stronger and lighter than steel. But his rivals don’t like it, and unlike Rearden, they have friends in DC. Soon an unhelpful report is produced by a special committee of the National Council of Metal Industries…)

They said Rearden Metal is a threat to public safety. They said its chemical composition is unsound, it’s brittle, it’s decomposing molecularly, and it will crack suddenly without warning […..] They’re experts, though, the men on that committee. Top experts. Chief metallurgists for the biggest corporations, with a string of degrees from universities all over the country.

You may have noticed something similar going on with the anti-shale gas campaign. All those “experts” – many from the oil or renewables industries, no doubt with a string of degrees from universities all over the country – who’ve worked so effectively to delay shale gas exploitation in Britain with their ingenious excuses: our shale plays aren’t the same as America’s [true: the Bowland shale, for example, is significantly deeper]; our denser population makes it harder to extract without disruption or environmental damage [what? And wind turbines aren’t guilty of doing the same, only with far less obvious benefit?]; that the cost of gas won’t significantly drop [yeah, that’s really persuasive that one. We’ve got trillions of cubic feet of gas on our doorstep but when we drill for it and vastly increase available supply it won’t have any effect on price??].

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