We’ve written a considerable number of blogposts on fracking, many of which deal with concerns about water. This one, however, is quite different, and I hope you find the perspective refreshing.
Common opponents to fracking include the usual suspects—environmentalists, residents concerned about environmental contamination, residents concerned about their property values, and residents concerned about local earthquakes allegedly linked to wastewater injection wells. [I’m hearing about cases in Oklahoma and Arkansas where this is occurring. Plus, the U.S. Geological Survey just released a report of their results to date incorporating induced seismicity (earthquakes caused by fluid injection) into the National Seismic Hazard Model.] However, now a new player is entering the fray—beer drinkers.
You might think this is a joke, but I assure you it is serious.
Members of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) last week voted on a proposal to oppose the controversial drilling process in which water, sand, and chemicals are injected into rock at high pressure. The motion being debated at CAMRA’s annual conference in Nottingham called for the organization to “oppose fracking and unconventional hydrocarbon exploration and extraction on both a local and national scale.” The reason for the opposition, say the supporters of the motion, is that fracking poses a “real and substantial threat to the production and quality of real ale.”
On April 20, 2015, the members of CAMRA rejected the proposal to campaign against fracking due to “the lack of clear evidence available.” However, the group claims that it will continue to monitor any effects that fracking might have on the brewing industry, and to work with other groups representing the brewing industry to ensure the safe production of beer.
While CAMRA appears to be taking a relatively conservative approach, some individuals are making a more spirited response. In February, the Axiom Brewing Co. in Wrexham announced that it was brewing a “frack-free” bitter called Rising Dragon. It’s described as “a standard British Bitter with a twist” that is not intended to make a profit; instead, all proceeds will be donated to the anti-fracking movement with the intention of protecting the water supply.
British beer fans are not the first to speak up with concerns about fracking affecting their beloved brew. The German Brewers Association (Brauer-Bund) has been voicing concerns about the potential for fracking to disrupt their water supply and thereby harm the German brewing industry since 2013. The union successfully lobbied for a law, approved last month, that effectively bans fracking in many parts of Germany. Some fracking would be allowed under strict regulations, and for testing purposes.
While the explicit concern here relates to water quality, basic economic principles are at play, too. Most reports I have seen suggest that beer consumption in Europe is slowing, yet the number of microbreweries is increasing in places like the UK. This is due mostly to the rapid creation of new small, independent breweries such as Axiom. The UK brewing industry has experienced more than 10% annual growth over the past 2 years. According to CAMRA’S Good Beer Guide 2015, after that recent growth, the UK now has more breweries per person than any other country.
Arguably, the independent spirit of microbrewers to often get “back to the basics” of beer making could be correlated with this emphasis on water quality. It will be interesting to see how the debate on fracking in the UK evolves over time.