US fracking could give Putin fuel for thought

Fracking's supporters believe as America becomes the world's biggest producer of natural gas it can rival and even supplant Russia. Photo: Reuters/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

The Stars and Stripes flutter over the shaded porches of clapper board homes.

Wilkes-Barre in Pennsylvania could be Anytown, USA. It is by any measure an unlikely front line in what some see as a looming Cold War.

They call the hills round here the Endless Mountains.

No one knows how big are the supplies of shale gas hidden beneath, but supporters of the controversial fracking industry here believe they could be America's most potent weapon in the stand-off with Russia.

The theory is seductive. As America becomes the world's biggest producer of natural gas it can rival and even supplant Russia.

Moscow derives huge income and influence from the energy on which Europe is dependent.

But what is a source of Russian power could also be a source of Russian vulnerability.

While a potential worry for Vladimir Putin, insiders say the controversial mining technique won't solve the Ukraine crisis. Credit: Reuters/Yves Herman

Some even draw a lesson from history.

Just as the nuclear arms race in the 1980s bankrupted the old Soviet Union, so America's dash for gas could eventually cripple Putin's Russia.

As I say, it's seductive stuff and the fracking industry is deploying the argument for all its well-funded might.

But there are many problems.

Firstly, to expand they have to overcome deep-seated opposition from the many who believe the mining technique - pumping high-pressure chemicals deep into rocks - is both dangerous and highly damaging to the environment.

Secondly, the need to change the law which at the moment bans natural gas exports.

Finally, there's the small matter of missing infrastructure needed to send it overseas.

So American gas is not the Seventh Cavalry riding to Europe's rescue.

As one industry insider confides; it won't solve the Ukraine crisis. But it might just give Putin fuel for thought before the next showdown.

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