What does the Torah say about… fracking?

With Rabbi Ariel Abel.

During the summer, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas was arrested during protests against Caudrilla, a company using the “fracking” method to extract oil out of the sea off the West Sussex coast. In a poll, 82 percent of local residents expressed opposition to hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”. This involves the underwater injection of fluids into rock to create fissures in the rock which allows the easier extraction of petroleum.

What does the Torah say about this? One inevitable result of this procedure is seepage of petrol into the sea and the poisoning of fish. The verse in Genesis commands us to “rule the fish of the sea” – this means overall control but implies care, not abuse and poi- soning of sea creatures. Another is reported to be local earth tremors. This may ultimately cause structural damage to buildings inland.

The Ancient Code of Hammurabi, Emperor of the Babylon some 300 years before Moses, declared that a careless builder of a home which had collapsed in its inhabitants should die with his own family, his own home pulled down over his head. The Torah countered this by ruling that the punishment must fit the crime and that children should not die for the sins of their fathers.

Nonetheless, the high priest recognised that even his own prayers on Yom Kippur might endanger the lives of the Sharon who lived in mud huts, and prayed that “their homes become not their graves”. A profit-making company has a heavy moral responsibility towards the area affected by their activity.

Laws of neighbours dominate a section of the Code of Jewish Law and are based partly on the Talmudic tractate Baba Bathra. How far should angry residents go in order to protest? This depends on whether or not there a clear, perceived danger to life or whether the assault is financial only.

Acts of civil disruption may be considered lawful “mecha’ah” – protest. If one keeps silent, this would be construed as implying assent. The involvement of an MP in this case, and the will of residents clearly reflected in the poll in Jewish law create a force to counter lawmakers and administrators.

When King Saul has every legal reason to apply the death penalty to his son Jonathan, vox populi determined that he would do no such thing. The power of the people, especially when concerned for their welfare, overrides even a king who has autocratic rights.