The Only Way Is Shale

By Lilley, Peter | The Spectator, May 11, 2013 | Go to article overview

The Only Way Is Shale


Lilley, Peter, The Spectator


If we give in the green lobby, Britain wil drift into an energy crisis.

The scandal of official reluctance to develop Britain's shale gas potential is at last beginning to surface. It may prove to be the dress rehearsal for the ultimate drama - the inexorable collapse of our whole energy strategy.

Most of us have by now heard about the US shale gas revolution. In little more than six years, shale gas has reduced America's gas prices to a third of what they are in Europe, increased huge tax revenues, rebalanced the economy, created tens of thousands of jobs, brought industry and manufacturing back to the country's heartlands, and given rise to a real prospect of American energy self-sufficiency by 2030.

Britain may well have comparable shale resources. Indeed, the Bowman shale in Lancashire is a mile thick, whereas most US shale plays are just 300 to 500 feet thick - a strangely unpublicised piece of good news.

If shale gas proves abundant it could help the government meet three key objectives:

rebalancing the public finances by generating large tax revenues, rebalancing the economy by boosting manufacturing, and rebalancing the north/south divide by creating jobs and a whole new industry in the north.

We will only know for sure how much is there, and can be economically extracted, by drilling. So you might assume governments would be forcing the pace. Far from it. In 2011, the government imposed an 18-month moratorium. Since that ended, Cuadrilla - the only company which has drilled in the UK - has suffered further delays because of bizarre environmental obstacles. Department of Energy and Climate Change ministers have consistently talked down the industry's prospects. When the British Geological Survey recently dramatically revised up their estimates of Britain's shale potential, the department's chiefs allegedly told them to redo the figures - further delaying the publication of their findings until the summer. There is still no date for the next licensing round to open up more acreage for drilling.

Why is Britain dragging its feet? It is all the more puzzling because there is a widespread belief that governments are putty in the hands of Big Oil. The surefire way to win a burst of applause on Question Time is to assert, when anyone mentions the Iraq and Afghan wars, that 'the real reason we went to war was oil'. Yet the petroleum industry has been singularly unsuccessful in galvanising the British government to open up its own shale resources.

Whatever the power of Big Oil in the past, it has been eclipsed by 'Big Green'.

The green lobby is in control of the Department for Energy (to the Treasury's dismay), its objectives are enshrined in law, it dominates the EU, and it is institutionalised in Whitehall via the Climate Change Committee. These state bodies are egged on by powerful environmental NGOs, which are heavily financed by the EU (WWF receives £600,000 and Friends of the Earth Europe £1.2 million) and our government (we pay WWF £4.1 million) to create the semblance of popular support. These NGOs can deploy any uncorroborated scare story in their war against fossil fuels.

There is a legitimate argument that the world should phase out fossil fuels to minimise global warming. The power of that argument has weakened recently. Global temperatures have failed to rise for 16 years. Recent measures of how much global temperature rises as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases are far lower than is built into climate models. The case for unilateral action to decarbonise the EU economy has weakened because China, India, USA et al won't do likewise. Even EU solidarity is crumbling now that Germany is shutting its nuclear plants and building 20 new coal ones. So the idea of Britain going it alone is risible.

The green lobby has changed tack and adopted three separate arguments to put us off exploiting our shale gas potential. First it asserts that there isn't much there anyway, and what may be there will be impossible to extract technically, economically and socially. …

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