I’m very pleased with the news that potentially commercial volumes of shale gas (natural gas extracted from shale deposits) have been identified around Melton Mowbray in the East Midlands region. As the UKIP spokesman on Industry & Energy, I recall the dramatic impact that the discovery of shale gas has had in America, where the price of natural gas has dropped substantially, and the US is no longer dependent on imported gas.
Shale gas offers the prospect of a huge economic boost for the region. Locally-sourced gas reserves could help bring down energy prices, ensure energy security, reduce the UK’s dependence on politically-risky sources like Russian gas, and could bring new jobs and investment into the region. Unlike the wind turbines that are blighting our landscape, gas delivers low-cost, continuous and sustainable power: For those worried about CO2 emissions or pollution, gas power has substantially lower emissions than coal in both cases. And unlike wind, which requires massive adaptation of the grid, the infrastructure for natural gas distribution is already largely in place.
Concerns have been raised about environmental issues related to shale gas extraction. Of course local residents are entitled to clear reassurance on the safety aspects, but companies in the business will be subject to strict licensing and regulation, and will be responsible for treating and purifying the extraction medium using long established and proven methods.
There have been horror stories circulated by green lobbyists, who seem to be opposed to all forms of energy extraction and generation, but in fact the large-scale extraction of shale gas in the USA has been remarkably successful. Shale gas extraction requires a drilling rig to be put in place for a few weeks, but when drilling is complete the rig is removed and the remaining installation is unobtrusive. The British Geological Survey, based in the region at Keyworth in Nottinghamshire, will be very much involved in setting standards for shale gas in the UK.
Britain faces a crisis of oil prices and energy security — just check the price of petrol. Home-grown shale gas has the potential to be a major part of the solution. It can be used in existing home appliances installed for North Sea gas.
Energy Minister Charles Hendry (whom I have met a number of times) seems fairly receptive to the idea, but adds that he doesn’t know how economically and environmentally viable it will be, and “At best it’s years away. If it comes, we must be ready to take full advantage of it”.
But to quote the immortal line of Gaffer Gamgee, Sam Gamgee’s father in The Lord of the Rings, “It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish”. We need the government to take a less dilatory and much more pro-active approach to this huge opportunity, which can bring jobs, prosperity and investment to the East Midlands, and to the UK. For energy costs, and energy security, and economic recovery, this could be our Get-Out-of-Jail card.