Yesterday I attended a hearing on the future for gas, organised by ALDE — the Liberal Group in the European parliament. An aside: most of ALDE is, in fact, fairly liberal, and pro-free-market. So our UK Lib-Dems are a square peg in a round hole. I don’t normally attend ALDE events, but it was an opportunity to put a question to Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger — and I’m taking my new duties as UKIP Energy Spokesman seriously. Merely to introduce myself: “I’m Roger Helmer, a member of the United Kingdom Independence Party, and I speak for the Party on Industry & Energy” makes a statement, literally and figuratively, and ruffles a few feathers.
Following Oettinger’s speech on gas, my question, as near as I can remember, went like this:
Commissioner, would you agree with me that the EU’s targets on emissions reduction could be achieved more safely, more securely and more cheaply by a combination of nuclear and gas, rather than relying on expensive and intermittent renewables?
You have spoken a little about shale gas. But you haven’t mentioned Methane Hydrates, which are like shale gas on steroids, and potentially offer secure supplies of natural gas, perhaps for centuries. You’ve talked a great deal about pipelines to Azerbaijan and Russia, but not about new sources of gas. Don’t you think that you are perhaps too focussed on old and unreliable sources of gas, and giving too little attention to the new sources which are likely to offer major opportunities over coming decades?
My question was received with the usual resentful hostility by MEPs in the room. But I was approached afterwards by two industry representatives who congratulated me on it. This happens not infrequently, and illustrates the huge cultural and conceptual gulf between MEPs and the real world.
As is common in the EP, Oettinger took three questions together, and as is also common, he failed to address any one of my substantive points.
But I was encouraged by his general tone. He was clearly aware of the competitive threat faced by Europe, as the USA enjoys rapidly falling energy costs, and remarkably low gas prices. We learned that gas prices in Germany are five times as high as those in the US, and in Japan, seven times as high. But coal prices in Europe have trended down as cheap shale gas in the US has reduced global demand for coal.
And Oettinger showed a fine and cynical attitude to renewables. He actually said “The member-states talk a good story on the environment on Sundays. But Monday through Saturday it’s business as usual”.
That was the best news I’ve had all week.