I recently received a letter from a voter who was thinking of joining UKIP, but concerned about our position on shale gas. I thought my reply was worth sharing:
Thank you for your letter, and I am very pleased to hear that you have been seriously thinking about joining UKIP.
The fact is that we face a very serious problem in Britain with energy supply and energy prices, and there are potential problems with most energy technologies. Hundreds of thousands have died in the coal mining and hydro-power industries. Some people have serious (and in my view exaggerated) concerns about nuclear power. The problems with wind turbines are well documented, both locally and in terms of damage to energy prices and the national economy.
There is no power source entirely free of problems. The need is to manage the problems — not to abandon the technology.
Gas is a very good and flexible fuel. It produces about half the CO2 emissions of coal (if you are worried about CO2 emissions). And now it appears that we have on-shore gas resources in the UK.
The technique of fracking is not new. It has been in use in America for at least four decades. You will be aware that America is one of the world’s most litigious societies, and if there had been serious environmental problems, the industry would surely have been closed down by class actions by now. In fact it is thriving, and has halved the cost of gas in the USA. This is a wonderful windfall for America, but a real competitive problem for Europe, where the cost of gas is four times as high as in the USA.
You refer to “Volcanic activity in the Midlands” associated with shale gas. I represent the East Midlands, and I can absolutely assure you that there has been no volcanic activity of any kind, much less associated with shale gas, in the Midlands — or anywhere else in the UK. There were some rather irresponsible newspaper headlines about “earthquakes” in the North-West. But there have been none of those either. There were a couple of very minor earth tremors, less than 2 on the Richter scale. This is equivalent to the effect of a lorry driving past your house. It is also comparable to natural background seismic activity, or to the slight tremors associated with coal mining.
There is a strong lobby against fracking, which is why you will have seen negative and alarmist headlines. First of all, the Russian company Gazprom is very worried that relatively cheap gas in Europe will undermine its export market. It is therefore seeking to discourage fracking. And campaign groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, who seem to be opposed to all forms of growth and prosperity, also oppose most energy technologies. I have even heard it argued that major oil companies may have reservations about fracking, because it may tend to devalue their investments in EU carbon emissions permits.
It is unlikely that shale gas will have the same market impact in the UK as in the USA, both because we (probably) have much smaller reserves — we don’t know for sure yet — and because we have a much higher population density, and any gas development must respect the needs and interests of local communities. But with such a large opportunity in a critical resource area, it would surely be irresponsible not to investigate the potential. Clearly any gas development in the UK must be properly regulated, but the economic and jobs potential for our country is too great to ignore.
I hope this will help you to understand our position on shale gas, and I do hope that you will join our party.