What would bring such unlikely bed-fellows together? Opposition to fracking, that’s what!
Yesterday, George Osborne announced his new gas strategy which includes plans for 26 Gigawatts of new gas capacity by 2030 (Memo to Osborne: How much of this is real mainstream capacity, and how much is simply back-up for the ridiculous quantities of wind power we’re planning? You know, about back-up, George, that’s the capacity that has to be supported by “capacity payments” for available capacity standing idle, underused and used inefficiently in the name of green posturing). Find the policy statement here.
It includes a billion pounds for “Carbon Capture and Storage”, or CCS. This is the preposterous idea that we can collect CO2 from power station chimneys and put it somewhere safe for the next million years. Even Greenpeace, which you might have expected to like CCS, has serious worries about its viability. The rest of us should have serious worries about its cost. It has not been demonstrated commercially, and may never work, but cost estimates suggest it could add 50% to the price of coal-generated electricity:
I like to compare CCS in the climate debate with “subsidiarity” in the European debate. It’s a spurious idea that’s bandied about to reassure gullible sceptics — but it’s not something you actually do.
I was disappointed to see that Osborne’s gas announcement was very light on estimates of the available gas volumes in the UK. I’ve been talking to people in the industry, including Professor Alan Riley and speakers at the MEUC Conference last week , and they’re suggesting that UK shale gas reserves already identified could supply the UK for decades. They add that once you start on shale gas, you tend to discover more and more, and that there’s not only on-shore gas but off-shore prospecting as well. (And news not directly related to shale — we’re hearing that much more oil and gas than previously believed is still available from the North Sea).
Osborne may have been cautious on gas prospects because of the storm of criticism and misinformation about fracking. Sensationalist media insist on describing very minor earth tremors (comparable to those associated with coal mining) as “earthquakes”, causing understandable anxiety. I don’t have room here for a defence of fracking, but I commend the excellent article “Let’s Get Fracking” by “Rational Optimist” Matt Ridley
Why the storm of black propaganda against a technology which is tried and tested and known to be safe? A technology which has limited and very temporary local impacts (especially when compared to wind turbines)? A technology that can transform our economy, create many jobs, bring down energy prices, maintain our competitiveness, reduce our dependence on imports?
Just look at where the objections come from. First the green NGOs, which will jump on any scare-story band-wagon to justify their existence, and in the hope of headlines and donations. They are doing their fellow citizens a huge disservice. They seem to hate growth, prosperity, jobs, industry and energy. They are the true inheritors of the follies of Malthus and the Luddites.
Their spokesmen have been out in force to condemn the gas strategy. “The chancellor is misleading people to position shale gas as the answer to UK’s energy woes. The impact of fracking in the US is irrelevant because energy experts say the US shale gas boom cannot be replicated here,” said Joss Garman, political director at Greenpeace. (He’s been talking to the wrong experts). Martin Wright, Chairman of the Renewable Energy Association, says “The Chancellor must understand that gas is not cheap, nor does it offer stable pricing for the future”. I think this is what Catholics call “vincible ignorance”. Open your eyes, Martin. The shale gas revolution is happening all around us.
Then, of course, there is Gazprom. The big loser from the shale gas revolution (make no mistake — it is a revolution, and the world is awash with gas) will be Russia. It has big reserves of fossil fuels, but in difficult locations where they’re expensive to recover. Russia today has a quasi-monopoly on gas, which it has used irresponsibly. But its hegemony is being blown apart by shale gas. (“With one bound, we were free”, as the comic books used to put it).
Osborne is right to back gas, both upstream and downstream. But let’s see a sense of urgency, George.