I’ve just come across a perfect example of how the European parliament over-eggs the pudding. We have, coming up, a revision to the Directive on Environmental Impact Assessments. It appears to be directed particularly at unconventional gas. And an amendment from the parliament calls for “assessment of the impact of the project” (in this case, a proposed well) “on climate change”. This has been drawn to my attention by the Organisation of Oil & Gas Producers, www.ogp.org.uk.
Even those who accept the conventional wisdom on climate change — the IPCC position — recognise that it is a global issue. We would have to be concerned about global emissions of CO2 and their impact on the climate. Producing a detailed piece of paper for each individual well is just pointless bureaucracy.
A homely metaphor: Imagine that someone proposed to build a high-speed rail line from London to Birmingham, which was expected to take twenty minutes off the journey time (I think in fact someone may have this in mind). It would be futile to produce a report on each sleeper along the track to assess the contribution of that sleeper to the time-saving. The project must be seen in its entirety. Equally, to produce a report on the impact of each well on climate change — when there are hundreds of wells and many other sources of emissions — is a futile waste of time.
It is also meaningless unless you take account of how the gas is to be used. If it replaces (say) nuclear, then it will add to emissions. If it replaces imports of Russian gas from Gazprom, it is emissions-neutral. And if it replaces coal, then it actually reduces emissions. So how do you produce an impact statement?
A third point (which OGP does not make, but I do). The science invoked for the theory of man-made climate change is hotly disputed and highly contentious. In particular, the sensitivity of climate to atmospheric CO2 is a vital focus of debate, not least because actual climate trends have so spectacularly failed to follow the alarmist script. There are of course both positive and negative feed-backs in the climate system, and just now, the negative feedbacks appear to be winning. But without an agreed position on this fundamental point, no impact assessment makes sense. It will be mere speculative self-delusion (and there’s a lot of that in the climate debate).
However there is one respect in which such an amendment could actually favour the industry, and OGP might like to bear it in mind. A recent report from noted environmental economist Bjørn Lomborg (who accepts the basic IPCC position) is that the €110 billion spent by Germany on solar panels will, by 2100, delay global warming only by thirty-seven hours — in other words, an effect far too small to measure.
On that basis, a single new well for unconventional gas will presumably, by 2100, accelerate global warming by (say) fifteen seconds. Or if replacing coal, delay global warming by fifteen seconds. And given that there’s been no global warming for fifteen years, even fifteen seconds seems generous. So trivial, we should ignore it.
A footnote: we are all horrified to read that the Aztecs made human sacrifices to propitiate the Gods, frequently holding up pulsating human hearts freshly ripped from the bodies of victims. It is widely believed that their objective was to affect the climate — for example to alleviate a drought. We are appalled both by their brutality, and by the futility of imagining that human sacrifice can influence the climate. Surely no one would do anything like that today?
But this is exactly what we are doing today — albeit in a modern fashion. Statisticians and demographers speak the dry language of “excess deaths” from cold in the winter. But these “excess deaths” are real human beings, usually pensioners, forced into fuel poverty, and literally freezing to death in icy homes, in front of a cold electric fire that they can’t afford to switch on. And they are in fuel poverty in large part because of the “green policies” we have adopted in an increasingly futile attempt to placate the Climate Gods. We are little better than the Aztecs.