Time for Leadership, Mr. Cameron

Greg Barker and the PM cut the ribbon at the London Array

Greg Barker and the PM cut the ribbon at the London Array

I get a bit worried when I find myself agreeing with Cameron, Osborne and Davey (Ed Davey, that is, the Lib-Dem “Energy Secretary”).  It doesn’t happen very often.  But it they seem to be right on shale gas.

The Tory Party, like other parties, has been somewhat taken aback by the concerns, indeed outright opposition of Middle England, as represented by the good people of Balcombe in Sussex, to a rather small scale drilling project adjacent to their village.  Taken aback, too, by the way that the “usual suspects” of opposition to almost any infrastructure development, the Swampies of this world, have descended on Balcombe, and have been welcomed (albeit with some understandable trepidation) by local residents.  This is doubly bizarre, since the particular well in Balcombe is for conventional oil, not fracking, and is no different from a number of similar wells that are operating in the county without problems.

Osborne has seen the importance of shale gas, and is keenly aware of the huge economic benefits it offers — benefits which our economy, in its present parlous state, desperately needs.  He also sees the future tax revenues.  Cameron probably has the same awareness, though he gives the impression of bobbing along in his Chancellor’s wake, rather than leading the charge.  Eco-obsessive Ed Davey is probably choking on his coffee at having to talk up a fossil fuel, but he is so far managing nonetheless to toe the coalition line.

Now we see reports that formal representations are being made to Cameron by the Tories’ “grassroots activists” (a declining breed), pointing out that the concerns are real, that they could have an electoral impact, and that the Party needs to make the case for fracking. To be fair to Cameron, he has discussed the economic benefits of fracking a number of times, but he needs to get a real and decisive grip on the safety aspect, to reassure local residents.

At the risk of repetition — I recognise that I write a lot about fracking, but that reflects the importance of it — let me just summarise.  The film Gasland is a blatant piece of propaganda, from people who hate fossil fuels at any price.  It is simply not true that fracking causes flammable gas in the water system.  It is not true that there has been significant water contamination.  They’ve been fracking for decades in one of the most litigious countries on earth, the USA.  If it were dangerous, there would have been class actions by now.  Fracking could be compared with coal mining.  It is much safer.

Then there are the local issues — industrialisation of the countryside, unsightly sites, lorry traffic and so on.  Of course any mineral extraction technology involves some disruption, but really with shale gas it is relatively minor.  A wind turbine (they say) will stand for 25 years.  A drilling rig will be there a couple of months, replaced by a well-head unit little bigger than a garden shed.

Cameron has run into this question too.  He reportedly suggested that “There’s no room for (on-shore) wind farms, but plenty for fracking” . Of course the Tories have form in announcing curbs for on-shore wind-farms, then failing to deliver them — while their coalition partners actually propose that developers should be able to sue local councils who refuse planning applications.  Scandalous.

There was recently a discussion of the possibility of “undergrounding” high-tension power lines in sensitive landscapes.  I helpfully suggested that wind turbines would be more acceptable if they too could be undergrounded. Maybe this is what Cameron had in mind — putting our energy activity two thousand feet down, where we can’t see it, rather than four hundred feet up.

A related question I occasionally get is: “If you’re against wind farms, why aren’t you against shale gas?”.  It’s one of those questions I welcome because I’m glad to answer it.  Wind farms are a non-solution to a non problem.  They don’t deliver even in their own terms.  They are gesture politics, pure and simple.  They are a huge and wasteful cost on the tax-payer and the electricity consumer, and a threat to the British economy.  Shale gas, on the other hand, provided it can be recovered as we expect (and only test drilling will confirm it), offers dramatic benefits to the whole economy and to every citizen, not just to energy companies.  Lower costs, security of supply, increased GDP, a transformed balance of payments, Treasury revenues, economic recovery, growth, prosperity, jobs.

With all the publicity on Balcombe, it is perhaps surprising to see a study from NottinghamUniversity which shows public opinion shifting steadily in favour of fracking. It seems that the message on the economic benefits is slowly percolating into the public mind.  Thank heaven for the underlying good sense of the British people.  But with commercial organisations lining up to fund anti-fracking campaigns (remind me to buy nothing from the Coop or Lush Cosmetics, please), it is not enough to stand back and hope it’s alright on the night.  The Prime Minister is supposed to be a leader, so let’s see you leading on this issue, Dave.  But you’ve squandered so much credibility on HS2 and wind farms, you might struggle.

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9 Responses to Time for Leadership, Mr. Cameron

  1. neilfutureboy says:

    We are said to be “ten years behind America” on shale, having had a couple of years of official ban followed by a ban on Caudrilla’s main site because they are 10 miles from a bird sanctuary.

    And the government funded fakecharities are still promoting the false scare.

    If this is Cameron being supportive no wonder we are still in recession. I think all he is supportive of is being seen not to oppose anything his focus groups have clearly said the public like.

  2. cosmic says:

    I think Cameron and Osborn have had to be dragged round to this as the economic realities have begun to sink in. There’s been no enthusiasm for even exploratory fracking to assess the potential.

    Don’t forget, all there is at present is potential, no point counting the chickens just yet.

    I’m very suspicious of the Balcombe protest. It was a was an oil well with no fracking involved. A large section of the protestors were the Occupy, anti-globalism, rentacrowd.

    The big problem fracking presents to a section of the green sentiment is that it promises to enable energy requirements to be met, goes to help with emissions targets and interferes with their view that we move to a sentimental version of the Middle Ages.

  3. Chris says:

    The usual ‘rent a mob’ protestors have arrived at Balcombe. What people may not understand is that these people will never be happy until we’re travelling by horse and cart and using candles for light.

    We listened to them during the CND days and are now paying the price with a lack of energy security. How many of these people are being funded by the dole office?

  4. Mike Stallard says:

    If you were sitting in the dark, having just been sacked from your job because the firm had moved abroad and you were wondering where your tea was going to be cooked, wouldn’t you personally want to say something fairly rotund to the Swampies who had banned fracking?
    Fracking is perfectly safe. Fracking is cheap to do. Fracking brings bills down and keeps the lights on. Fracking provides a lot of jobs. Fracking allows the nation’s computers to keep the Welfare going out.
    Nothing worth attaining is without risk; safety to starve in the dark is worth nothing.

  5. 1957chev says:

    Reblogged this on Mothers Against Wind Turbines and commented:
    Fracking is one million times better than wind energy. Wind is over-priced, intermittent, destroys the environment, makes neighbours sick, divides the community,takes away democratic rights, and does NOTHING to eliminate climate change.

  6. Richard111 says:

    Well said @cosmic.
    “The big problem fracking presents to a section of the green sentiment is that it promises to enable energy requirements to be met, goes to help with emissions targets and interferes with their view that we move to a sentimental version of the Middle Ages.”
    When are people going to wake up that this is NOT a coochy-coo alternate life style. No reliable fridge/freezers in homes and super markets means only fresh meat can be used. No dependable electricity supplies mean super markets won’t be stocked up anyway. No cheap heating for old people means many will die. I guess that has to be the green objective.

  7. Hamish says:

    I have seen some fascinating fracking pictures recently that just show how discreet it is. For example, one of these was of a David Lloyd sort of complex with a fracking head bang in the middle of it hidden behind a 10ft high fence. Incredible.

    I also remember that when I was living in Dorset seeing what I think was an oil well. I had been living in the area for four years and whilst driving home one evening I noticed some lights on through the trees. I asked some friends about this and they said that it had been functioning there for years – and I had never noticed it in any way!

    Thanks for another refreshingly honest post, Roger. All we need is coal and gas in the short term and mass nuclear in the long term. It IS that simple.

    Keep up the fantastic work.

    PS Just a suggestion (having seen how successful the UKIP immigration video has been recently). Could UKIP produce a similar video regarding energy? I know that it would just fly. Just make sure that the greenies cannot find flaw with ANYTHING in it otherwise they will try to discredit the whole video.

  8. Harold Armitage says:

    Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched re frack gas. There have been big disappointments elsewhere. Notably in Poland.
    All frack gas does is buy us some time. It won’t be any cheaper than the gas we have now and it can be conveniently exported to the continent via existing pipelines.
    The islamonuts will be cutting our gas/oil off when they take over Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the next couple of years. When they do this, renewable energy will be the cheapest by far.
    We need to keep ALL our options open.

    • Henry Donald says:

      “When they do this, renewable energy will be the cheapest by far.”

      Crazy….a completely and utterly mad statement.

      So the only way ‘renewable energy’ will ever be useful is if the middle east is somehow taken over by extremists. That so so flawed in so many ways that I have to assume you are in your early teens.

      Just a few points:

      1) Wind does not replace or significantly displace our use of coal or gas, so your statement is meaningless.

      2) Nuclear will always be cheaper than renewables. The arguments against it invariably boil down to examples of poor half a century old reactors which were built for the military or on a semi-experimental basis.

      3) All our energy does not come from the Middle East. We are sitting on at least a 150 years of coal; coal that I personally wouldn’t want to use – I’d rather clean nuclear – but the greens have knocked that so far back that we may have to use coal for a decade or more.

      4) You are no businessman. It is in nobody’s – not even extremists! – interest to NOT trade. All parties need a good deal and one almost always emerges.

      The list goes on. Your statement just highlights what a breath of fresh air UKIP are. What’s fantastic is that it’s increasingly obvious that they are not merely a breath of fresh air fleetingly passing through British politics, but that they are becoming a constant gale! Fantastic.

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