To a voter in Wales concerned about shale gas
Thank you for writing to UKIP with your concerns about shale gas. I quite understand your position, which is shared by many others who have been alarmed by the black propaganda around the issue.
But the fact is that that in politics, as Tony Blair said, we face hard choices. Everyone wants their rubbish collected weekly, but no one wants to live next to a landfill site or an incinerator. Everyone wants to travel quickly and comfortably by train: no one wants HS2 in their back garden. Everyone wants to fly to Majorca for their holiday, but no one wants a new airport. Everyone wants better mobile phone coverage: no one wants an ærial mast next door.
When it comes to energy, the problems seem to multiply. Everyone wants the lights to come on – indeed they simply take electricity for granted. Everyone wants their businesses to operate regularly (have we forgotten the three-day week?), with light and heat and air-conditioning and machines turning. Yet it seems people don’t want coal-fired or gas-fired or nuclear power stations anywhere near them. They don’t want coal mines, and slag heaps, and coke lorries on the roads. Residents of Welsh valleys quite reasonably don’t want their villages flooded by hydro-power dams, and many people don’t want to see the Severn Estuary altered out of recognition, and unique wetlands despoiled, by the proposed Barrage.
When it comes to renewables like wind and solar, UKIP is opposed to them, both for their local visual and environmental impact, and for the futility and economic damage of intermittent renewables – but as with other generating technologies, there is always strong local opposition.
As a political party, UKIP has to take a responsible position. We cannot jump onto every populist band-wagon and oppose every unpopular development. We have to look at the overall energy needs of the British economy and British families, and ask how those energy needs can be met. How can we keep the economy going? How can we ensure affordable energy prices for businesses and households? Can we do this in a way that benefits the British economy, increases energy security, reduces dependence on imports, and helps our balance of payments?
If we simply say NO to every form of energy, we condemn our country to power cuts and economic disaster.
So we have indeed taken a broad view of our energy needs. We have ruled out wind and solar (at least on current technologies) for reasons I have set out at length elsewhere. We believe that the future must depend primarily on coal, gas and nuclear. But gas is the most immediate and urgent priority. It is the only way to keep the lights on. Neither new coal nor new nuclear power plants can be ready in time.
So are we to be largely or wholly dependent on Gazprom and other overseas suppliers, with all the problems for prices, and price stability, and energy security, and balance of payments? Or are we to use this amazing windfall of indigenous gas? We have seen its transformative effect on the American economy. Should the British people be denied similar benefits?
You paint an alarmist picture of the downsides of fracking, but I have to tell you that most of the black propaganda is just plain wrong. There has never been any proven case of groundwater contamination, despite 10,000+ wells drilled and over two million fracking operations. The very slight seismic effects of fracking are smaller than those associated with coal-mining, yet we don’t see the same hysterical opposition to coal mines. I would urge you to read the excellent article on fracking by Matt Ridley.
You mention impact on house prices, but you don’t mention the thousands of jobs created, the run-down cities transformed and regenerated, the production that was off-shored in the nineties and is now coming back to the USA. We want to see similar jobs and industrial regeneration in the UK, and especially in former mining areas. As it happens, I will be going to the USA later this month to study the impact of the shale gas revolution, and I shall no doubt have more to say about it afterwards.
Shale gas is arguably safer, for local people and for workers in the industry, than most other forms of resource extraction, and is less visually intrusive. I have four large wind turbines within a mile of my home. I’d much rather have a shale gas well-head (see picture above).
I appreciate your letter and I understand your concerns. But if we are going to turn our backs on the greatest economic/industrial opportunity of our generation, we have to be prepared to say what we would do instead. Our job as a Party is to explain, to reassure, and to demonstrate the huge benefits which shale gas can offer. These include jobs and prosperity for our children and grandchildren. They will not forgive us if we leave them in the dark.
Yours Roger Helmer MEP