My good friend and colleague John Forrest recently authored a letter to a concerned constituent on the subject of shale gas. It was such an effective letter that I thought I ought to share it:
I am a colleague of Roger Helmer and he copied me on your message and his response. I hope you will not mind if I make a few comments, since much of my life has been involved with the energy industry, ranging from an apprenticeship at coal-fired Battersea Power Station to quite a few years in Fusion research.
My first point is that it is sad to see what rubbish is talked about energy policy in our press and by various pressure or interest groups. The tendency is to jump on a tiny bit of information and take it totally out of context, thereby reaching completely false conclusions.
I think politicians of every colour would agree that the energy policy for a country has to be a balanced, adequately diverse and resilient one. Only a fool would argue that we could totally depend on solar and wind, for example. These technologies have a certain rôle, but can never be mainstream in energy supply because they are intermittent and also costly. An industrial country with a population that expects power on demand has to have a resilient and adaptable base load capability. The technologies we have for this are coal, gas and nuclear. I agree with you about fusion as a potential solution…….I started my own involvement with this some 50 years ago as a student and have followed progress since. It is still a long way off and I would not predict that we could have a viable commercial fusion reactor within another 50 years. Cold fusion has never been satisfactorily demonstrated, though patents do exist.
So, addressing the next 50 years, we must focus on the possible. Coal is indeed “dirty” and generation of electricity from coal kills thousands of people each year in the coal production operations. We do not question this or get excited about it. Interestingly this is far, far more than deaths associated with nuclear generation. We have always accepted that what we do in life is going to result in deaths, whether it is power generation, air travel, road travel or food production.
Apart from nuclear, generation from gas is probably the most benign. It is relatively clean. The difficulty is that our needs have to be met significantly from the Middle East or Russia, which means that supply stability and pricing are not under our control. This is what has led us to show interest in seeing if more gas resources can be found within our shores and control. Hence the interest in Fracking.
Fracking is not a new technology. It has been used for some decades. It is basically drilling a well, as we have done successfully and widely for both oil and gas in various parts of the UK, even in beauty spots in places like Dorset and Hampshire. The fracking operation is just an “add-on” to the well process in which water (with sand and some chemical additives) is pumped at high pressure into the well to liberate the gas. I have to disagree with your comments that it is unsafe and damaging. There is no evidence of this, even if one studies the detailed aspects of fracking in the US. There is always a possibility that a well may “leak” but these instances are very rare and confined to bad practice……..hence why good regulatory and inspection processes need to be in place, just as you would expect for any type of power station, mine, chemical plant, or major installation. Very few people have been killed or have suffered as a result of fracking operations. It is possible to check the statistics from the HSE and Environment Agency.
Unpopular……yes, you are probably right, but that is because of ill-informed publicity.
I will admit that there is inconvenience for locals during the well drilling……heavy traffic and carriage of the materials needed for drilling and fracking. However, this is temporary (maybe a few months) and if handled sensitively can be managed. It is a small price to pay for having energy supplies under our own UK control with no risk of being held to ransom.
I hope this helps. My own personal view is that UKIP does not derive its policies just on “anti-establishment” principles, but actually is the “Thinking Party” that does actually think through issues to derive policy and is not afraid to make these clear to the voters. With that understanding, maybe you can continue to support UKIP?