Shale Gas update 2013

The green spin of environmental activists has skewed the fracking debate.

Says Peter Lilley MP a member of the House of Commons Climate Change Committee 

"Do you want the good news or the bad news? Well, they are the same thing – it just depends who you are. If you are George Osborne, or in the manufacturing industry, or looking for a job in the north west of England, the good news is that Britain could be sitting on shale gas reserves far larger than we ever dreamed of. They may be on the scale that has boosted America’s economy by cutting gas prices to a third of the UK level, at the same time reviving their manufacturing industry, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and generating massive tax revenues. It could also be good news if you live locally to where the reserves are to be drilled – because Mr Osborne wants to cut your energy bills.

But if you are a Lib Dem energy minister, the same prospect is very bad news indeed. Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary, was apparently so upset by the British Geological Survey’s new estimates, which show there may be 250 times as much shale gas as previously thought, that he told them to go and redo their figures. That means a delay of several months – on top of the 18-month moratorium Mr Davey previously imposed on drilling. He is a decent and honest minister – unlike his predecessor Chris Huhne, now detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure. But if he really has asked official geologists to redo their figures, that is reprehensible.

Mr Davey has consistently talked down shale prospects and talked up its “risks”. He is not alone. Every witness appearing before the Energy Select Committee inquiry into shale gas who shared his commitment to replace fossil fuels with “carbon-free renewables” did the same. They assured us that previous reserve estimates were too high, that little of it would be recoverable, that the cost of extraction would be far higher than in America, and that planning problems would prevent its development. If those arguments were true, opponents of shale gas would have nothing to worry about. But they revealed their true motivation by arguing, with brazen inconsistency, that drilling should be discouraged because we might find too much shale gas. And then, perversely, that the temptation to use this secure, potentially cheaper energy source to create jobs, revive our manufacturing sector and generate tax revenues might tempt Britain away from the path of righteousness, which is to replace fossil fuels with windmills and solar panels.

When you hear shale gas and fracking described as “controversial” or “risky”, bear in mind that most campaigners against it are not concerned about fracking as such. Their main motive is to prevent us from exploiting fossil fuels.

That is why they grotesquely exaggerate the supposed environmental risks of fracking. They claim it will lead to contamination of the water table, “earthquakes” and methane coming out of your taps. In fact, fracking is a tried-and-tested technology which has been used since the late Forties. Hydraulic fracturing, to give fracking its full name, simply involves pumping water under great pressure into shale beds several kilometres underground until tiny fissures open up, which are then kept open by grains of sand so that the gas can flow out. Over 100,000 wells have been fracked in recent years. Not a single person has been poisoned by contaminated water, nor a single building damaged by the almost undetectable seismic tremors sometimes released. The Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering concluded unequivocally that any “health, safety and environmental risks associated with hydraulic fracturing… can be managed effectively in the UK as long as operational best practices are implemented and enforced”.