Why I’m not in Balcombe

I’m not participating in the Balcombe circus. The shale gas debate is not helped by those who have made it abundantly clear that they aren’t even interested in a debate. This will soon become clear to the residents of Balcombe.

It’s a shame that allegedly intelligent people in the UK environmental movement are either actively against shale as just another carbon fuel, or studiously ignore it as they sit on the fence and wait and see which way the wind blows – or not.

Then, there are those like Geoffrey Lean in the Telegraph, who have this bizarre sylvan fantasy of a Hobbit infested Middle Earth England, but more often there are lazy journalists who just follow the meme. 

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Oil not gas in Balcombe, Sussex and beyond

I was trying  to make a point about oil on a debate Saturday morning on Sky News with the charming Fiona Brookes of Campaign Against Climate Change.  We had an interesting conversation in the Green Room but when it came to airtime, a 15 minute debate was hijacked at five minutes by a jumped up little twerp member of the 1% who only has his position thanks to a rich moms and pops. For once, it wasn’t Josh Fox, but Kim Jong-un, another personality (cult) who gets more coverage than shale due to a talent for wearing silly costumes.

Sky had warned us that their scoop of live pictures from North Korea would take precedence, so I’ll have to continue from the point where the Dear Leader butted in.  

The Balcombe protests by the way, are going exactly the way those who practice the black arts of PR intended, i.e. the debate moves away from the Geoffrey Lean and Greenpeace fantasy of a genteel cricket match fracking uprising, to the reality that Swampy and their Gang are not some part of a bizzare Anarchist/Nimby Black Flag/True Blue coalition but are rapidly becoming the neighbours from hell:

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One Gas Gala and a Picnic: Balcombe and Dimock

Let’s compare the Great Gas Gala in Balcombe with the Cabot Annual Gas Picnic in Susquehanna Pennslyvania

As Upstream put it about Balcombe

The company is said to be bemused at why a ‘Great Gas Gala’ protest is being staged at a conventional oil prospect.

The gas v oil question was widely misreported by just about everyone, apart from the Guardian and the BBC. What hope can the industry have when something as basic as that can’t be gotten across? This correction was the first thing I told Channel 4 News in London yesterday, and they seemed surprised, as they had been hearing about gas fracking all day down at the site. I didn’t go, because it seemed inconsistent for outside people to be protesting about disrupting the local area by ….disrupting the local area. In the interests of balance I did get about fifteen seconds of air time, most likely  due to my inability to wear a funny costume or play a musical instrument.

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Can Shale Safely Host Nuclear Waste?

Interesting research from scientists at the US Geophysical Union, raises a number of issues for shale in general.

About 70,000 metric tons of SNF (Spent Nuclear Fuel are now in pool or dry cask storage at 75 sites across the United States [Government Accountability Office, 2012], and uncertainty about its fate is hobbling future development of nuclear power, increasing costs for utilities, and creating a liability for American taxpayers 

Let’s remember, the fear, especially in France, is that chemicals, such as they are, in shale gas fluid miles underground can eventually migrate towards the water aquifers, which are never more than a few hundred feet below the surface.

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How “controversial” is shale gas exactly?

How “controversial” is shale gas exactly? Even last week at Shale Gas 2013 Making it Happen, many speakers spoke about alleged “mistakes” of shale gas in the US. But none provided much proof more than there may be a few extra trucks on the road.

Over the Channel on the other hand, President Hollande will tell you about damage to water caused by shale gas as he did on Bastille Day.

François Hollande a réaffirmé sa position sur le gaz de schiste. Il a rappelé les risques sur les nappes phréatiques.

Francois Hollande has reiterated his position on shale gas. He recalled the risks over groundwater.

But, as I’ve noted before, the actual incidence of damages caused in the US by shale gas is almost urban myth than reality.

Time to have a reality check on the biggest objection of all to natural gas, the alleged contamination of water.This is a description of the issue in Susquehanna County Pennsylvania from back when:

Two facts about Dimock, Susquehanna County are indisputable:

    • Heavy concentrations of methane contaminated the drinking water of several dozen families.
    • The town has become “ground zero” in the battle over whether or not hydraulic fracturing is safe.

After that, things get a bit murky.

But things should become crystal clear thanks to a peer-reviewed report in the scientific journal Groundwater: Evaluation of Methane Sources in Groundwater in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

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The new reality of UK shale gas

Shale gas in the UK has a myriad of complications, but last week saw yet another key myth about shale gas bite the dust.

To my mind, a key misunderstanding by UK Greens has been to see UK shale gas operating in a vacuum.  Despite their alleged concentration on the global problem of climate change,  their argument has been to concentrate on the narrow issue of UK climate targets and to insist that on the rest of the planet,  gas and oil prices would invariably move upward. This concentration on the domestic instead of the global makes the UK Independence Party look positively internationalist and cosmopolitian. Greens and UKIP are further united in refusing to see how vital the role of the EU has been in moving along discussion of shale gas.

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What could shale gas do for UK prices?

The issue of what impact UK shale gas would have on energy prices should be fairly straightforward but the reality is entirely unclear. The Original Sin of UK energy, is the complete lack of transparency consumers face in domestic utility bills.

On that front, I’ve pointed out in the past how easy the solution is: Make UK domestic consumers bills as transparent as they have been to business consumers who choose market based prices. You can read more on the complex subject with the easy answer in my post of last year, What’s wrong with UK  with UK energy prices – and how to fix them.

Even in the dying days of the Buchanan era at Ofgem, progress was being made, and we can hope that the new regime will complete that work so UK consumers will ultimately get billing as straight forward as US ones. It’s not rocket science. It’s not  “controversial”. Clear customer information should be a bill payer’s  – and voters’ – right. An example is how default customer bills appear at the UK National Grid’s New York retail arm.

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Fracking and earthquakes. Behind the headlines

This is from Energy in Depth, the US shale advocates who for some bizarre reason make access to their site from outside the US and Canada, incredibly difficult. Their European site, Shale Gas Europe has yet to pick up on the story either

Given the importance of the earthquake issue in the UK, and the point-blank refusal of both the The Daily Mail (who allegedly support both shale and the Conservative Party) and The Guardian, an excellent paper that has a blind spot about the environment, to correct their stories, I think the EiD rebuttal needs a wider audience Similar stories via AFP in The Sydney Morning Herald and beyond.

By the way, UK based Carbon Brief, certainly not a bunch of frack-heads note:

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CCS reality check

Despite what some may think, being a shale enthusiast doesn’t make me dismissive of any competitors in power generation. Unlike the ‘all carbon fuels are evil’ school of some green groups, such as the Fiends about the Earth, (thanks to auto correct on Twitter for that uncannily accurate description) I don’t dismiss any actual- or theoretical- power sources out of hand. Over the years, I will admit to consistently describing Carbon Capture and Storage as a Completely Crackpot Scheme, despite my respect for scientists like the BGS’s Mike Stephenson,James Verdon of the University of Bristol and Ivan Pearson of Bellona, enthusiasts of both shale and CCS.

I have a number of problems with CCS. So do people with money:

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Expensive gas kills wind in Germany

In the very crowded field of unintended outcomes of EU energy policy,  what is happening in Germany this year would be hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic:

Coal-fired power plants contributed 52% of Germany’s first-half electricity demand as output from natural gas-fired power plants and wind turbines fell, research organization Fraunhofer Institute (ISE) said.

Coal plants increased production by about 5% to 130.3 TWh in the first six months of 2013 as output from gas-fired power plants fell 17% to 21.9 TWh, said ISE, which collated data from Germany’s statistical office and the EEX transparency platform.

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