News too good to hide: Could shale gas help the climate change fight?

ed daveyOver at the aptly named Business Green, editor James Murray has always been a prime detractor of shale. No surprise then that in a new low for the selective censorship by some parts of the UK media to ignore anything that detracts from eternal negativity or “controversy”, he sidelined this commentary by Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey to a behind the paywall backwater. But he is desperate enough to place his own commentary in the clear.

BG’s self-image may be as inflated as their alleged influence, since despite JM’s attempt at a hack job with Greenpeace support on someone who after all is a mere cabinet minister and possible future leader of the LibDems, there were no comments to support his view from the alleged 7,000 subscribers of Business Green. A large one of whom is DECC, but perhaps the penny will drop and they’ll ask why should they pay for this abuse instead of spending money on renewable research. So in the interest of open democracy, I reprint the whole thing here. This should be read by anyone interested in UK energy policy and shows how “uncontroversial” shale gas actually is. I don’t think Murray is mad enough to sue me for broaching copyright of the words of a Crown official. On the other hand, one rather obvious reason for me publishing this, is that I agree with every word, and have been saying the same thing for years. Take it away Ed:

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The anti-fracking anti-social club. Caring for their community

StaffSocialClub smThe depth of public disquiet over onshore natural gas and oil in the UK is often given as a self-fulfilling reason to play down shale prospects. The interminable and inevitable description of the industry as “controversial” means predictions take on a life of their own. They may be proved correct or to come true simply as a result of behaviour caused by simply expressing them. They certainly make investors cautious and thus likely to miss an investment opportunity simply because of what they read in the papers.

It’s hard to get off this not so merry go-round, but it is useful to see some actual numbers. I’ve noted before how the Nottingham University YouGov surveys have consistently shown public support for UK shale noticeably greater than in the US. The fact that the positive story was not reported in the UK media until the numbers went down, albeit slightly, after Balcombe hit the front pages last August, speaks volumes, or is that reams, about the UK newspaper industry.

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Reconciling Priorities: The challenge for European Greens.

natural gas fieldThis may come as a jolt to environmentalists but saving the earth is a global problem. Saving the earth is about, well saving the earth. It isn’t about feeling guilty. It certainly isn’t about feeling smug or self-righteous. Saving the earth remains a particular obsession among those who live in countries who actually own a lot of the earth. There are probably very few indigenous environmental activists in sub-Saharan Africa.  

There are currently 7.2 billion people and net population growth of 140,000 people per day. Almost 20% of the planet lives in China. China is particularly interesting in energy systems through two developments. The first is air pollution. The conventional wisdom was, and often remains among western greens, that China would choke itself, making it even more vital for radical emission cuts, or simply leaving all fossil fuels in the ground. Pollution in China is now so severe that no government could possibly ignore it and it is causing immediate economic costs. At the same time, the emerging middle and upper class in China also gives rise to an environmental movement. China is moving rapidly from conspicuous consumption to considered consumption.

This means that the true global challenge is in China. According to the EIA, 22% of all CO2 comes from China coal combustion alone. This is relevant far beyond China, since it’s a key tenet of “developed world” greens that they have a moral duty to become greener than green since China has a right to develop themselves into prosperity and will inevitably need to produce more CO2. Thus, the OECD countries have to make radical carbon cuts. This despite the fact that all EU27 carbon emissions from energy production are just 2.7% of  world total.

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Ain’t nothing going on but the rent: A very boring shale gas report.

dcnr 004604An up to date report out last week from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, should reassure almost anyone about the safety of natural gas extraction, especially in rural areas.  

Unlike academic desktop studies such as from Jackson et al, this wasn’t a small scale study. The 256 page report covers water, air and wildlife in over 1000 square miles, 2,700 square Km of Pennsylvania forest. As fifteen percent of all Pennsylvania gas is produced from state forest lands this report covers far more actual gas production than any study yet completed. Europeans who deforested themselves until coal came along to save the trees, should be aware of the difference between state forests and actual national parks. Pennsylvania, as anyone who has crossed it knows, does not have a shortage of trees. Forests are managed for the public good for timber, recreation, conservation and the public commons. That also includes mineral resources beneath them.  Much is made of landowner rights to minerals as being key to the US success, but huge swathes of states is under public ownership.

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Russian gas and our money. How we can keep both and keep Putin powerless


It’s been a while since I proposed Europe’s pre-emptive strike gas option, where I said that  – at least for the short term – Russia needs our money more than we need their gas.

Three things have changed since then. Firstly, Russia hasn’t learnt any lessons: As the crisis spreads into Eastern Ukraine, Russia still thinks it can act with impunity. Another is that Russia has $2.6 billion more than when I suggested we stop buying Russian gas before they cut it off. 

Thirdly,  Europe is edging it’s way towards cutting off paying for Russian gas. That could be the best of both worlds. We get their gas and keep our money.

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IPCC: Efficiency, Green and Gas. We’re all in this together.

greeneggsThe final IPCC report on mitigation of climate change presents a milestone in the climate debate. This is the final IPCC report of three this year. The first two effectively proved that climate change is man made,actual impacts are happening and that they need to be addressed urgently. That’s useful as it meant that the IPCC arguments about climate change effectively convinced many doubters and now makes arguments of either cause or effect mostly pointless.

The full report comes out April 15, but the preview of part three, on mitigation, is the final part of the IPCC puzzle: What can we actually do about it climate change? There are countless NGO’s who describe climate change, who “raise awareness” of it and who promote any number of solutions, some workable, some fanciful. In short, they make a very good living talking about climate change. What I’ve tried to do over the past 6 years here is describe pathways that include efficiency, green (renewable) power and natural gas that then do something completely different: It solves climate change

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Shale controversy as Urban Myth

urban mythsSometime over the next few days we are promised an assessment of shale resources in the Weald Basin of the Southern UK, similar to last summer’s much delayed British Geological Survey Bowland Basin resource assessment. Word is that this may concentrate on oil resources instead of gas and once that happens, it may -or may not – galvanise the shale debate.

What the media should do, and probably won’t, is to open up a debate about the true controversy of UK shale gas and oil: Why are some groups so eager to slow it down, and what role does the media play in helping them?

“Controversial” has been the adjectival evil twin of shale gas in  the UK press. The news flow then goes to planning officers and other journalists alike. Journalists with little or no knowledge of geology, chemistry, hydrology, seismology are easily led by green organisations who know a lot about psychology. In short, they know which buttons to push. The end result is not a controversy so much as an urban myth: Everyone knows shale gas is bad even if no one can provide a concrete example of exactly why. 

Certainly, from a scientific perspective, proof of any damage is lacking. Despite multiple scientific studies from home and abroad, the overwhelming evidence points towards problems that are as minor as they are solvable. Which leaves us with the “controversy” over why it is “controversial” at all.  

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Destroying Balcombe village in order to save it

01152013 vietnam 377-200x200Various myths surrounding onshore natural gas and oil derived from shales are as nothing compared to views on energy in general and the role of renewables in particular, from those in the unreality based community.

A widely held narrative is that renewables are inevitable and/or just around the corner, so why are we bothering at all with putting more un-burnable carbon into the atmosphere? After all, if the UK produced natural gas, that would only encourage other users worldwide to use gas instead of renewables. What would happen of course is that people would either use gas instead of coal, or simply use more energy. Energy and prosperity go hand in hand. There are over 450 million Indians living off grid. This is not Nirvana to them, but a modern day version of the underworld, where several million people, often women, go to an early grave from indoor air pollution.

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Would greens rather you die than talk natural gas as pollution solution?

sign-no-idling-dsc01736This week air pollution has moved, literally, into the public eye, in London, following similar smog alerts in Paris during March, which had even led to a one day odd/even car ban.  

London air was aggravated by high dust levels from the Sahara.  I was pretty doubtful about that when I heard it on the weather forecast, but sure enough, there was an unexpected boost to the car wash industry the next day.  But air pollution is still a huge problem: last week the World Health Organisation said that air pollution is responsible for 7 million deaths each year. How many dead from fracking? Or, for that matter, will there be 250 million deaths from climate change by 2050? The answer to that, according another UN agency is nowhere near it.

Let’s recall the importance of air pollution in the history of the green narrative – and most importantly how today’s greens are desperate not to even mention the solution.

The big smog of winter 1952/53 in London provided the first impetus to ban coal powered stations in London. Apart from allowing the development years later of the Tate Modern, it also provided a template for other countries to clean up the worst power stations and gave an early push to nuclear power in the UK. Natural gas was still considered too rare to burn to produce electricity until the 1990’s.

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UK Shale Mother Lode

motherlodeAn interview out today with John Browne via Bloomberg is significant. Browne is almost a household name even in households that rarely know about energy. Former CEO of BP, he now controls Riverstone LLC, a $27 billion energy investment fund that is the largest investor in renewable resources in the world. That inconvenient truth is  overlooked by green opponents of onshore natural gas, who see shale as a threat, even when far cheaper gas in the US appears to have minimal, or even a positive impact on wind power. Cuadrilla may appear as only a side bet in the Riverstone empire, but Browne seems very confident that the Bowland is going to be, as the geologists at Cuadrilla have long stated, a globally significant resource

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