My feelings about Brexit are obvious, but putting them aside, consider what it may mean for UK energy in general and onshore natural gas in particular.
- The essential rationale for UK onshore gas remains. The North Sea is declining fast and the only alternatives will be imports. Both Norwegian and LNG have links to oil prices and will get more expensive.
- The carbon case for UK onshore gas is as strong as ever. If it’s an error to export lost tax revenue, it’s insanity to import high carbon gas instead of intrinsically lower domestic production.Thus, on rational terms, UK onshore investment would seem rational.
- UK investments, in any field, couldn’t previously depend on productivity, a highly skilled workforce or good infrastructure. They depended on a lack of risk. Enough said.
These are not rational times. It’s ironic that Michael Gove, one of the leaders of the Leave movement said during the campaign that voters had had enough of “experts” from “Project Fear. At the same time, his ally, Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom, an otherwise eminently sensible woman whose ideas about UK shale I broadly share, consistently berates local fracking opponents (as I do) for not listening to “experts”. The pendulum needs to move back from those who voted their feelings for Brexit, sometimes honestly, often not, to rational economic and physical facts grounded in reality – in shale and everything else.
There are lessons for the left too. The Friends of the Earth, and the rest of the metropolitan elite that I am a proud member of, wanted desperately to remain. I have consistently noted the irony of Green anti-frackers setting up their vegan kitchen camp sites in alliance with local nimbys who define themselves with right wing values of selfishness wrapped up in an exaggerated, and spectacularly mis-placed ideas of their own importance. I’d wager that the Nanas of Lancashire, apart from misplaced idealists like Tina Rothery, were unanimous in voting to leave. After all, taking back control defined their movement as much as it did the Leave one.
Similarly, the right wing, as especially defined by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, have shown how literally bankrupt their plans are. They don’t have any money, and their blustering is as empty as that of right wing journalists like Boris Johnson’s or Andrew Neil ’s or anyone else’s. If they were hoping (and greens fearing) that Brexit will lead to a flood of investment in UK shale by right wing US investors, they will be disappointed. One comforting thought, a matter of fact not opinion, is that since 1400 people die every day in the UK, the influence of an organisation notable for an average age of 80 will inevitably recede
No one is going to invest much in UK shale, along with most else, until the situation becomes clearer. The industry, and investors can have some comfort from knowing that the UK’s shale resources have been there for dozens of tens of millions of years, and that this winter, like always, people will use natural gas. That may be the only sure thing we can depend on in the UK in these times.
There seem to be two essential choices, and they are no longer just yes or no. Presenting binary choices, as we have consistently seen in the shale debate, is generally a prescription for disaster. But right now it seems like certain death either way. One way, and preliminary indications are it’s working, is that shooting oneself in the head to protest creeping modern ideals from Europe, isn’t a useful option. Hara Kiri belongs on another rainy group of islands with a long history which too often smothers youth with outdated traditions and drives on the left side of road, but Japan at least has much more money, sense and better food.
The best choice, would be a particularly British one and a far slower one: Die from embarrassment. Via some form of negotiation or abnegation, we now admit this was all a terrible mistake, apologise profusely and hope others either won’t notice (a bit late perhaps) or trust that our friends, of which the UK still has plenty, won’t rub it in. Too much.