No Fracking Anywhere doesn’t help the earth. It hurts it.

Today, Ryedale Against Fracking and others are protesting in London to support the Friends of the Earth case against North Yorkshire County Council’s approval of the Third Energy project to use fracking on a twenty year old current “conventional” gas well pad.

They started with a demonstration outside chanting “No Fracking in North Yorkshire. No Fracking Anywhere

Although some protestors are evidently merely selfish,  content to displace gas production to others while happy to ignore their own consumption, there are others who see more natural gas production as part of a wider issue that makes it harmful for climate change.

One view is that as the UK is removing coal from electricity generation anyway, the arguments over gas a bridge fuel are somehow irrelevant.  Apart from ignoring how gas is over 50% of the UK power mix and  90% of heat demand, protestors don’t understand the global implications of even a UK ban on fracking.  Slogans like “Take Back Control”, “Make America Great Again”  or “No Fracking Anywhere”  sound simple but in practice deliver little else except a brief frisson of good feelings. The reality is that it’s complicated.

What is simple is that global warming has a global cause, and the number one cause is coal.

China has by far the highest CO2 emissions in the world, with more than one quarter of global emissions. Most of it comes from coal. China both produces and burns more coal than the rest of the world combined.

China coal consumption has at least reached a plateau, if not a peak.  It’s done this via an “all of the above” solution of efficiency, increasing urbanisation, nuclear, renewables and increased gas use.  Increased gas use depends on increased LNG imports from the world market.  

As the UK North Sea declines, we may see 70% or more of UK gas  imported by the 2020’s.  Whether or not the UK then decarbonises the power market, the UK will continue to import the third of gas used for heating and the third used in industry.  Both of these sectors have already made, and will continue to make, great efficiency gains.  Nevertheless, the UK will still need some gas.  Clearly  if we do use gas and don’t produce (or even explore for) any UK onshore resources, the country will have to compete in global markets.

That will inevitably put up the price of gas, which may be of little consequence to the well-off retired people of North Yorkshire. It wouldn’t be unwelcome among gas producers as far away as the US, Russia, or Qatar either. The UK is such a small consumer that it won’t have a huge impact, but since the EU is one of the three key areas of gas demand along with Asia and the USA and doesn’t have much onshore production, a UK ban would have an impact greater than it might ordinarily have.  The UK gas consumer thus punches above their weight.

Leaving gas in the ground in Europe, or anywhere, puts up the price of gas for would be energy consumers anywhere.  The price of gas is of declining importance in China as pollution concerns become more pressing.  But there are plenty of places where emerging electricity demand has two simple choices: coal or no energy at all.  One example is Sri Lanka.

“In our energy sector, LNG-generated power plants are going to be the next futuristic power generation option. In order to bridge the gap of our energy supplies, we want to move away from coal to LNG. There is a high priority being given to that”

“We have already identified two 300MW LNG-generated power plants that we plan to rollout. We are now projecting our power requirements for the next 20 to 30 years; we need to quickly move on to some energy options, which have less impact on the environment and LNG is one of those options,” Hakeem told Gulf Times on the sidelines of an investment forum hosted by Doha Bank yesterday. As a matter of policy, Hakeem said, government is now moving away from thermal power to LNG, adding that Sri Lanka’s coal-fired power plants “have created a lot of environmental issues” for the local community.

Sri Lanka has the gas option because of the low price of LNG on world markets thanks to the abundance of gas production engendered by fracking, currently 70% of US production.

This is just one example. Another could be thinking different about our backyards to help the global backyard. My  LLE project has spoken about a possible swap of UK gas production that will enable any actual UK  production to be virtually priced on Asian LNG hubs so that one South East Asian mega city can afford to build a new power plant using natural gas instead of the coal alternative they are also studying.  I won’t say more except to say that many natives of the city already help and work Londoners via our National Health Service.

Despite those who want to protect their backyard, we are in a global community. North Yorkshire may feel that they can take back control and stop that trend. No fracking anywhere doesn’t help the earth. It hurts it.

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