Deciding – or not – to explore for the UK’s onshore natural gas and oil reserves needs informed facts.
On Saturday March 4, the LNG carrier Gallina docked at the Isle of Grain Terminal 50 miles from London.
The Gallina’s arrival is inextricably linked to the lack of UK shale gas exploration. If exploration had been allowed, and production ensued, the Gallina would not be landing the cargo.
The Gallina’s gas is very high carbon, with a 20% to 30% higher CO2 footprint across the supply chain than locally produced UK gas.
Almost all LNG, has a carbon footprint equally as bad – or even worse – than the Gallina’s cargo. The Gallina’s cargo comes from the Camisea Project, a project in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon Rain Forest. Do we really want to disturb their backyard so as to avoid an extra truck every hour for a few weeks?
There is a direct connection between the Gallina’s arrival and the inability of the UK to make a shale decision on anything other than fears of outdated concepts long disproved in the USA.
Thus the inability of the UK to access their own energy resources results in three perverse outcomes that, unlike so much of the shale debate, are based on actual facts, not vague feelings:
1. The UK is using High Carbon, Zero Revenue imported gas in direct opposition to using Low Carbon, High Revenue UK onshore resources. This is directly counter to all carbon and sustainability targets.
2. Whatever one’s feelings about Brexit, having a long supply chain cannot provide a positive outcome for any of the three energy “trilemmas” of security, cost and carbon efficiency
3. The big picture conclusion that UK onshore gas resources should be kept in the ground is thus morally indefensible. UK consumers, are being forced to displace their energy demands onto the backs of some of the planet’s most vulnerable people. The tribes of the Amazon are only one part of the collateral damage of the UK shale debate.
Foregoing our own resources places the UK consumer in competition for gas with others. When we buy other’s gas for our central heating, it prices out other buyers. Women in agricultural societies, for one example can have a life of under-educated back breaking labour gathering biomass fuel or using expensive cooking gas. The choice they have to make is directly related to the moral choices of UK consumers.
Equally, consumers in Thailand, Vietnam or the Philippines or many other markets will be unable to afford electricity generated from natural gas when rich world countries in Europe price them out of the market. They will either choose coal or not develop economically at all.
No Hot Air is sure that if people knew the of the big picture consequences of the actions taken on their behalf they would be horrified.
But if people don’t know they have a choice, because that choice is never given to them, then they are blameless. Other participants in the shale debate – government and green organisations alike – would prefer they aren’t presented with the choice.
- There are three energy revolutions running in parallel worldwide. One is a rapid rise of solar and wind resources as their costs tumble. No one had predicted this as recently as 2010
- The second is an equally rapid fall in carbon intensity world wide. For the first time in history, the link – once seen as eternal – between rising population, rising prosperity and rising energy use has disconnected
- The third is the shale revolution that has made both oil and gas abundant on a world wide basis.
Renewables, Efficiency and Natural Gas work. Natural Gas is a natural partner.
- The process some call “fracking” produces a product everyone else knows as natural gas. “Fracking” is simply today’s natural gas production method. Over 90% of US gas wells drilled since 2012 use hydraulic fracturing and horizontal wells.This is what will be done – if exploration is even countenanced – in the UK and the rest of Europe.
- Fracking was, as recently as 2009 in the US or 2013 in the UK, considered “controversial”: it’s benefits open to interpretation. What was a breakthrough the year the iPhone came out (2007) is today’s mainstream. Shale gas today is no more controversial – if far more common – than a land line telephone call.
- In 2015, the UK consumed 70 BCM of natural gas, less than the 90 BCM consumed in 2005. The average British home consumes 15% less today than even in 2009. Energy efficiency clearly works. The UK consumed the same amount of gas in 1995 and 2015. There were 8 million more people living in the UK in 2015 and the average GDP per capita doubled in the same period.
- In 2009,Pennsylvania USA produced 5 billion cubic metres of natural gas. In 2017, it will produce over 210BCM – the entire gas production of Norway AND total Russian gas exports of 2015. We don’t know the size of UK onshore resources- it is impossible to do so without exploration. But US experience demonstrates that the resources are likely very large and can be produced with minimal surface impact using today’s technology.
- Fracking is no more controversial -or unsafe – than the aviation industry. Similarly, neither enterprise can be entirely risk free and customers of both businesses understand this.
- One third of natural gas often produces over 50% of the UK’s electricity. Another third is used in industry.
- One third of UK gas is used in home heating. 91% of homes who have access to a natural gas network choose natural gas.
- According to Worcester Bosch, 1.6 million new or replacement central heating boilers are installed each year in the UK.
- Using a 50 hour week and giving installers two weeks off per year, the WB figure represents a 640 boilers per hour. In London, a central heating system is replaced every 40 seconds.
- The UK North Sea has declined from having enough gas production to supply all domestic demand and export in 2001 to 45% net production by 2015.
The question then becomes
If not here, then where?
The alternatives to UK onshore resources:
We cannot depend on low carbon (and zero revenue) Norwegian gas imports going forward. The Norwegian North Sea is only ten years behind the UK in seeing steep declines. Hard or soft, Brexit is likely to make Norwegian gas imports problematic
Norway production post 2025 will be zero revenue and higher carbon as Norway’s only option is to accelerate existing production in the Arctic.
US LNG exports come from a market where over 64% of gas is produced by fracking. US shale gas has already been exported to Spain, Portugal and Italy. We expect it to reach the UK shortly.
Alternately, we can rely on Russian exports, which this winter have also surged into Europe, and thus the UK via the Interconnectors to Bacton in Norfolk.
Russian gas is at least as carbon intense due to it’s 4000+KM journey from the Yamal Peninsula in the Siberian Arctic, and some say even more so.
So is the alternative of high carbon/zero revenue Russian gas attractive?
Actions have consequences. But not the ones climate protestors want.
Thanks to many people in the LNG industry (World Gas Intelligence, Bloomberg, Reuters) for helping me track the Gallina’s progress on it’s 26 day voyage from Peru. Perhaps sensing the controversial aspect of this, the ship didn’t put the destination on the transponder until the day it landed, which did make pitching the story to the BBC problematic. Thanks to Roger Harrabin of the BBC for being patient.