This may not be the last post at No Hot Air, but it will be close enough. Within the next few weeks I’ll be concentrating on London Local Energy, and I may or may not have a blog there.
Going through a new door is a good time to understand what has happened in the past. I’ve had a ringside seat at the greatest energy transformation since the light bulb. I’ve been here talking about shale before anyone had ever heard of Josh Fox and Gasland. I was here when the “conventional” industry said shale would never work: it was too expensive, the decline rates were too high, it was just a flash in the pan.
Then we had the activists. It wasn’t just technology and recovery rates changing so fast. In 2009, Robert F Kennedy Jr wrote how wonderful natural gas was and Bill McKibben of 350.org almost got arrested try to force Washington DC’s power company to replace a coal plant with natural gas. Environmentalists suddenly went to earthquakes, the taps on fire, the poisoned animals, the asthmatic children and the rest.
In the UK, as in so much else, we’ve been frozen in the past. The debate has barely budged since Gasland and the last Cuadrilla well. Six years (!) later the only opposition is a rag bag of eccentrics at the side of the road. Even a Guardian reporter told me in a private conversation recently that the protestors seemed hysterical to him more than anything else. Josh Fox came and burnt out in spectacular fashion on the BBC Today show last year, causing irreversible damage to his cause and more to the point, that of his proponents the Friends of the Earth. The Friends of the Earth were last seen sidling to the exit, outed now as mostly being only in it for the money. UK Greenpeace are horribly conflicted. They cling to shale opposition as the global picture of the benefits of shale become clearer, especially to the smart people of Greenpeace International who never make it to the UK media. Not that much about the F word makes it to the UK media much anymore, a sign the debate is either maturing or exhausting or simply waiting for something to happen.
What should happen is that we stop using the F word.
This is the end of the “fracking” debate. From now on, the F word should be as unacceptable as saying the more widely known four letter f word on the BBC News Channel or on the front page of the Times.
Natural gas is just natural gas, wherever it comes from. In the US, 90% of new wells are horizontal. There is nothing “controversial” about natural gas. Time to start concentrating on the product, not the process. The controversy lies in how local opponents hijacked the debate, scared the media and took some politicians with them. The controversy lies in our importing natural gas with a huge Carbon Intensity from other places.
Yesterday’s technological breakthrough resulting in abundant natural gas resources from the recent combination of horizontal drilling, sub-surface imaging and hydraulic fracturing, once called “unconventional”, is today’s mainstream. In short, shale is the new normal. Shale, on a global basis, has won.
Thats not a lurch towards the past, it’s just another innovation. Ten years ago it was unconventional to have a smart phone. The iPhone only went on sale in June 2007, a time when over 65% of telephone calls were still made from a land line. Today, over a quarter of iPhone users never even make voice calls. Twenty years ago, protests about mobile phone masts were common. Today, the same people complain over slow broadband speeds
The onshore gas revolution of the “unconventional” disrupted a lot of people. Kodak, Blockbuster and a whole slew of decades old retail names were replaced with something else thanks to smartphones. Gazprom, OPEC and the North Sea shared the same fears over “unconventional” until recently as many greens: Shale was unsustainable, it was a flash in the pan, it was too dangerous, it used too much water and so on were used as arguments to promote high natural gas prices that would allegedly destroy business models of gas dinosaurs and the emerging renewable industry alike.
The grown up Greens and the world gas industry now see it as natural gas. They may still like to pretend that it will never work in the UK, but, they’ve been wrong before. But the benefits of the lowest carbon natural gas in the world are becoming clearer.
At LLE, we’ll show how natural gas produced from under London can save the planet. We aim at the 3 million natural gas users. Someone in London installs a new or replacement natural gas heating system every 40 seconds. They deserve the chance to have the lowest carbon greenest natural gas possible, freeing our demand to make other people’s natural gas the cheaper than coal fuel for India and China. We think they’ll welcome the product, especially as LLE’s business plan depends on us industrialising industrial estates (and very few of them).
If that plan also helps the UK onshore debate everywhere else, then that’s all to the good.
Everyone loves the green brand. But Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace UK don’t own it. We’re happy to share it with them.
Here’s the first and last slides of the LLE Corporate Presentation. You’ll be seeing the rest of it in public soon. If you’re in the industry anywhere, you can have a copy now. We’ll surprise you.