No Deathbed Conversion: My view on onshore UK gas

August is the traditional peak of the silly season when the UK media uses any number of tenuous, out dated or too often, simply bored attempts to feed the maw of the media machinery. With audience and grown ups away, the field is opened up to a new crop of writers misguided enough to still see some romance in the formerly noble métier of journalism.  Many of them are “interns”, or what anyone in most jobs recognise as “slaves”, but the alleged riches of “making a difference” drag them in every summer.Controversy rules in UK journalism, a fact  especially relevant to shale back in 2013, the Summer of Balcombe.  Who needed facts when emotions are much more fun? Who needs analysis when one line Tweets are allegedly what the audience wants? No matter if much of that theory exploded in the UK at the General Election of 2017.  The “narrative”, i.e. a high-falutin story, was how the power of the right wing press would ensure a May victory.  The fact that it didn’t exposed how  Paper Tiger myths of the right are equally likely to implode as extreme left ones.

One day someone will describe the parabola that started out with Birthers, moved to the Tea Party, transposed to the Green Tea Party tendency of Josh Fox in the US, hopped over to Friends of the Earth UK, was mirrored by the non-debate (but so balanced!) on Brexit finally boomeranging to give the world Trump.  Facts not required on voyage. After all, as Michael Gove , the man who turned newspaper op-eds into election results told us, people are tired of experts.

Despite two developments which were in fact true “shock and awe” moments for UK shale/onshore/fracking, the big story measured in column inches this past August was a new variation of the the old anti-favourite, let’s not even bother and call the whole thing off.

This was the story, repeated and repeated during August, making the silly season especially absurd. It’s a particularly English thing, to give up before trying:

Fracking for oil and gas in the UK may produce much less fuel – and profits – than has been mooted, according to research based on seismic imaging of the country’s underlying geology.

Most of the areas in which deposits of onshore “unconventional” gas and oil are likely to be found were affected by tectonic activity along the Atlantic plate about 55m years ago.

The important event was the Great Flummox where Cuadrilla moved their drill rig onto site the night of August 21. The story of how a militarily precise movement, crossing several countries and borders completely out Foxed, not only the laughable Protectors of Lancashire , but the allegedly massed campaigners of Reclaim the Power should be more widely told. The combination of diffidence on Cuadrilla’s part and embarrassment from the utter failure of the protestors ensures that we won’t hear the story anytime soon, but no matter. What matters is the result.  As we come to the tenth (!) year of UK shale, this event was one of the key highlights, soon to supplanted not only by facts on the ground, but facts from underneath it.

Another key event was Ineos Shale injunction against protestors, one of the most important steps against opposition. The fact it was barely reported except where it counts at the FT, may show it’s already having an impact.

Ineos has won a High Court injunction against unlawful protests at its UK shale gas sites in an escalation of the industry’s battle with anti-fracking activists. The ruling will put protesters in contempt of court if they cause any obstruction to Ineos shale operations, increasing the powers of police and the judicial system to clamp down on lawbreaking by demonstrators. Ineos said it was the most wide-ranging injunction of its kind secured by the shale industry and the first issued pre-emptively before a company had planning permission to start drilling.

It’s been one long haul, one far more lengthy than I ever expected, to predict the results. I feel in my bones, and from a far wider range of experts than Professor Underhill, that there is a 90% chance that UK onshore will provide the game changing combination of geography and geology that will ripple out from the UK towards the rest of Europe and into world gas markets. By the way, the Professor’s credentials are neither to be automatically  dismissed – or accepted.  It’s just that from day one in UK shale, the case for UK onshore gas  has most often been dismissed. It’s simply prudent, good risk mitigation or due diligence to look at both sides. An alternative view  would provide an unalloyed dose of good news that even Jeremiahs in UK media will not be able to ignore.

I base my case  on science, not emotions.  It’s also based on the majority of scientific opinion, not the cherry picking that would, and should, be denied if it came from climate change “deniers”. I’m hopeful to be proved right, but the entire shale story has been one where the impossible happened, blindsiding everyone.

But I have other news, equally rooted in reality, that is my problem not yours. 

However optimistic and thankful for my advantages that I am, there is another 90% solution possible, one equally based on science

I may well not live to see the ultimate success of shale gas. Even one  within the next three to six months.  

My personal case should be basically irrelevant to the shale debate, but in a world where charlatans are given great credence, I can’t resist pointing out to the Mike Hill and Ian R Cranes of the world, they they too may suddenly discover a faith in the majority expert opinion. Sometimes, experts are right and no amount of good feelings can alter cellular functions any more that they do about geology.  I hope that is a problem they never need to face.  

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