Shale gas fantasists and wind sceptics need to get real

Guy Shrubsole shows the Spectator how to do real environmental journalism. Hint: It's not the way they do it.

 

Another week, another blast of hot air from Britain’s small coterie of ‘alternative energy’ fantasists.

I’m not talking about environmentalists here – who have been advocating truly alternative energy, in the form of clean and renewable power, for decades. I’m referring to the new breed of advocates, for a very old form of fossil fuel.

They are the shale gas lobby, and the ardour with which they tout their product is matched only by the myths they tell to promote it and discredit renewables.

On Friday the Spectator published a full-length editorial in support of shale gas, which gave the impression that Britain is a land overflowing with milk, honey and shale gas, and that it’s just those pesky greens stopping us from exploiting the bounty.

The Spectator claimed that:

“Britain’s recoverable reserves are estimated at 20 trillion cubic feet, which will produce perhaps enough energy for the next 100 years.”

The quoted volume of gas is agreed upon by the US Energy Information Administration, but at current rates of gas use the UK would burn through this quantity in just 5.6 years – somewhat shy of the Spectator’s ‘shale of the century’ dream.

Meanwhile, the Spectator’s editors are deluded about the nature of the environmental crisis.

They seem to imagine that all those who care about the future of the planet yearn for less energy (“The energy-scarce world of [environmentalists’] dreams has been put off for a couple of centuries at least… There may be no energy crisis after all.”) But energy scarcity has never been the problem.

Regardless of whether world oil production has peaked or not yet, there’s no question that we have far more fossil fuels than we need to thoroughly trash the climate. The real problem is transitioning to carbon-free power fast enough to avoid climate destabilisation.

And shale gas, despite the blithe assurances of the Spectator that it is “not at odds with carbon reduction policies”, is not going to help here.

The reason why is a simple calculation. How much space is there in the UK’s remaining ‘carbon budget’ to allow for an expansion in our use of shale gas?

Let’s leave aside the highly questionable assertion made by the Spectator that shale gas has a carbon footprint half that of coal – as peer-reviewed studies and shale well monitoring strongly suggests, the methane leakage from drilling for shale scuppers its claims to be a relatively clean fuel.

But let’s assume that shale gas has the same carbon footprint as conventional gas – and as Green Alliance has carefully shown, there’s still no room for more of it in our energy mix. We already had a dash for gas in the 1990s and have pocketed most of the emissions savings that can be had from simple fuel-switching.

To cut carbon further we need to install large amounts of zero- or very low-carbon generating kit: renewables, nuclear, or power stations fitted with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).

On nuclear and CCS the Spectator is silent; but it has decided to fix its baleful eye upon renewables, and direct its ire at the cheapest, most efficient and most abundant form of renewable energy we currently have in the UK – wind power.

It complains that wind power cannot possibly match its (erroneous) claims for shale gas and provide the UK with enough power for the next century – despite the fact that the UK has more than enough wind blowing across its landscapes and over its territorial waters to make us a net exporter of electricity.

It moans that renewables are heavily subsidised, unlike shale gas exploration – omitting to mention the huge public subsidies and tax breaks that oil, coal and gas extraction receives worldwide.

Still, in fairness to the Spectator, they are not alone in spouting myths about wind.

In this they have been recently joined by Sir Simon Jenkins, chairman of the National Trust, who in an outburst yesterday stated that wind power was one of the “least efficient” forms of renewable energy.

Jenkins is showing himself to be energy illiterate: modern wind turbines are very efficient at converting gusts of wind into electrical energy. He may mean that wind power is variable – it doesn’t generate at a consistent rate – but as the National Grid has stated, dealing with large quantities of variable supply is well within the ken of modern engineering.

Jenkins’ statements come hot on the heels of a letter signed by 100 Conservative MPs calling on David Cameron to cut subsidies for onshore wind power, reduce household bills as a result, and give the cash to develop “other types of renewable energy production” instead.

In this, the honourable members showed themselves to be economically illiterate: onshore wind is the cheapest form of renewable energy around, and whilst I’m all for developing more predictable sources like tidal and wave power, they aren’t going to supply more than a fraction of our energy needs any time soon.

The economic crisis has helped to push the climate crisis down the political agenda – and rekindled fears about fuel poverty and rising energy costs.

But a sustainable and equitable solution to our energy problem isn’t going to come from the shale gas fantastists and wind sceptics. It’s going to come from investing in our nascent renewables industry and taking advantage of a natural resource we have in abundance – wind power.

And if the Spectator, Jenkins and Conservative MPs want a real villain to blame for rising energy bills, they should stop tilting at windmills, and join the growing alliance – now spanning the Daily Mail to green activists and progressive campaigners – that is calling out the profiteering of the Big Six energy companies.

Climate change sceptics and rural romantics – the Tories are a shambles on renewable energyKevin Meagher, February 7th 2012

KPMG abandons anti-wind pro-gas energy reportWillAlex Hern, February 7th 2012

Durban’s a letdown, Canada’s a dropout, and Russia’s leaking methaneAlex Hern, December 13th 2011

Tabloid attacks on green movement mean we have to raise our gameReg Platt, November 29th 2011

Britain is the world leader in wind powerChris Tarquini, January 21st 2011

31 Responses to “Shale gas fantasists and wind sceptics need to get real”

  1. Political Planet

    Shale gas fantasists and wind sceptics need to get real: Guy Shrubsole shows the Spectator how to do real enviro… //t.co/yDFoU8Yu

  2. Sarah

    @loubgray @Countrylifemag I am surprised it's not a fracking drill rig! //t.co/xZYhVuAa

  3. leftlinks

    Left Foot Forward – Shale gas fantasists and wind sceptics need to get real //t.co/6m8bQHwu

  4. Pucci D

    Shale gas fantasists and wind sceptics need to get real, writes @guyshrubsole: //t.co/I4HTGFUz

  5. Yrotitna

    Shale gas fantasists and wind sceptics need to get real, writes @guyshrubsole: //t.co/I4HTGFUz

  6. Shamik Das

    Shale gas fantasists and wind sceptics need to get real, writes @guyshrubsole: //t.co/I4HTGFUz

  7. Nick Grealy

    Lord knows where the Spectator got their figures: This is a reality check. But you won’t like it.

    Cuadrilla believe there is 200 TCF of resource in their concession in Lancashire alone. Judging by the US analogues that is likely conservative, but we’ll stick to that. They still need to drill four or five wells more to confirm what can actually be produced, but a range of 10 to 30% of resource is generally thought to be ultimately recoverable. So lets say 20% of 200. That means 1 TCF a year production for 40 years. Hate to confuse but switching to Billions of Cubic Metres, the UK used 93.6 in 2010 and imported 18.3 BCM in LNG imports, mostly to keep the Royal Family of Qatar wined and dined. We import another 30 or so BCM from Norway and Holland.
    1 TCF equals 28 BCM. That is what we can produce each year for forty years.
    Importing energy serves two purposes: Number one it keeps the lights on. I like renewables but there isn’t a soul on the planet that says that wind and solar will replace coal anytime soon. Renewables were less than 2% of UK generation last year: It’s a lovely idea, but not ready for prime time.
    Number two: Importing energy is exactly the same as exporting money. Remember there is no alternative to the Moodys/Cameron plan A of austerity as far as the eye can see. Or is there?
    28 BCM in lost imports is £6billion gained to the UK. Cuadrilla will send 61% of that straight to the Treasury. Does that sound like a subsidy to you?
    But we don’t want to give you that. The UK Unconventional Gas Group think that Cuadrilla’s contribution to gas production would only be 20% of what else is out there: Humberside, Central Scotland, South Wales, Surrey, Kent etc, etc.
    So what Left Foot Forward is proposing is closing the door on not a new North Sea, but twice the size of the North Sea production.
    How about we use that production to solve basic human needs that the Bond Market and their Cameron pals say we can’t afford? At the same time, perhaps we should use 10% of that to do research into something that might actually work instead of more nukes, “clean” coal and lots of wind turbines.
    We can use gas to EXCEED carbon targets to 2030. But they won’t meet 2050 ones. But perhaps they might if there are tech breakthroughs and we could at least get to 2030 with some money to spare, not to mention an NHS, free tuition and lots of other good stuff.
    Finally: Chemicals making up less than half of one percent of the ‘cancer causing’ mixture will be publicly revealed (as bleach, vinegar, talc, salt, guar gum (ice cream!) and artificial sweetener.
    Wells will be spaced far apart, one every ten square miles or so, and never more than tens of them at a time. After a few months, they move on, leaving something the size of a phone box.
    Water isn’t really an issue. 200 wells use, for ten years, the amount wasted in leaks each day.
    And earthquakes will be as imperceptible as they are today and just as frequent: tens of thousands happening somewhere on earth each year.

    The left has to decide: Hospitals, schools and social solidarity. Or austerity made even worse by spending on expensive energy that may or may not actually work. Get real.
    Shale is too important to be a political issue. Lawson is right about shale, but wrong on everything else. The left is right about everything else, but shooting the good news messenger of shale otherwise.

    Stop with the Spectator obsession. If shale is good enough for Barack Obama, it’s good enough for me. What’s your problem? Since when does YouTube replace science?

  8. Tipi Man

    Shale gas fantasists and wind sceptics need to get real: On nuclear and CCS the Spectator is silent; but it has … //t.co/8NZrQGNz

  9. Joe

    Shale gas fantasists and wind sceptics need to get real //t.co/dND7r6TG

  10. David Watson

    "Shale #gas fantasists and #wind sceptics need to get real‎", says political group. //t.co/DHFXrwHD ^A

  11. Me

    The left cannot choose, they are prisoners of their hatred for humanity, British humanity in particular.

  12. Mr. Sensible

    ‘Me’, what a ridiculous comment. We need a mix of renewables.

  13. Raven

    Shale gas fantasists and wind sceptics need to get real | Left Foot …: On nuclear and CCS the Spectator is sil… //t.co/2xvGW6G0

  14. sun raven

    Shale gas fantasists and wind sceptics need to get real | Left Foot …: On nuclear and CCS the Spectator is sil… //t.co/miIaek12

  15. Newsbot9

    Wind power? Oh, renewable obligation generators which are massively over-rated for the power they provide.

    Nuclear, nuclear, nuclear.

  16. Newsbot9

    Oh yes, it’s SO terrible that the UK’s economy is collapsing because of the currently government’s policy. Oh, wait, that’s a RIGHT wing government. Keep on pretending that the hatred isn’t yours for anyone not in the 1%.

  17. Mark Baxter

    Shale gas fantasists and wind sceptics need to get real: On nuclear and CCS the Spectator is silent; but it has … //t.co/8NZrQGNz

  18. Guy Shrubsole

    Belatedly, piece I wrote yday – Shale gas fantasists and wind sceptics need to get real //t.co/KkYqR4Xh

  19. if.org.uk

    Belatedly, piece I wrote yday – Shale gas fantasists and wind sceptics need to get real //t.co/KkYqR4Xh

  20. Climate Campaign

    A healthy dose of realism on shale gas from @guyshrubsole: //t.co/6tcRv7xt via @leftfootfwd

  21. Leaked documents expose multi-million dollar climate disinformation campaign | Left Foot Forward

    […] also: • Shale gas fantasists and wind sceptics need to get real – Guy Shrubsole, February 14th […]

  22. JC

    Why in an article about the UK energy policy is there a rant about the way Iran subsidises hydrocarbons? It’s not really relevant.

    I’ve said it before, and it’s worth saying again, as no-one has answered it yet. Who (as an individual) would use wind power alone. It’s breezy today where I live, but there’s no guarantee that the wind will be sufficient at all times, so we need backup power stations.

    Also, if we’re going to cover the countryside with windmills, why not build houses around them to solve the housing crisis? I mean, we’ll already have destroyed the countryside with the windmills, so a few houses won’t make a difference.

  23. Cornwall Energy

    Hard hitting critique of shale gas fantasists and wind sceptics following Spectator publication //t.co/uafkbZrx ^BR

  24. Me

    I like to picture the 1%, sitting snugly in their Chesterfields, mulling over a glass of Brandy, perhaps the multi-millionaire relations of Cameron and Clegg.

    “What’s really amazing is, not only do we make millions from those ghastly machines, but they actually get the poorest people in the country to pay us for them.”

    “Oh, the bird mincers you mean? Yes, truly amazing. Another cigar?”

  25. Glen Wilson

    Why is this propaganda rag allowed to appear in the google news section??

    //t.co/zmrDKkhk

  26. Guy Shrubsole

    Hi Nick, thanks for your comments. But some quick questions I’d like you to answer:

    – What’s your source for saying that “We can use gas to EXCEED carbon targets to 2030?”. (I presume you mean that we can somehow deploy gas and *still* almost entirely decarbonise the power sector, as the Committee on Climate Change recommends? See //downloads.theccc.org.uk.s3.amazonaws.com/4th%20Budget/4th-Budget_Chapter6.pdf)

    – Can you point me to an estimate of the UK’s shale gas reserves that *doesn’t* rely on the estimates of a shale gas drilling company looking to boost its share price? I’m aware that the UK Government is reviewing its estimate of British shale gas reserves, but it hasn’t reported yet. So unless you can point to an independent review that comes close to the 200T figure, would you acknowledge that Caudrilla’s estimates are pretty partial?

    – Could you also state whether you’ve consulted for any shale gas, or conventional oil and gas companies, in the past year?

    I’m sorry that I come across to you as obsessed with the Spectator. I just don’t think that a well-funded and influential news publication should be allowed to parrot these myths unchallenged.

    Thanks
    Guy

  27. Nick Grealy

    Guy, number one I assume that you mean to say that my financing, which is well known and admitted in the national press, means that whatever I say can be safely ignored? Everyone has to eat. I think you’d find Greenpeace have far more support from oil and gas companies than I do!
    If you can point me to any political parties, foundations, think tank supporters or eccentric millionaires who can provide a new revenue stream, it would be much appreciated.
    The CCC link didn’t work. I know that the CCC simply have never even considered the implication of replacing coal with natural gas, or at least not when I asked them a year ago. David McKay and the DECC database similarly don’t allow you to perform that basic exercise, nor does DECC allow putting in a low gas price.
    I think that both need to be done. Replacing coal in generation, should in theory, cut overall carbon by 30% or more. Throw in the cuts in carbon from more efficient dispatch of gas generation and you get a bit more. Throw in energy efficiency and you naturally get far more. Gas generation will also naturally be distributed locally in small scale gen sets: That cuts transmission losses, and of course carbon. Finally, not even considered here in the UK is the substantial benefits that natural gas vehicle can provide in the transport sector. The key in the transport sector is to concentrate on where electric vehicles simply won’t work: Trucking, buses, taxi and fleet vehicles make up 40% of transport related carbon. Creating an LNG (for heavy trucks) and CNG for other vehicles would mean the total replacement of diesel fuel by 25% lower carbon and clean burning natural gas. Very cheaply done as well, with the trucking sector needing only 50 filling stations to cover all of Britain. The 50% lower cost of fuel will keep truckers happy too. Oops, I forgot about how LNG can also replace bunker fuel in marine shipping. Add all this together and 2030 isn’t a scary place. Carbon wise it will be hardly different from the renewable/nuke/CCS scenario with three important differences a) it may actually work b) it’s far cheaper and c) it doesn’t literally bury captured carbon or nuclear waste to poison the earth a couple of hundred years off in the future.

    The question of UK reserves means drawing analogies from international shale. The UK is now where the US was four to five years ago and Argentina and Australia were as little as a year ago. At that time, the expert opinion said the resources of shale gas were minimal and not worth the effort. Then using new technology everything changed overnight and suddenly all three countries have shale reserves 40 to 50 times previous estimates. Focusing on the UK’s “official figures” of 150 BCM is not relevant.
    Your dismissal of Cuadrilla’s figures as mere stock ramping don’t measure up. Firstly Cuadrilla is a privately held company. Second, public companies can’t make egregious statements without something to back it up. My understanding of Cuadrilla (and Tamboran’s in NI and Ireland) is that they wished to influence the debate to point to the potential benefits in an environment where the only thing going on in the press was taps on fire, earthquakes, Dick Cheney forcing chemicals down your throat etc etc.

    I would point you to the published statements of the British Geological Survey since I of course am suspect:

    //www.businessweek.com/news/2012-01-12/u-k-shale-drilling-won-t-start-dangerous-earthquakes.html
    The U.K. could have more shale gas the previously thought, Stephenson said. The British Geological Survey is reviewing its estimates for U.K. onshore shale gas resources. The survey originally estimated that there is about 150 billion cubic meters of shale gas onshore, compared with about 300 billion cubic meters of conventional gas resources.

    Cuadrilla Resources Ltd. says it’s found more natural gas trapped in the shale rock around Blackpool in northwest England than Iraq has in its entire reserves.

    “There is much more shale than we thought under Blackpool,” the British Geological Survey’s Stephenson said at the briefing, adding more research remains to be done on the impact of fracking.

    Or is he a fantasist too?

  28. Nick Grealy

    I tried replying before, it either got lost through my IT incompetence or yours. Life is too short to do it again.

    But here is something from a dangerous shale gas fantasist, hope you don’t throw this baby out with the bathwater simply because I told you:

    //www.businessweek.com/news/2012-01-12/u-k-shale-drilling-won-t-start-dangerous-earthquakes.html

    The U.K. could have more shale gas the previously thought, Stephenson said. The British Geological Survey is reviewing its estimates for U.K. onshore shale gas resources. The survey originally estimated that there is about 150 billion cubic meters of shale gas onshore, compared with about 300 billion cubic meters of conventional gas resources.

    “There is much more shale than we thought under Blackpool,” the British Geological Survey’s Stephenson said at the briefing,

  29. Andrew Gillett

    Shale gas fantasists and wind sceptics need to get real //t.co/4rCpMH4N

  30. Is Kevin Rudd the comeback kid? | Left Foot Forward

    […] also: • Shale gas fantasists and wind sceptics need to get real – Guy Shrubsole, February 14th […]

  31. The new dash for gas is utter folly | Left Foot Forward

    […] high fuel bills on green taxes – when spiralling gas prices have been to blame – and beguiling but also misguided whispers of a domestic shale gas bonanza, the government seems to have been bought off by special […]

Leave a Reply