UK politics is not something I like to delve into, because although it seems terribly important to those who practice it or make a living by writing about it, in an international context it is of marginal relevance.

One key trend in UK politics is that many on the right wing of the Conservative Party want to break the coalition, and a key way of doing that is by leaking any disagreement however minor between partners to the press. The UK press did this with the Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable. But the headlines, as usual,  ignore what lies beneath. This is not the full story for example:

 The leaked letter, sent by Mr Cable to David Cameron and Nick Clegg last month, is evidence of a growing rift between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats over economic policy in the run-up to the Budget. Senior Liberal Democrats have broken with recent convention by being increasingly vocal in their demands for new taxes on expensive properties to fund greater tax breaks for low-paid workers.

 This is a five page letter, and on page 3 lies something interesting:

In recent years the oil and gas exploration industry feels it has been taken for granted, despite generatiing vast investment and supporting impressive supply chains with unexploited potential (shale gas)

I'm  not sure what that means either, but put together Cable's background in Shell and how this sentence opens the section on energy instead of being tacked on as afterthought, it sounds promising.

OK,  so Lib Dems for shale gas. That will really annoy the Guardian for one. What about  the opposition? At yesterday's Policy Exchange Labour Energy Shadow Minister Tom Greatrex echoed what he wrote here:

 It is not surprising, then, that the debate often gets heated, and positions quickly become polarised. Neither absolutist position is in our energy or environmental interests.

Generally Tom G walked the line between two sides.  I would only criticise this conventional wisdom:

Comparisons to the USA in the debate on shale gas may be tempting, but the probability is that the extractable resource in the UK is likely to be much less, and the conditions on activity much less lax. Instead, decisions in the UK should be taken on the basis of evidence, assessing the risks involved and on an informed basis.

 The shale industry in Europe constantly runs up against the wishful thinking  of (mostly) unwitting Gazprom apologists who dismiiss shale as of little consequence. The only way to disprove that theory is to drill, but it's also difficult to make most people think about shale for three reasons:

  • The suddenness of the US change sounds literally unbelievable to most people, especially given the English predisposition to see any change at all as a change for the worse.
  • People confuse sllence on resources with  absence. Even modern American shale came out of a process that is at least five years long. In the UK, apart from Cuadrilla, most players are only in year two or less of even considering shale.  
  • Those most impacted by shale clutch at any straw to belittle it's impact for self-serving reasons. Cheap shale gas may be great for the world and national economies, but it's disastrous for even the most deep pocketed:
I told Tom yesterday that the UK hyper-cautious go slow on shale development risks the UK falling behind other European countries. The UK has gone from an almost first mover status after Poland, to a position where it may find itself analogous to what may happen in New York State. After years of protesting too much, New York State finds it has probably missed its date with destiny, thanks to the success of shale over the state line. The UK's deliberate go slow in the next round of shale licenses could mean investment going to places who want to believe in shale instead of constantly looking for reasons why it won't work.
Which leads us to Conservative policy epitomised by the self serving Ofgem analysis of shale as not particularly consequential: Ignore the economic benefits of shale and full speed ahead with outdated irrelevant policy built on the past.  Who would think the party of the right as the most obstructive?

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  • You forget that the Secretary of State at DECC (and his predecessor) are Liberal Democrat MPs. It is Liberal democrat green politics which is delaying UK shale exploration.

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  • The point I was trying to make is maybe that's not so true anymore. The past was yesterday.

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  • Perhaps, but the post reads to me like an attempt to blame the Tories for decisions made by Liberal Democrat ministries.<br /><br />It manages to avoid mentioning, for example, the fact that the ministries which have been dragging their feet were (and are) run by Liberal Democrats. Frankly, I think you are placing far too much emphasis on one sentance in a five-page letter.

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  • I think the greens are paranoid about shale because it will upset their brave and expensive new world of wind turbines and solar panels. The Liberals especially will be upset by it.

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