moral-high-ground-sizedJudging from past experience,  the presence of Greenpeace’s Doug Parr and Friends of the Earth’s Tony Bosworth at Shale Gas World in Birmingham this week may not change much. Both are of the leave UK shale gas in the ground school, but at least they show up.

On past form, they rarely stay. They don’t seem curious.Their minds are made up, and most importantly, were years ago. They’ll ignore the reports of shale success, and the report of the reality behind the “controversy” and get back on the train after repeating their outdated mantra of efficiency and green providing the only way forward.

But something has changed recently. We certainly won’t hear it from either them or most of the mainstream media. Let’s recall that Greenpeace and FoE dominate the climate debate in the UK by simple force of numbers, and that’s not only their members. There are countless green “campaigners” who put out acres of press releases to promote their view. Their view is allegedly that the only way forward is a carbon free future, with shale's place being as they put it, “not here, not anywhere, not ever”.

So it’s important for the gas industry to hear the good news that Doug and Tony don’t want to share.That news is contained in the most recent IPCC report

First, who are the IPCC exactly:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the international body for assessing the science related to climate change. The IPCC was set up in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to provide policymakers with regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation.

IPCC assessments are written by hundreds of leading scientists who volunteer their time and expertise as Coordinating Lead Authors and Lead Authors of the reports. They enlist hundreds of other experts as Contributing Authors to provide complementary expertise in specific areas.

In short, the IPCC, not Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth, are the gatekeepers and reporters of the current state of climate change science. To Doug and Tony, who love to talk about carbon but can’t show any meaningful carbon mitigation results from their efforts, the high point of their careers was 2008 and the passage of the UK Climate Change Act. Much of that report was based on IPCC report AR4 from 2006. But as the IPCC report Chapter 1 shows us (but Greenpeace and FoE won’t), things have changed:

Sustained high prices have encouraged a series of technological innovations that have created the possibility of large new supplies from unconventional resources (e.g., oil sands, shale oil, extra‐heavy oil, deep gas, coal bed methane (CBM), shale gas, gas hydrates). By some estimates, these unconventional oil and gas sources have pushed the ‘peak’ out to the second half of the 21st century (GEA, 2012), and they are a reminder that ‘peak’ is not a static concept. These unconventional sources have raised a number of important questions and challenges, such as their high capital intensity, high energy intensity (and cost), large demands on other resources such as water for production and other potential environmental consequences. Consequently, there are many contrasting viewpoints about the future of these unconventional resources (e.g., Hirsch et al., 2006; Smil, 2011; IEA, 2012a; Jordaan, 2012; Rogner et al., 2012).

The importance of these new resources is underscored by the rapid rise of unconventional shale gas supplies in North America – a technology that had barely any impact on gas supplies at the time that the AR4 report was being finalized in 2006, but that by 2010 accounted for one‐fifth of North American gas supply with exploratory drilling elsewhere in the world now under way. This potential for large new gas supplies—not only from shale gas but also coal‐bed methane, deep gas, and other sources—could lower emissions where gas competes with coal if gas losses and additional energy requirements for the fracturing process can be kept relatively small. (A modern gas‐fired power plant emits about half the CO2 per unit of electricity than a comparable coal‐fired unit.) In the United States, 49% of net electricity generation came from coal in 2006; by 2011 that share had declined to 43% and by 2012 that share had declined to 37% and could decline further as tradition coal plants face new environmental regulations as well as the competition from inexpensive natural gas (EIA, 2013a; b; d). Worldwide, however, most baseline projections still envision robust growth in the utilization of coal, which already is one of the fastest growing fuels with total consumption rising 50% between 2000 and 2010 (IEA, 2011a). The future of coal hinges, in particular, on large emerging economies such as China and India as well as the diffusion of technologies that allow coal combustion with lower emissions (GEA, 2012).

Greenpeace and FoE don’t write press releases about this so you won’t hear the IPCC realism in the Guardian, Independent or Business Green or among the many smaller overworked, underpaid and job insecure media. Whatever happened to Louise Gray of the Telegraph, or Fiona Harvey of the Guardian for example, two green journalists consistently anti shale? They are gone, and probably scratching around looking for a gig in the green commentariat. Damian Kahya made the seamless transition from real journalism at the BBC to being big green cheese at Greenpeace press office provides a role model. Interrupting the narrative by pointing out that green technology isn’t making any meaningful contribution to the fight against CO2 is not going to get your CV noticed in a “green communications” role once the axe falls at even the largest media outlets. UK press circulation has collapsed. People may sit around in the “Tomorrow’s Papers” shows on Sky or BBC New Channel every evening as if the industry is still important, but’s worth pointing out that the Independent now has a circulation of less than 100,000 and the Telegraph has dropped from over a million to half of that this century as it’s readership collapses due to natural wastage.

The debate on climate belongs to the Greenpeace/FoE/WWF troika by default.Their views ripple out to the hundreds of smaller “sustainablilty officer” jobs in local governments, NHS Trusts, specialised media and NGO’s. There’ll be examples of them at Shale World as well, the National Trust and CPRE being only two examples. Read the Guardian and you won’t hear what the IPCC said in AR5 unless you read the whole thing yourself. Even then, it will be glossed over where it isn’t ignored entirely. That means any narrative where natural gas is presented as anything other than just another fossil fuel impeding renewable development simply doesn't get through because it's professional suicide to say otherwise.

It’s important for the gas industry to understand both how the narrative is changing within the academics at the IPCC and how it isn’t among the “media professionals” and the base in Greenpeace (budget $260M) and FoE.  

Big Green have a vested interest in pretending that they alone are the guardians of the earth, instead of possessors of keys to bank accounts. They have resources far greater than the UK shale industry and are desperate to use them to edit out any positive news for shale gas.

It’s time for the gas industry to start realising that they now possess the moral high ground in the climate fight. The gas industry says that efficiency, green and gas are the way forward. For some strange reason, the older generation of green ultras continue to repeat the same actions expecting different outcomes, Einstein’s classic definition of insanity. We need to support a new generation of green pragmatists who follow, like the IPCC, science as well as emotion.

Next week, we’ll have European elections. The Green Parties of Europe have made a deliberate choice to equate natural gas as just another fossil fuel in their campaigns. It will be interesting to see how successful, or not, that message is. Newspapers are important to politicians but at the end of the day, so are votes

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  • John Page

    Just a detail, but the unmourned Louise was (latterly anyway) at The telegraph.

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  • Nick Grealy

    Your right of course, I was think of Fiona Harvey who had been at the FT before she jumped to the other side of capital.

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  • Striebs

    The coalition has had to spend the past 3 years trying to undo the damage it did to UK shale by trying to strangle it .<br /><br />Finally the delayed 14th onshore licensing round is supposedly imminent .<br /><br />Now Tom Greatrex sends out a message that if anyone is thinking of investing their money , efforts and careers in UK shale , even if they beat the geological odds they won't be allowed to make any money at it .<br /><br />I know we are in silly season leading up to the General Election but this strikes me as irresponsible ,<br /><br />The uncertaintly and failure of officials to appreciate the R&D element reduces the likelyhood that the industry will ever reach the stage of paying taxes .<br /><br />Greatrex can't make up his mind . First he says shale is overhyped and then he says he wants to tax it harder .

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