Articles from 2012
Why do French Leaders have more balls than British ones?
- Written by Nick Grealy
- Published: 11 November 2012
Opposition to shale in Europe comes not only from Greens, although they have massive influence in the environment press where the debate in the UK has taken place. More insidiously, opposition comes from those with the real money to lose. This isn't only about renewables. Nuclear, CCS, Smart Grid and a host of others see their business plans sailing over the horizon sunk by the new gas reality. That's why we see so much opposition to European shale gas in business pages such as here at the FT, where we saw another example this past week. The FT is mad for shale in the US, China Argentina and Australia, but goes out of their way to deny anything except inconsequential prospects in Europe:
One factor restraining shale gas growth in central and eastern Europe is the spread of restrictions on “fracking” – injecting water, sand and chemicals at high pressure into shale to open fractures that release gas – across the continent. That reflects concerns that it can cause environmental damage, such as pollution of groundwater. Such concerns have become a bigger issue in Europe than in the US because of greater population density and more powerful environmental lobbies.
A moratorium imposed by France in 2011 has been followed by others in Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia (where the country’s most promising reserves are situated), and Bulgaria. The Czech environment ministry has also proposed a temporary fracking ban until 2014, to allow time to develop new legislation to regulate the technology.
Everybody knows France has banned shale gas. Haven't they? Technically the ban in France of using hydraulic fracturing dating from July 2011 still stands. President Hollande, although he made encouraging mention of the need not to reject shale during the presidential campaign itself, now finds himself in a curious position. To propose that the debate shouldn't be closed during the campaign was brave, where conventional wisdom was that it was the third rail of French politics.
But now he has won, he has said the ban will continue. Curiously, this is after the presidential and subsequent legislative elections where his coalition partners EELV managed only 2.95% of the vote for 17 seats. The EELV is similar to other European Green parties, including the UK, where they can get out the vote for low turnout European elections , yet fail miserably at the national level where turnout is very high. The reality for France is that the Socialists' can push the EELV out and still rule without them. The EELV threaten to leave if the ban on shale gas is overturned. But at 17 seats and less than 3% of the vote, it's a mystery as to why Hollande needs them on board. Especially, as this slide from an upcoming presentation I'm making in Oxford next week makes clear, there is actually a very broad range of support for shale gas in France:
Excluding Hollande and the Greens, French support for shale gas is far wider than support in the UK. M. de Villepin, let's recall was the French Foreign Minister who prevented Bush and Blair from invading Iraq under a UN mandate. He may have been the original "fromage eating surrender monkey", but a) he was from the right of French politics and b) he went on to be Prime Minister. Unlike in the UK, where what little public support for shale comes from the right wing of the Conservative Party, French support for shale is far broader. An example is how former Socialist Prime Minister Michel Rocard told Le Monde only this weekend that France was blessed by God in shale gas and it could make France more important than Qatar.
Similarly we have Laurence Parisot of the bosses allied with former Communist Bernard Thibault and the workers in the CGT. Michel Alberganti is a French analogue to Roger Harrabiin, Environment Correspondent of the BBC and Louis Gallois has actually achieved industrially what alleged British success stories as Branson and Sugar can only dream about.
Only today we have Jean-François Copé, secretary general of former President Sarkozy's UMP party and candidate to lead it as his successor telling Europe 1 TV/Radio that it was a shame that Hollande was a prisoner of the Green's borne out of the coalition agreement, and that we know that their support among the country is not very important. Unlike the Tories in the UK, the Socialist Party can comfortably give the EELV the heave ho if push comes to shove about shale gas. Surprisingly, Hollande is giving only his first news conference this Tuesday. Given the broad support for shale gas that is developing, as the French economy simply gets worse, it's only a matter of time before the Greens get blindsided by reality. But if the LibDems are smart, they won't make shale a deal breaker in the the UK. What is most discouraging in this country is the silence of Labour on this issue. So what if Posh Boys like Damian Carrington and George Monbiot and the other eco-Oxbridge crowd wrap themselves up in green? They and their class are acting in their selfish interests against the interests of the 99%. It's time Labour stopped defending them.
It particularly drives me up the wall that the Confederation of British Industry, the UK's version of MEDEF, works against the interests of the vast majority of their members by actively lobbying against shale gas:
Too much gas would bust our carbon budgets. But even if you forgot about carbon momentarily, look at European gas price projections. They all disagree on the number, but they all agree on the direction – up. European shale will help, but not on a US scale. Imports from the US will need to factor in liquefaction and transportation costs, and demand from the BRICs is set to increase."
He added that, as a result, the government should continue to pursue plans for a more balanced low-carbon energy mix. "We need to build more of everything," he said, "to meet our carbon targets, and to hedge against gas price risk."
Here in the UK, as Peter Atherton, former head of European Utilities at Citigroup noted at Responsible Shale this week, there is almost unanimous continuing support of the expensive and insecure gas view throughout the UK energy establishment. My views on gas prices can be found here at the Energy and Climate Change Committee where I note one important ally:
Professor Dieter Helm notes in his book "The Carbon Crunch" (Yale University Press October 2012) "It is just wishful thinking that we well be forced to decarbonize because we run out of fossil fuels, and more immediately, somewhat irresponsible to assume that oil and gas prices will go ever upwards"
By the way, Business Green and the Guardian seem slow to republish my post of last week on UK Green's Great Tragedy. Why are they so scared of debate? I am glad to say that the Christian Science Monitor has more of an open mind and you can find it republished there.
The world is on the cusp of dramatic reductions in greenhouse gases if China replaces coal power with shale gas. But Greens are fighting the technology to do that.