Articles from 2013
The day everything changed for UK (and world) shale
- Written by Nick Grealy
- Published: 09 September 2013
It’s a nice problem to have, but I find myself in complete agreement with Ed Davey’s speech at the Royal Society this morning. It’s so good that it’s hard to pick the good bits: Every bit is good. But here’s some highlights:
My message to you today is this:
UK shale gas can be developed sensibly and safely, protecting the local environment, with the right regulation.
And we can meet our wider climate change targets at the same time, with the right policies in place.
Gas, as the cleanest fossil fuel, is part of the answer to climate change, as a bridge in our transition to a green future, especially in our move away from coal.
Gas will buy us the time we need over the coming decades to get enough low carbon technology up and running so we can power the country and keep cutting emissions.
Reporters present today were trying to find some doubts, still trying to find that old “controversial” hook. It’s clear as day to anyone present that there weren’t any. Ben Jackson of the Sun, who unlike many has been positive on shale got a simple one word answer to a question he asked of Davey:
Q: Is there any difference between your position and David Cameron’s?
I had been fearful that with Davey on stage with David Kennedy of the Committee on Climate Change and Doug Parr of Greenpeace he was going to be set up. They found themselves in that position when Davey not only addressed all their concerns but went further - out into the big world parochial UK greens fear to tread. I've bigged it up. I'd hate anyone to miss it.
One of the unfortunate side effects of US shale gas production has been the dumping of US coal on international markets.
But I believe that if we can encourage a global move from coal to gas, we will be doing the planet a favour.
China has overtaken the US as the world’s biggest polluter, mainly because of the massive amounts of coal they burn.
A Chinese switch from coal to gas – as is happening in the US - will make it easier to cut global emissions in the short and medium term, as the low-carbon revolution picks up pace.
If shale gas can contribute to weaning the world off more damaging coal; then we should not fear it; from an environmental point of view we should welcome it.
That’s very significant. Davey gets what relentlessly parochial UK environmentalists have been desperately trying to ignore.
The impact of Davey’s speech will reach far beyond the UK. There will not be some mad idea that China will line up to buy UK greentech. The reputational importance of the UK and the role in can play in reassuring others about shale is not to be underestimated - even in places like the USA.
As a bridge to that future, shale gas can help the UK, and other countries, transition to the low carbon energy system that we need if we are to limit climate change.
On this crowded island, our communities matter, our environment matters.
Energy production of all types has to be safe and an accepted part of the landscape.
Exploration, development and production all need to be handled correctly.
And that is what we are doing.
Shale gas will be developed responsibly.
Britain can lead the way.
We have the skills and expertise to lead in Europe – showing others how it can be done – protecting the environment not wrecking it.
Kennedy had the look of a man who saw his business model disappearing over the horizon, but this should give him assurance:
My party at its conference next Sunday will be discussing how we can best transition to a zero carbon Britain by 2050.
One policy proposal before our party conference is that a Low Carbon Transition Fund is established from some of the tax revenues from any future shale gas production.
I think that is absolutely the right thing to do.
Finally, I don’t know how often Lib Dems invoke Margaret Thatcher as positive role model, but this closing paragraph underlines how strong Davey’s commitment to shale is:
Here at the Royal Society, in 1988, a seminal speech was made by a seminal British Prime Minister.
Even though action to tackle carbon emissions may involve up-front costs, she argued:
“I believe it to be money well and necessarily spent because the health of the economy and the health of our environment are totally dependent upon each other.”
By embracing the concept of green growth, Margaret Thatcher showed a lead not just to her party, not just to the country, but to the world.
This Coalition Government agrees.
And our approach to shale gas will meet these twin responsibilities – to the economy and to the environment.
More to come on the MacKay/Stone report. It was a pleasure to meet David MacKay at last and clear up to him that my site pre-dated his excellent book “Sustainable Energy: Without the Hot Air” and was never meant to be any sort of rebuke.
Finally, just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, look what popped through the druid’s mailbox:
There is still plenty of work to be done, but the decisions now will be different ones. We’ve won the war. Plenty of stay behind bitter enders fighting pointless battles will still try and slow things down and they will regroup. But talking to some present today, there will also be many who will now work constructively with the industry to achieve benefits for the economy and the environment. After all, everyone still needs to eat.