Articles from 2013
Global thinking on shale and CO2
- Written by Nick Grealy
- Published: 28 October 2013
October 22, while I was in China, The House of Lords Committee on Shale Gas and Energy Prices invited four climate scientists to discuss shale gas:
First up were a united, and unwavering front from the troika of shale opponents in Europe, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and WWF.
Our organisations are opposed to the development of shale gas in the UK, mainly on grounds relating to climate change, and there are two important aspects, which I would like to touch on briefly, if I may. First of all, at a global development, Dash for Gas infrastructure is incompatible with preventing the worst aspects of climate change
Interestingly, the second objection was:
our strong concern is that we are seeing signs that the exaggerated hopes linked to the exploitation of shale gas in the UK risks creating an energy policy that is excessively biased towards an increased reliance on gas infrastructure.
It has been a consistent trend among European greens that the hopes of shale gas exploitation are in reality their greatest fear. Suddenly, the noble cause of reducing global CO2 levels comes down to a question of money. A few years back, the widely held view that natural gas would not be a climate solution due to high prices resulting from an intrinsic shortage founded on Peak Oil, provided the rationale behind the high cost renewable energy. Simply put, conservation and renewables would end up being cost competitive with expensive gas. Even back then, it seemed that Greens were too insecure of their own science to use the CO2 argument.
That was then, and this is now, but the Green Troika trotted out the same old tired objections to UK shale gas that we also find prevalent in the City of London: The geology is different, we don’t have the service industry, we have too high a population density and of course the now completely discredited high methane emissions theory that even Robert Howarth himself is backing away from recently. Add all these up, and shale gas in Europe is an exaggeration and distraction, so let's forget about natural gas abundance, it isn't happening.
But luckily, since this is about GLOBAL warming, we had another view. Richard Muller, Professor of Physics at Berkeley was exactly the type of environmentalist we need, but don’t have, here in Europe. He was up next and didn’t like what he had heard.
I did enjoy that last session. I thought the questions were particularly very thoughtful and on point, and I did disagree with many of the answers I heard. I did not keep track of allof them—my piece of paper was not big enough—so I hope you will remember to ask me some of them.
But Muller pointed out what is really important.
Today’s newspaper has a story about what has happened in the last few days in the city of Harbin in China and it is horrific. The levels of air pollution there, which are attributed to the turning on of coal for heating in Harbin, are reaching a level that has now surpassed the incredible level that was in Beijing last January.
I looked up the air quality index in London this morning, it was somewhere around 25; it varies from place to place. If it gets above 50 people in the US get deeply concerned. Last January in Beijing it went above 800 and in the last couple of days in Harbin it went above 1,000. One knows how to calculate the effect of this on health—there have been some very good studies on that—and for Harbin I did the calculation this morning: we expect about 650 people to die just from one day of that air pollution in the city of Harbin.
In Beijing that day, the AQI was a mere 285, compared to 500 the previous week. People were enjoying what was otherwise a clear and sunny day since one could actually see the tops of buildings and even up to ten blocks or so away - barely.
Going to China would humble any European, green or otherwise. The immense scale of the place and the huge economic accomplishments make Europe seem almost irrelevant. I had been there only two days by that point but I already knew what Professor Muller was saying so eloquently back in London:
I believe that any environmentalist who is thinking globally must support helping China switch from coal to natural gas. That is so much bigger than anything else. Certainly I hope that the US example is serving as a strong example. I would love to see the example set in the UK also serve as an example for this. Again, if one is somewhat ideological and says we have to go as soon as possible to zero emissions, then I believe you will not find the solution.
I have to add that the US and China are storming ahead on this, making Greenpeace, WWF and FoE more marginal every day. In fact, a ban of the type the trio propose would harm CO2 by slowing down gas development world wide. Even in China, there have been scattered protests against shale in Sichuan, but are predominantly of the nimby sort or simple misunderstandings. Sinopec revealed some success in shale which I’ll post on later this week. Shale gas success in China is vital and must be promoted. The UK and China have a vested interest in this, and we'll hear of some interesting developments in this sphere over the next few weeks. Expect the shale opponents to whimper some more, but they are increasingly marginalised and doomed to failure. Unfortunately they may drag much of the rest of the progressive agenda down with their selfish interests.