complaintsThey say things often end with a whimper, not a bang, but the UK shale debate seems to be ending not with a bang, or a drought, or an earthquake, but with a whinge.

Has it really come to this? I share the big picture issues with Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth over the climate and shale, even when I think they overstate environmental concerns. But surely they must be disappointed that according to the majority of reporting on the UK Strategic Environmental Assessment of Shale, the vital big global picture is ignored by petty concerns that are literally pedestrian:

Half of Britain to be offered for shale gas drilling as fracking areas face 50 trucks passing each day.

As I told BBC Radio York earlier today, let’s have some perspective. Shale gas can contribute billions each year in UK taxes - and will do so for decades. Will someone in an NHS hospital a dozen or thirty years from now be cursing the blight of a truck passing every 15 minutes for three months back when? The concern of the Telegraph is either pathetic, petty or simply clutching at straws in a desperate effort to find “controversy”. This is what The Telegraph, a paper owned by eccentric right wing billionaires who allegedly support the Conservative party, chose to ignore. Strangely enough, it’s the same angle in The Independent (mildly interesting  Russian billionaire owners) or The Guardian (non-profit trust owners). Where is any discussion over water use, landscape impact, earthquakes, poisoned aquifers and so on? Don’t they remember telling the UK public all summer about the dangers and risks of poison, earthquake and missed climate targets? More importantly for the Guardian and Independent, where is any discussion on what they call the most significant challenge of our times, global warming? This is The Guardian in an article where the URL title of the initial story reveals the old angle they desperately wished to push, but not longer can:

But how huge?

Amec estimated 14 – 51 journeys a day for each site, which "could have an adverse impact on traffic congestion, noise or air quality".

Note we’re already down to fourteen truck journeys a day. No one complains about the several hundred truck journeys a day to dairy farms. Or Post Offices. Or Supermarkets. Or, during our annual consumption festival, shopping malls. A problem I noted to the House of Lords last month:

Q147 Lord Shipley: Could you tell us, each of you, what your views are on the environmental risks of shale gas development and what we can learn from the US experience? We touched earlier on the issues of perceived risks, but what are the risks and what do we learn from the US experience?

Nick Grealy: Number one, we have to have some kind of baseline monitoring, which we are having in the United Kingdom....I would think the main one though—I say this kind of facetiously—may be traffic. I say, “Yeah, everyone is going to be able to afford a car. Shocking. The roads are going to be packed”. That is going to be a very interesting environmental product out of it. Hopefully, they will be doing so in natural gas vehicles.

The reporting of the 174 page SEA typifies a rather desperate approach by Greens, and the media their hundreds of flunkeys advise, that having lost on every other “controversy”, it comes down to the mundane. This rather sad attempt to avoid the key question of what need we actually do about climate change reflects instead the personal status and financial challenges for the hundreds of NGOs who make a good living talking about climate change.

I'll point out some key findings, in case you missed them, but the issue here is the papers missed them, not you. These are the answers to the key issues. Because they reassure instead of raising fears over the “controversial”, green NGO’s and the stenographer/reporters who recycle their press releases, prefer to not so much accentuate the negative but ignore, as usual, the positive.

Stage 3 (production development) and Stage 4 (production, operation and maintenance) of the unconventional oil and gas exploration and production lifecycle could have significant positive effects on population under the high activity scenario

For unconventional oil and gas, no significant negative effects were identified at the national level, but as compared to the effects from the existing oil and gas sector or at the local community level, likely significant negative effects were identified in relation to the climate change and waste SEA objectives.

As compared to the UK inventory of GHG emissions, however, these emissions would be less than 0.3% of the current total.The extent to which domestic production and consumption of shale gas would in practice affect total GHG emissions in the UK is more uncertain, but the principal effect is expected to be a displacement of imported LNG, or possibly pipeline gas, and the net effect on total UK GHG emissions is likely to be small.

For the high activity scenario, annual water use could be up to 9 million cubic metres, an increase of nearly 18.5% on the approximate 48.5 million cubic metres of mains water supplied to the energy, water and waste sectors annually, but substantially less than 1% of total UK annual non domestic mains water usage

There is potential for a significant negative effect on landscape associated with onshore oil and gas activities. This principally reflects the potential landscape and visual impact of construction activities and associated machinery such as drilling rigs. However, the significance of the effect would be dependent on the distribution patterns of the exploration and production pads, the phasing of their development, the nature, quality and designations of the receiving landscape and the extent to which such landscape changes are visible to communities.

More generally, scrutiny through the planning system (and other regulatory regimes), and where relevant the imposition of appropriate planning conditions, can be assumed to ensure that these potentially significant effects will in practice not be unacceptable in the local context.

Speaking of the local context, as we see from this map, everywhere is local. 


A key lesson is we can start thinking less about the impact on the countryside and more on how we can do shale drilling in more crowded areas. With more and more efficiencies being wrung out of costs in the US every month resulting in more and more gas, the eventual above-ground footprint of onshore oil and gas will enable shale drilling to move into any area. Including mine, where, as I told BBC York, I would welcome drilling. I’ve been fielding the “Would you welcome drilling under your home?” question from the start. Is South West London prospective geologically? The BGS think so judging by this map, and US experience shows that even the most unlikely areas can produce prodigious quantities.  As usual, looking is key, but the first issue is the one most uncomfortable for the NGO's :  Abandoning outdated concepts. 

Wherever I’ve gone in the world this year, a common theme has been that the greatest barrier in the journey of translating resources into bookable reserves has been public acceptance. It’s been a long, slow slog towards that at the national, international and internet level. I hope I can do it locally in the future. Reducing my carbon footprint from aviation miles alone can only help the planet.

Both the UK SEA, and the US EIA’s Energy Outlook this week underline that the shale debate is nearing it’s end. What was once quaintly called "unconventional" gas is becoming the usual. What was once called "controversial" will soon become far less so. We need to stop arguing with those who have no wish to be convinced, and move toward the majority rational middle. The industry has fought hard to get it's famous "social license". The industry needs to be vigilant that the license won't be revoked. But most importantly, a mature, confident natural gas industry has to start doing what it hasn't had to do for years: start selling itself and this wonderful clean burning, plentiful and economic product of ours.  

It’s time to move the discussion to another level. Which means that No Hot Air has outlived it’s usefulness in it’s present form. We've been busy in the No Hot Air skunk works: New Years are as good a time for new beginnings, and here's a black and white hint of what’s coming soon:



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