rodney dangerfieldEd Davey is the Rodney Dangerfield of British shale gas. He don’t get no respect. As one of the most powerful Liberal Democrats in the cabinet, he gets an inundation of abuse from Conservative bitter enders who still don’t get the difference between getting the most seats in the 2010 election, and not actually winning the election. Being a Lib Dem and the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, the right wing narrative is one of a Brussels stooge out to destroy the shale industry. 

Therefore. any positive statements he makes on shale gas can be conveniently ignored.  

The Green narrative (no longer-left BTW), is one where he has to pay lip service to his Conservative partners, especially Chancellor Osborne. He’s secretly one of ours seems to be the message. 

Therefore. any positive statements he makes on shale gas can be conveniently ignored.

The reality is that Ed Davey has made the difficult journey from a past only recently, suddenly and unambiguously changed. Present energy reality has utterly changed. Sadly, attitudes from pros and antis in the shale debate haven't.

I’ve seen Ed Davey speak in public about shale gas several times this year. Few of his sane and reasonable words ever make it to the papers. When it comes to shale, Davey has fallen into a media black hole. Demonised by The Telegraph and Spectator as symbol of the LibDem Antichrist, he couldn’t get a kind word from them if he drilled in his back yard. I’ve also seen Conservative Energy Minister Michael Fallon, who on the pecking order is below Davey in rank, make enthusiastic, sane and sound speeches no different in tone, delivery or content from Davey’s, yet anything he says about shale is as widely cheered by the right wing press as it is roundly booed by the green media.

Fallon,is feted by the right, and held up as bête noire by Greens. Having seen them both I don’t feel there is as much as a grain of fracturing sand between their shale positions. Unfortunately, selective reporting from either side doesn’t help either the industry or the greater issue of the country. Turning the shale debate into a left/right bun fight won’t get any wells drilled or make us any the wiser over the size of the resource one way or the other. In that respect, right wing partisans of shale hinder, not help the debate.  

But the greater rhetorical collateral damage is certainly from the quasi-left Independent/Guardian side. The key message that gas is an enabler of renewables is not getting through. When I say that I get cursed as industry shill. When Richard Muller or the IEA or Daniel Yergin, for only three examples, say that renewables and gas are natural partners, the message is ignored or dismissed as not relevant in a UK context. To UK greens, any idea that global warming need global solutions misses their point that they don't admit to themselves.  Their solutions are not only profitable on a local level, but on a deeper level. It makes them feel better: more virtuous and pure. Not so much the elect as in religions of old, but today's self-selected guardians of ecological piety.

Most importantly, when Ed Davey makes any enthusiastic, and pragmatic, points about shale that challenge the extreme Greenpeace/WWF/Guardian/Monbiotian all or nothing purist view, his words are swept to oblivion under the fair trade ecologically sourced carpet of media selective editing. One can read it on the government web site, but you won’t read it anywhere else. That’ s unfortunate, because greens and UKIP types equally need to confront prejudices and to cast off outdated concepts. This selection is from the final part of a speech “Securing Britain’s Energy Future” at the University of London Energy Institute this week. The solutions he offered were as wide-ranging as the subject deserves, but this was just about the entire closing section:

EUROPEAN SHALE

A recent report from the Centre for European Reform concludes that European shale is unlikely to replicate the step change in energy costs that we have seen in the US.

The geology, economics and politics are vastly different.

But exploiting shale gas Europe-wide has the potential to contribute significantly to energy security whilst reducing dependence on imports from outside the EU, most notably from Russia.

So while European shale isn’t likely to be a silver bullet solution for energy costs in the EU anytime soon, one could imagine, in the 2020s, large scale shale gas production in Europe boosting supply sufficiently well that markets might really be impressed.

And frankly after wholesale gas price rises of 50% in the last 5 years - the key and overriding reason behind today’s high energy bills in Britain - any downward pressure that can be exerted on prices will be welcomed by consumers and industry alike.

And it will also help directly with efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from Europe.

Gas is much better for the environment than coal when generating electricity, with half the carbon footprint.

With the climate change imperative to take coal out of the mix, and with commercially viable carbon capture and storage still some way off, gas provides a bridge to the future.

Not at the expense of renewables and other low carbon energy generation, but complimentary to them.

The UK is pioneering shale gas exploration in Europe, and can show a lead on how shale can be done safely and in an environmentally friendly way.

The new Regulatory Roadmap and the independent Strategic Environmental Assessment we published yesterday show how adverse impacts can be minimised and Britain can gain from developing shale gas:

Boosting the UK’s energy security;

Contributing to economic growth;

Creating thousands of jobs;

And ploughing almost £1 billion back to local communities through benefit schemes.

And I believe that if we can encourage a global move from coal to gas, we will be doing the planet a favour.

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.

It’s a basic rhetorical concept to finish with your strongest point, the one that you most deeply believe. If Davey is indeed the secret green Santa both the right and left fear and hope, surely he would have stuck this section in the middle, or made the usual cursory passing mention he makes for CCS or the nod in the direction of free markets. You certainly don’t close with it. So it bears repeating:

And I believe that if we can encourage a global move from coal to gas, we will be doing the planet a favour.

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.

It certainly doesn’t help Davey that his predecessor was a multi-millionaire green hypocrite, but Ed seems to have a lifestyle not too much different from the more comfortable of his constituents. If I, or the boundary, moved ten meters, I’d be one of them. Instead, I have Zac Goldsmith as my MP. I’ve met Zac, and can report he is an affable, charming man who is the soul of equanimity, as indeed we would all be if we never had needed to work a day in our lives and inherited £400 million. However, we shouldn’t curse the blessed any more than the afflicted.  

Certainly we need to have a national debate about the energy resource we all own, but to start it from being truly informed instead of reinforcing our prejudices in separate bubbles.

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