It’s shale – the clean green gas of the future! (official).


Green giant?

The new wonder substance shale gas, is apparently now, according to ministers, not only bursting to get out of the ground from the solid rock within which it is currently encased at record breaking rates, but has hitherto unknown qualities as a sunrise fuel of the future. The Prime Minister himself, at the recent liaison committee meeting considered it to be ‘clean energy’ and in Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, went further in declaring it to constitute ‘green energy’. Michael Fallon the Energy Minister (who I congratulate for adding ‘Minister  for Portsmouth’ to his already bulging portfolio bag) referred to ‘shale gas …and other  renewables’ on a recent Today programme appearance, and praised it as ‘one of the cleaner fuels’ in DECC Questions today, (Thursday).

I was hoping to ask the Energy Secretary at these questions whether he agreed with the Prime Minister’s assessment of Shale as ‘green energy’ and if so would production qualify for ‘contracts for difference’ when they come in, but the session unfortunately ran out of time.

So is shale clean, green and so on? Of course not. Had the Energy minister answered an admirably succinct question from my colleague, Ian Lavery, at Energy Questions on the emissions level of shale gas instead of just saying that the Chief Scientist has undertaken a report on its emission levels, he would be under no doubt by now. For the report itself quite clearly states that shale has ‘comparable emissions to gas extracted from conventional sources’ and falls in the range, for generating purposes of 423 – 535 grams per kilowatt hour. In other words, a bit cleaner than coal but not very ‘clean’ and certainly not ‘green’.

So just a series of co-incidental  mistakes then? I wonder.  The point of it all, I think is to start to position shale somehow as a vital, low carbon component of Britain’s energy mix in the future. Because after all, as the same ministers tell us, (non-specifically), ‘gas will continue to play a major role in our energy mix over future years’ even with a continuing commitment to substantial decarbonisation of our energy supply.

True, but what does that role actually look like when you get a little more specific? Or even, dare I suggest, read DECCs own projections, which they have handily set forward in the ‘Gas strategy’ last year? Well, in DECC’s central 2030s scenario of an energy mix averaging 100g per kwh in emissions, it is projected that gas will produce 88 terra watt hours of electricity, or about 22% of all electricity generated. Substantial then, but how substantial? For comparison purposes, we might turn to current output – last year gas produced 28% of electricity, or just over 100 twh of the stuff.

So a considerable downturn on current levels of production, and incidentally, as National Grid points out, easily suppliable at that point by whatever comes from remaining UK gas fields and from gas interconnectors from Norway.

And the conclusion then is…we don’t actually need shale as any sort of replacement gas supply, and nor on DECCs own projections will there be any sort of additional demand for gas that might need to call on shale to fill. The project will therefore not as the Prime Minister mistily declares ‘supply our gas needs for over 30 years’. If we force 7% of the gas out of the rocks using thousands of wells, it will provide some gas for us to sell to others because we won’t need it for UK purposes. Or at best replace some friendly and not exactly insecure Norwegian gas coming our way.  Unless of course one dispenses with all this ‘green crap’ and plugs the UK into the high gas, high emissions scenario beloved (as I have previously reported) of the Chancellor, but requiring the UK to tear up all its climate change legislation and adherence to the carbon budgets it produces.

So it may have a role…to make a lot of money for the Chancellor in sales tax, but clean and green it isn’t and never will be, even if the Prime Minister says it is.

3 thoughts on “It’s shale – the clean green gas of the future! (official).

  1. Pingback: All out? | Post-Carbon-Living

  2. One reason to tear up climate change legislation is that it’s no longer fit for purpose and certainly not cutting any carbon. UK legislation was founded on the notion that world gas prices would inevitably go up, thus making renewables affordable. We don’t have that anymore but we do have something even better

    EU targets were also based on the idea that BRICS would inevitably burn a lot of coal to create energy during their journey to economic parity with “developed” nations. That’s no longer the case, as natural gas now provides the alternative.

    The chief obstacle is cheap coal, but that’s a by product of cheap gas in the US. The solution is global ban on coal being progressively (in both meanings of that word) introduced, enabled primarily by cheap gas worldwide. Gas won’t be cheap in Europe if the tinfoil hat brigade continue to speak science to the media.

    Think of coal as slavery: It wasn’t banned outright but the first step was a ban on the international trade in it. That’s fairly easy to do. Coal companies, or at least the ones not yet bankrupt as in much of the US could be compensated (via a carbon price), much like slaveowners often were.

    Next is compensating workers. They too can be compensated and/retrained via funds from a carbon price, or simply compensated in other ways. There are two example of this I can think of. When longshoremen (dockers) in the US and newspaper print workers , were both outmoded almost overnight via containerisation and digital technology in the two cases, the dock and newspaper owners found it made more sense to simply pay people substantial multi year compensation often for life that reflected loss of pay. That provides a good model for a world of super abundant natural gas on a global scale that we now face. Or we can pretend that the Stern Review should be carved in stone and be the new Ten Commandments: i.e that it will be forever 2006.

  3. I’m surprised that Alan Whitehead doesn’t question the claim that fracked natural gas has carbon emissions similar to conventionally- drilled gas. There are several studies that suggest that “fugitive” methane is much worse and that fracked gas could be as carbon intensive as coal.

    The second issue is that the government has told lies about the the money planned to go to local authorities and communities. Their press release of 13th January 2014 ( clearly states that local authorities would receive up to £1.7m a year in business rates for each site, which would amount to £34m over the lifetime of a typical well, plus – for “local communities” – “a further 1 per cent of revenues if shale gas is discovered. This could be worth £5 to £10 million for a typical producing site over its lifetime.”

    The clear implication here is that 1% of revenues could be £10m, or the whole well would yield £1bn! In fact, the “this” must refer to their expected TOTAL revenues, bringing the bribe to communities down to £100,000. Revenues of £10m fits better with what typical Marcellus shale wells are expected to yield, or at least estimates provided by the gas companies $4.2bn cu ft, or 42m therms and ~$25m). They have an interest in exaggerating this, though, as they have to persuade landowners, who own underground mineral rights in the USA, to give permission to drill.

    It is obvious that the business rates estimate of £1.7m per well per year is false as well, as this would far exceed total revenues from a well. Indeed, Michael Fallon seems to have realised this, as he contradicted the press release on the Today programme, referring to £1.7m per “exploratory well” (total, not “per year”).

    It’s all very unclear, deliberately so, in my opinion. The government is promoting a bubble. Something that should be investigated is whether gas companies in the USA have yet made money out of fracking, as there are claims that it is a bubble there too.

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