Gift Horse Under Scrutiny

by Andrew Stuttaford

As Obama prepares to subject America to even more environmentalist command-and-control, Bjorn Lomborg (someone, incidentally, who takes the phenomenon of AGW seriously) notes this news from the UK:

The British Geological Survey this week announced possibly the world’s largest shale gas field in mid-England. By itself, it increases the global estimated shale gas by more than 18 percent. At the same time, the UK is pushing to get the most of their green energy from off-shore wind turbines by 2020, which will now cost more than even solar power in subsidies. There seems to be a lack of sense of proportion. UK shale gas could dramatically lower European and global CO₂ emissions. Instead they focus on subsidizing a still very inefficient and unreliable energy source.

But congratulations to the UK, this find could be big. It could be bigger economically than the North Sea Oil. And it is likely that there is much more shale gas: Nigel Smith from the British Geological Survey estimate that there could be 5-10 times more shale gas off-shore than on-shore in the UK. This undercuts the core argument for many inefficient renewable projects: that they will pay off because fossil fuel prices will increase dramatically. Instead the shale gas revolution seems to continue to reduce the fossil fuel cost.

It is also good news for tackling global warming. We will in the short run dramatically switch to cleaner gas. And it emphasizes that the only way to tackle global warming in the long run is to innovate green energy costs down.

There is an argument to be made that the extent of the UK’s possible shale bonanza has been overstated, but even so this is good news. Or at least it should be, but when it comes to the question of energy every banquet these days comes with a Banquo.

The Daily Mail reports:

Green pressure group Friends of the Earth is preparing a bitter legal battle to try to block Britain’s trillion-pound shale gas bonanza. It wants to prevent any exploitation of this vast new reserve of cheap, clean energy forever and is already fighting to stop all exploratory test drilling.

But an investigation by The Mail on Sunday suggests that the group’s campaign is based on alarmism, spreading highly misleading claims about shale gas’s supposed dangers. Last week the organisation issued an ‘action guide’ for activists, advising them how to stop shale gas extraction – known as ‘fracking’ – by manipulating the planning system.

It leaves no doubt as to its purpose: ‘The ultimate aim of our fracking campaign is that we stop it!’

Helen Rimmer, its North West England staff campaigner, said: ‘It’s a fossil fuel that we don’t need. It would be better to keep it in the ground.’

Instead, she said, Britain should invest only in renewables, such as wind turbines. Underlying the FoE campaign is its obsession with global warming – despite a modern, gas-fuelled power plant emitting less than half the carbon dioxide of a coal plant. 

‘We need to consider the climate impact,’ Ms Rimmer said. ‘We think fracking is incompatible with our carbon targets. It’s completely the wrong direction for our energy.’

Fascinating really. One of the hallmarks of cult-like belief is an obsession with, one way or another, purity. Compromise is heresy, half a loaf is never enough. The fact that (as the US experience shows) fracking ought to lead to a noticeable reduction in CO2 emissions is not enough for the pur et dur. It’s all or nothing.

If the climate fundamentalists get their way, the rest of us will be left with nothing.