UK Coalition on Energy: Dumb and Dumber

The Conservatives may be on the bridge, but are the anti-fossil fuel, Lib Dem greenies steering the course?

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This man looks like he knows what he's talking about - no?
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Peter C. Glover
On 28 May 2012 10:17

And exactly which “senior coalition figures” agreed, we do not know. If they had been Conservatives it would have made a headline story. More likely, it was Lib Dem, Ed Davey, and his merry green anti-fossil fuellers who had ‘heard what they wanted to hear’. A closer look at the fallout from the meeting reveals that the few companies involved, including Royal Shell and UK gas suppliers, Centrica, are actually clueless about how much shale gas the UK has but would “take a look”.  

In the wake of the meeting UK shale gas expert, Nick Grealy, in his post “Misinformation on UK shale at highest level”, points out two key facts. First, that shale gas exploration was put on hold over a year ago by the government (so nobody has actually been looking for it) – and the particular companies invited mostly have a vested interest in keeping gas prices high.  

Meanwhile the British Geological Society and Cuadrilla, who have already “taken a look”, suggest a world class 200 trillion cubic feet of shale gas at the very minimum, with UK offshore promising still more. And that’s just the Bowland Shale in the north-west of England. There are other prospects further south.

Currently, shale gas development is the victim of its own success. The effect of the US shale revolution has been to not only drive down prices in America but it has also held prices steady on the international market. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the resources exist and are massive – with early development proving it to be commercially viable and providing a raft of associated benefits to industry and consumers.

So how could Russian, Norwegian and Qatari imports be a better economic option for the UK? And what about the effect of a burgeoning domestic shale gas industry on UK job creation? Or would it be just too cynical to think that Lib Dem support for shale gas development would undermine investment in their ideologically-preferred wind and solar developments? British economist Tim Worstall sums the UK energy situation up well in his recent Forbes column posting, “The British Government Being Fools About Shale Gas”.

When David Cameron took office in 2010 he clearly had to cut cards with the Lib Dems when it came to dealing out Cabinet posts. It seems that Cameron felt energy was one he could safely hand to the Lib Dems with whom he shares a predilection for green-at-any cost-to-the-consumer agenda. He might as well have handed it to Greenpeace. As if the Huhnatic’s – Chris Huhne’s – legacy of an incredibly over-generous solar panel fiasco scheme that the government is still trying to wriggle out of, not to mention an increasingly unpopular and electricity bill-inflating wind industry was not enough, Ed Davey’s new energy bill threatens an entire regime of centralized regulatory energy controls. Meanwhile, all that Energy Minister Davey can do in presenting his bill is to admit lamely that UK electricity bills – unlike those in the shale-impacted United States – will only soar further.

David Cameron could do worse than reading Fracking: A Tale of Two States. It reveals how the farmers and landowners of New York State (where there’s a shale fracking moratorium) look on with envy at the economic benefits accruing across the border in Pennsylvania (where fracking is allowed). If his government runs with this draft energy bill, he will soon know how the New Yorkers feel.

All of which only fuels a long-held suspicion about the UK coalition: that Conservatives may be on the bridge, but it’s the anti-fossil fuel Lib Dem greenies steering the course.

Peter C Glover is the International Associate Editor, Energy Tribune & author of Energy and Climate Wars, Power Politics: The Inside Track On EnergyFor more: www.petercglover.com

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