Shale a necessity for low-carbon future – Northern industry agrees with Minister

Andrea Leadsom
Source: WikiCommons, Policy Exchange

The UK Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom has taken a stance supporting domestic shale gas exploration and accusing the opponents of fracking of ignoring what she called an “inconvenient truth” about the economic and environmental benefits that shale gas could bring.

Writing in a blog post on the Department of Energy and Climate Change website, Leadsom quoted the recent report by The Task Force on Shale Gas which stated that “it is not feasible to create a renewable and low carbon industry in the short term in the UK that can meet the UK’s energy needs as a whole.”

“The anti-fracking lobby,” she said, “seem to think there is a bottomless pit of bill-payers’ money to fund renewable energy generation. There isn’t, and even if there was, we would still need gas – as a reliable source of electricity when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow,” adding: “Even as our reliance on fossil fuels for generating electricity reduces, we will still need to use gas for heating and cooking in our homes and for producing products including soap, paint, clothes and plastic.”

Ms Leadsom said that it is to be expected that gas will continue to play a big part in the country’s energy mix for years to come, but stressed that the UK has over 50 years’ experience of safely and successfully producing gas in the country, both for onshore and offshore.

“Shale gas will bolster our energy security and provide jobs and financial security for communities and families across the UK. An independent study says there could be 65,000 new jobs from a successful UK shale industry,” she said.

The British government estimates shale basins in the country may hold more than 1.3 quadrillion cubic feet of natural gas, a level the government said could help the economy with natural gas imports on pace to increase from 45 percent of demand in 2011 to 76 percent by 2030.

This might be particularly significant for the northern part of the country; traditionally more industrialised but also poorer than the affluent south. In December last year, Chancellor George Osborne stated that shale exploration could close the North-South divide. In Great Britain, the term refers to the perceived economical and cultural divide between the more affluent south, including Greater London with its global financial centre, and the less-affluent north.

Last year the UK Government unveiled plans for a sovereign wealth fund to be set up with revenues raised from shale gas and with the proceeds to benefit the Northern economy.

In a recent piece, a northern newspaper, Gazette Live, quoted Nigel Smith, a geologist at the British Geological Survey (BGS), saying that the best shale prospects in the North of England are in a belt that runs from North Yorkshire to Lancashire. In those areas, the reserves can be found in seams around 50 meters thick.

He said: “Previously drilled wells in the vicinity of Middlesbrough (mostly those exploring for salt) have encountered shows of gas and oil confirming the presence of a migrated hydrocarbon system and with a large deep basin below we would expect petroleum generation.”

The news was welcomed by Stan Higgins, chief executive of NEPIC, (North East Processing Industry Cluster), who said: “Home grown raw materials are important to our economy and energy security and much preferable to buying Russian gas or French electricity.

“Look what has happened in the US where its shale gas industry has resulted in major international companies relocating to America, because of its cheaper fuel. If we have these raw materials, then industry will follow and it will create more jobs.”

This was seconded by Andrea Leadsom, who pointed out in her article the huge financial benefits shale exploration will bring to local communities. Operators will pay communities £100,000 for each exploration well site plus 1 per cent of production revenue, worth £5m-£10m, to be used as the community sees fit.

She rejected the claims put forward by the environmentalists that the UK can meet its rising demand for energy using exclusively renewable energy sources, arguing that natural gas is the “bridge” to a carbon-free future without which such transition would not be possible.

In Teeside, Stan Higgins also dismissed claims by environmentalists that we can operate energy and industry without fossil fuels.

“It’s nonsense. A lot of their claims are just made up. Renewable energy will never be the answer on its own. We need a mix of renewables and fossil fuels.

“It’s how we use the emitted carbon that’s important. It can be recycled for use in industry or stored safely.

“The sooner we extract our own shale gas and energy from underground coal gasification the better and more stable our own economy will be.”

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