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Benny Peiser: Britain Wins World’s Biggest Energy Jackpot

Benny Peiser, Public Service Europe

Britain is on the cusp of a shale gas revolution, which can rejuvenate the flagging economy and bring cheap power to millions of people

Britain has just won the world’s biggest energy jackpot, potentially worth a staggering £1trillion. Yesterday it emerged that the United Kingdom not only holds the biggest shale basin in the world but that Britain most likely has the biggest shale reserves worldwide.

The British Geological Survey released a study that estimates there could be 1,300 trillion cubic feet – or tcf – of shale gas trapped in the Bowland shale basin alone. In fact, the BGS’s upper estimate is a staggering 2,281 tcf – almost the total estimated American shale reserve of 2,500 tcf.

Incredibly, this estimate does not include the huge shale reserves in the South of England or the Central Basin in Scotland. In fact, there are many other shale areas in Britain. And then there are Britain’s gigantic offshore shale reserves. According to the British Geological Survey, the UK’s offshore shale reserves could be five to ten times as high as onshore.

Britain currently consumes around 2.7 trillion cubic feet per year. Some 130 trillion cubic feet would give Britons 50 to 100 years’ worth of natural gas supplies at current consumption rates – offsetting the depletion of the ageing North Sea fields. It could reinvigorate industrial activity in the North of the country and create an entire new industry.

The House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee has applied a conservative recovery rate of 10 per cent to estimate the technically recoverable shale gas reserves. In America, however, advances in fracking technology have pushed the average recovery rate to almost 20 per cent. And in some cases, up to 30 per cent of unconventional gas has been extracted. Britain’s gargantuan shale reserves finally confirm that the country will have enough cheap and abundant energy for centuries to come.

Shale fracking has a long track record. Most environmental agencies and national science academies, which have investigated the technology, have concluded that its risks are very small. After all, every form of energy generation has an inherent risk and environmental impact. Shale gas has to be put in the context of other forms of energy. In comparison to the environmental risks of coal mining, oil exploration and nuclear energy – shale fracking is a very low-risk technology indeed.

With energy imports reduced, the UK will gain significantly from the shale gas revolution. Cheaper energy would make British manufacturing more competitive. Gas and electricity bills would fall and the rising trend in fuel poverty could be reversed.

Because of the potential scale of UK shale drilling, significant levels of employment will be created or supported across a broad range of job sectors. Energy-intensive industries and manufacturers that have been considering relocating their operations abroad due to increasing energy costs are more likely to stay.

Britain’s looming shale revolution is a clear victory for those of us who have argued that renewable energy is pushing families into fuel poverty and economically unsustainable positions. The exploration of shale gas can provide a huge potential boost to both UK industry and British households. The country should now claim the super-jackpot. Let’s get fracking.

Dr Benny Peiser is the director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation think-tank, in the United Kingdom

Public Service Europe, 28 June 2013