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Until a few months ago it seemed that France would beat England at cricket sooner than getting further ahead than the UK in shale. Both outcomes should be an occasion for national shame, but the political backsliding in the UK on the national shale resources and the re-opening of the debate in France means that at the current pace, start saving for your Test Match Speciale tickets now.

First in the UK, we have the Mad Magazine school of politics via a continual “what, me hurry?” attitude typified by this exchange in the Mother of Parliaments the other day:

4. Dame Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the report by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering on shale gas extraction in the UK. [116513]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Charles Hendry): In response to calls for an independent and rigorous examination of the evidence on fracking, there could be no more authoritative or independent sources of advice than the UK’s science and engineering academies. Their report is therefore particularly welcome, and we will study it carefully in considering the future of fracking for shale gas in the UK. Its main message is that shale gas fracking could be allowed within strict environmental and safety constraints.

Dame Joan Ruddock: As the Minister will know, the report says that some issues merit further consideration, including climate risks. For the avoidance of doubt, will he carry out a comprehensive assessment of the emissions arising from the extraction of shale gas, and indeed its subsequent use?

Charles Hendry: The right hon. Lady brings tremendous expertise to this debate. We have already commissioned independent advice on some of the fracking issues, which is being subjected to wider analysis and peer review. One of the most thorough assessments has been requested by Sir John Beddington, the Government’s chief scientist. We will look at all the evidence. We believe that the technology has a potential that must be explored, but that will be done only with the most careful analysis of all the environmental and safety considerations.

John Pugh (Southport) (LD): When can we look forward to the commercial production of shale gas in this country?

Charles Hendry: I think that it will be a while before we see commercial production. The situation here is very different from that in the United States, where, for example, landowners own the mineral rights beneath their homes. That is not the case in this country, so there is not the same economic driver. We are seeing some exciting assessments of the potential, but it will be some time before we see specific licences for development.

So what was the Royal Academy report  (page 8) all about then?

The UK Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir John Beddington FRS, asked the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering to carry out an independent review of the scientific and engineering evidence relating to the technical aspects of the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing to inform government policymaking about shale gas extraction in the UK

Confused? That makes two of us. How many more studies are necessary?  If Sir John Beddington has already asked and gotten a report from the Royal Academies, what will he now discover that they, the Energy and Climate Change Committee and everyone else except the not entirely disinterested Tyndall Centre haven’t uncovered?  Not to mention the majority of the over thirty reports in the library section here?

One thing is sure: It will be a while before we seen commercial production. By which time the US economywill have well and truly left the UK in the dust.

A key part of the UK’s problem is that shale, which after all belongs to all of us,  should be a national political issue. It is far too important to be left to “energy experts” alone who seem frozen by narrow competiing bureaucracies more intent on preserving meritocratic fiefs than opening up the economy, and most importantly actually cutting carbon instead of ceaselessly studying it.

DECC’s role is important, but why do we hear from it alone? But the coalition seems to think UK shale is so incredibly unpopular (despite the opinion poll evidence) that it is the third rail of politics.  We should hear from parts of the government apart from DECC or Ofgem.  Why is George Osborne so silent on shale?  It has the potential after all to transform his spending plans. But in France, the government is happy to re-open the debate.

If you use Google Chrome, you can automatically translate from French, but one doesn’t get the nuances, so here they are:

Arnaud Montebourg is a heavy hitter in French politics, closer to Osborne than Hendry or Davey in importance.  When he said that shale should be reassessed last week in Le Monde and then the story ends up in Les Echos on Monday after being on Europe1 on Thursday,  this would be like Osborne sending up the trial balloon in the Guardian, the issue being (intelligently) debated on the Today show and the story showing up again  in the FT.

It’s only July but the first environment minister in the cabinet after the Presidential elections was given the heave ho after the Socialists romp in the legislative elections. Delphine Batho is now Minister of Ecology despite having no experience in it, but being another well connected politician, although not at the same level as Montebourg who came third in the Presidential Primary.  Her predecessor Nathalie Bricq was considered greener

There has already been a movement to access oil off-shore French Guiana, where substantial oil deposits are predicted.  Since there is no difference legally between off shore French Guiana and off shore Calais, both being considered equal parts of France,  this sets a precedent to update the mining law regarding onshore gas and oil.

This from TF1 translated

The government has clearly discussed the issue….adding that progress will see the light of day at the end of the month.

Progress by the end of the month! In the UK, we’ll be damn lucky to see progress this year.  Perhaps it’s time for people like William Hague to start talking about shale.

And even better,  the Labour party should start a reassessment of shale’s potential to provide some positive economic and environmental news for everyone in the UK.

No Hot Air, 16 July 2012