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Nigel Lawson: Why I’m Backing Fracking

Nigel Lawson, The Sun

Ex-Chancellor tells  he’s backing fracking

IN recent weeks it has become clear that we are sitting on mind-boggling reserves of gas on a scale never before suspected.

They are locked in black rock known as shale, from which the latest technology, developed and now widely in use in America, can extract the gas safely and cheaply.

According to the British Geological Survey, there is enough now known to lie under Lancashire and Yorkshire alone to satisfy all the UK’s needs at the present rate of consumption for between 50 and 100 years.

And that is without taking into account not merely the rest of the UK, so far largely unexplored, where shale gas is known to exist, but also our offshore shale reserves, which the British Geological Survey reckons could be up to ten times the size of our onshore reserves.

Nor is it just gas.

There is oil in shale, too, which is now being extracted in the US using the “fracking” technology, in increasing quantities.

Having your own supplies of gas, in particular, is hugely advantageous since, unlike oil, gas is pretty expensive to transport from overseas, as it has to be liquefied first.

As a result, in the US – which has already overtaken Russia as the world’s biggest producer of gas (and which may in due course overtake Saudi Arabia in the production of oil) – gas prices have plummeted, giving the economy a massive and continuing boost.

So, with what seem to be the largest shale reserves in Europe – and maybe, who knows, in the world – we are a lucky people.

Or so you might suppose.

But that is to reckon without the two ugly sisters who are determined that Cinderella shall not go to the ball. The first is an influential quango, the Environment Agency, headed by Labour peer Lord Smith, which (to some extent at the behest of the European Union) is busy inventing one phoney reason after another why the extraction of shale gas should not be given planning permission.

The second ugly sister is the Department of Energy and Climate Change, under its Liberal Democrat Secretary of State Ed Davey, and its Energy Bill now before Parliament.

It would give Mr Davey the power to sign very long-term contracts with inefficient wind power operators to provide so much electricity at between twice and three times the current price that there will be no market left for the cheap electricity that could be generated using shale gas.

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And they are backed by well-funded Green pressure groups, such as Friends of the Earth, who are preparing unending legal challenges for anyone seeking to provide us with cheap energy from shale.

They are all motivated by a quasi-religious obsession that carbon dioxide, essential for life on this planet and produced when gas or oil is burned, is somehow evil.

This is a belief without any serious scientific substance and one which our major competitors are rightly content to ignore.

Recognising that Brits have too much common sense to fall for this, they parade spurious environmental concerns, claiming that fracking will contaminate groundwater and lead to damaging earthquakes.

Both these objections are entirely unfounded. Despite the hundreds of thousands of shale wells drilled in the US, there is not a single, authenticated case of groundwater contamination. This is hardly surprising. Groundwater, as its name implies, is near the earth’s surface.

Shale gas is drilled deep, deep, down.

There is usually at least a mile of solid rock between the groundwater and where the fracking occurs.

As for earthquakes, while there have been a few instances of minor tremors deep down where the fracking takes place, these have no effect whatsoever on the surface, where we all live.

At my age, it probably makes little practical difference whether fracking goes ahead in the UK or not.

It will certainly go ahead elsewhere, as it does in the US to the great benefit of the American economy.

But I do still care about the future of this country.

I want my grandchildren to grow up in a country that is prosperous and confident, not one that is impoverished, fearful, and self-harming.

That is what is at stake.

The Sun, 9 July 2013