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Struan Stevenson: Only Fracking Can Plug Britain’s Power Gap

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Struan Stevenson, The Sunday Times

The shale revolution has shamed the wind industry by showing how to cut carbon emissions for real. Supplies of cheap and plentiful gas are here to stay for many decades to come … but only if we tell the Greens and their supporters to “frack off”.

Ofgem, the energy regulator, has warned that the UK’s surplus generating capacity of 14% will sink to a wafer-thin 2% by 2015 as we continue to shut our coal-fired power stations to meet the EU’s CO2 emission targets. A 2% surplus would place Britain on a knife edge. Any surge in energy consumption during a severe cold snap would plunge the country into blackouts.

The reason for this catastrophic energy shortfall is not difficult to see: no new nuclear plants are being constructed, because of the high cost of nuclear power and hysterical opposition from Greens and their fellow travellers who think the next Fukushima-style tsunami is about to hit the UK.

Instead, our country is being blighted with gigantic steel and concrete wind turbines. Already 5,000 have been installed across the UK at a cost of £7bn, the same cost as a new, state-of-the-art, safe, third-generation nuclear power plant — the only difference being that wind turbines will produce an unreliable and intermittent trickle of electricity for about 15 to 20 years, while a new nuclear plant will work at 90% efficiency, producing electricity day in and day out for the next 80 to 90 years.

If we are going to tackle the looming energy crisis, then we must exploit our massive reserves of shale gas, which would help us to reduce our dependency on expensive imported gas. With an estimated 200 trillion cubic feet of shale gas deposits discovered in Lancashire alone, enough to power Britain for 65 years, we could be looking at the biggest energy find since North Sea oil in the 1960s. But it is typical of the feverish nature of the climate change debate in Britain that this massive find has been either entirely ignored or robustly attacked as anti-green.

Shale gas emits about half the CO2 that burning coal produces, which is why the US has managed to reduce its CO2 emissions by 450m tonnes in the past five years. Carbon emissions in America per capita are now below the levels they were in 1963 and meanwhile gas is at almost give-away prices, kick-starting the US economy, boosting jobs and prosperity. Here, because of huge subsidies for wind turbines, which are passed straight down the line to the consumers, average electricity and gas bills have soared to more than £1,450 a year, driving almost one million Scottish households into fuel poverty. Business and industry are reeling from spiralling fuel bills, hammering jobs.

In the UK, several areas have already been identified as having large potential shale gas reserves. Last Friday, exploratory drilling began at a site in West Sussex, but already a large protesters’ camp has been erected nearby, causing a bigger nuisance than the drilling rig. Interest has also been expressed in shale fields near Falkirk. The British Geological Survey suggests that UK offshore reserves of shale gas could be five to ten times the size of onshore, perhaps in excess of one thousand trillion cubic feet, which would put the UK in the top 20 countries for shale gas reserves worldwide.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves pumping tens of thousands of litres of water, mixed with salts, soap and citric acid, into deep wells under high pressure. The mixture causes rock formations to fracture and release stored gases. It is this process that has caused hysteria amongst the Greens who are determined to stop shale gas extraction in its tracks. Their Frack Off bandwagon is now rolling out across the country. Incredibly, they argue that shale gas rigs will destroy our landscape, while in almost the same breath they support the construction of thousands of giant wind turbines, pylons, overhead lines, service roads, borrow pits and quarries in some of our most iconic and stunning countryside.

Environmental body WWF Scotland said it has concerns about the contamination of water supplies by the fracking fluids and about gas leaking into water supplies, creating risks of explosions. But boreholes for shale gas extraction commonly are drilled down to 2,000 metres or more underground, thousands of metres below the aquifer. The risk of water contamination is negligible.

Similarly, opponents of shale gas point to news reports of methane leaking through the water supply so that, in some cases in America, people have been able to set fire to water coming from bathroom taps. However, this phenomenon was first observed in 1932, decades before shale gas was thought of. It is a natural occurrence in certain parts of the US, where methane gas has saturated the rock strata and entered the aquifer. This has nothing whatsoever to do with fracking.

Critics also claim that fracking caused earth tremors during exploratory drilling near Blackpool in 2011. But shale gas producers in America, such as Royal Dutch Shell, claim they know how to control these risks. They say so long as shafts are properly sealed with steel and concrete, there is a negligible risk.

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