I’m never all that enamoured of decisions taken by politicians: no doubt this is some form of character flaw. But this decision that the UK Government seems to be taking about shale gas seems more foolish than most. For they’ve decided that it isn’t really going to be a solution to the country’s energy problems therefore it probably shouldn’t go ahead.
But The Independent on Sunday has learned that industry experts made clear at a meeting attended by senior ministers, including David Cameron and Ed Davey, the Lib Dem energy secretary, that the UK’s reserves were smaller than first thought and could be uneconomical to extract.
Now senior coalition figures have agreed that shale gas has the potential to be deeply controversial without securing major benefits in lowering carbon emissions or reducing energy costs.
The point is that this isn’t a valid decision to be made by government. There is no way at all, no possible version of the universe, in which they have enough information to make this decision. Exploration for shale in the UK is in its very infancy. We really do not know how much is down there, we do not know which portion of whatever is down there is retrievable and we do not know the cost of doing so. We simply do not have enough economic information to be able to make this economic decision.
What we need, of course, is much more of that information. And as so often in this world, the only way to get the information is by going and doing. Cuadrilla should be allowed to continue with their exploration, others continue in other areas of the country and then we can actually find out. Maybe there is a couple of centuries’ worth of gas down there, maybe there isn’t. Maybe we can get it out at a decent price and maybe we cannot. But we’re only going to find out by trying it rather than leaving the decision to a few men in suits in an office.
You know, it’s going to be the market, not politics, which is the proof of this particular pudding?
Editor’s Note: The game changer is the undoubted availability of abundant and cheap shale gas worldwide. The International Energy Agency estimates that global shale reserves can provide the world with 250 years of natural gas at current levels of consumption. This IEA estimate does not include any significant UK shale reserves. The shale boom is already having a significant effect on gas prices, not just in the US. It will be even more pronounced in years to come as many other nations will discover and extract shale gas. So even if the UK’s shale deposits prove to be smaller than current estimates suggest, that should not have any bearing on the UK’s energy policy. After all, natural gas has to be bought at market prices no matter whether it’s of British or international origin. BP