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No return of the frack

October 24, 2019

In February I said that the question of whether the UK onshore oil and gas industry would be able to frack for gas was on the back-burner (sorry) until Brexit was sorted. Well – Brexit isn’t sorted and now it appears fracking is dead.

The National Audit Office this week issued a report talking about the slow progress of fracking despite the Government spending £33 million supporting it since 2011. This was picked up with glee by the elements of the media which have always opposed fracking, but you might as well have issued a report about jumper sales going up in October.

Without rehashing old arguments, the failure of fracking to take off has been partially due to lack of support across Government, and partially because the industry had a habit of shooting itself in the foot at crucial moments.

Since I wrote in February two issues have put the final nail in the coffin of fracking, the first out of the industry’s control, the second definitely of its own making:

 

1: The increased emphasis on tacking climate change – this can be attribute to Greta Thunberg, Sir David Attenborough and Extinction Rebellion or it can be a case of people, politicians and businesses waking up and smelling the CO2 emissions;

 

2: Cuadrilla’s disastrous test fracking programme which led to a tremor of 2.23 on the richer scale in August. Given the extremely cautious trigger point for suspending fracking is 0.5 this is a lot bigger – about 15 times bigger according to calculations I don’t truly understand.

 

The sad joke in this is that if the UK wants to reduce global CO2 emissions it should be fracking.

At present over four fifths of British households use gas for heating, and 60% for cooking. Cleary, we need to wean ourselves off gas, but like replacing petrol cars with electric this cannot be done overnight because we don’t have the infrastructure and the scrappage would be more environmentally detrimental than waiting for the natural replacement cycle. (It should be noted that electric heating – unlike electric cars – is much more expensive to run than the carbon intensive alternative, so there is a fuel poverty issues to consider.) The National Grid estimates we will need very large amounts of gas for the next four decades at least.

However, UK production is dropping, so we are now importing over 60% of our gas and this will rise to 80%. And where is this gas coming from? Norway and The Netherlands – yes – but also Russia, Qatar, Algeria and other fine democratic regimes with great environmental regulation. And the joke is that if we import the gas, it doesn’t show up on the UK’s CO2 emissions totals, so it looks like we are greener than we actually are.

Domestic gas, produced at source, flowing into the well-established UK gas network, doesn’t have to be liquified and regasified at great environmental cost. It is greener than imports.

The UK oil and gas industry can try to make these points until the cows – massive producers of methane, by the way – come home. But no-one in Westminster is going to support it. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever.

There will be no return of the frack.

 

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