Conservative MPs and peers have issued an eleventh-hour plea to Boris Johnson to reverse plans to seal two of the country’s only viable shale gas wells next week.
IT’S one of the unfortunate facts of life that there are very few free lunches (unless one is a politician, in which case they come along every day.) Things that look like good ideas generally have a downside.
For example, if you want renewable energy to power your civilisation with net zero CO2 emissions then the downside is that you’re going to be cold, you’re going to be poor and your granny is going to die of hypothermia if we get a hard winter. Or look at solar farms: they emit zero global warming gases (unless you count the manufacturing process, the installation process and the maintenance) but will entail thousands of HGV movements, years of disturbance and, at the end, yield a totally inadequate supply of energy which will only be available when you need it least, i.e. when the sun is shining and it’s not a cold grey winter’s day. Or at night, obviously.
Another example: fracked gas will power everything you need, including low CO2 power stations, efficient and cheap space heating and internal combustion engines that emit much less of the demon gas with almost zero particulates and NOX, but will necessarily entail the release of carbon dioxide as the gas is burned.
While researching this post I found a couple of good examples of the two approaches to keeping the lights on and the wheels of commerce turning. The need to keep a maximum of our cash firmly where it belongs, in our pockets, is not a given.
First, solar, the Sunnica proposal on the border of West Suffolk and East Cambridgeshire. You will have seen solar farms/parks, it’s difficult not to. In recent years they have grown from a few acres, possibly with a couple of wind turbines, to tens of acres. The latest are hundreds of acres, a blot on the landscape but not the end of the world. Not so Sunnica. This is about 2,500 acres of glass with another two hundred acres of battery energy storage sites (BESS), connectors etc. It involves more than four square miles of farming countryside being trapped under glass. The pamphlets show a carefully chosen vista of neat panels with the odd photogenic sheep posing to give the scene some eco-cred. In reality there will be impoverished soil, scrubby grass and a few rabbits.
The Sunnica proposal sprawls from Suffolk into Cambridgeshire, three separate sites with underground cables providing connections. Homes that now look out across green fields and peaceful farming scenes will see hundreds of acres of harshly shining glass. Those unfortunate enough to be near a BESS will have the added stress of wondering when it will start to smoke and give off poisonous hydrofluoric acid fumes. Billionaire stud farm owners will fret about whether their horses will be caught up in a disaster if anything goes wrong.
This four square miles of high technology will have to be brought in, assembled, connected to the Grid and fenced to prevent damage by wildlife and cattle. For more than two years the narrow country roads will be pounded by 1,682 staff vehicle movements and 202 HGV movements every day (six days a week Mon-Sat; no HGV Saturday afternoon). Inevitably most of those movements will go straight through the villages and towns. The entire area will be converted into something like a vast shipyard, noise, bustle, aggravation. House prices will collapse and with it the savings of lifetimes.
In total at least 10,000 people will have their lives changed for the worse. The caveat ‘at least’ is because the official estimate does not include parts of Mildenhall or Newmarket, both well within poison gas distance from the BESS, and both likely to suffer to some degree from the transit of all those tons of panels. The true figure will be thousands more residents affected than they are admitting. For more than two years. For an output of, on average, of 50MW.
Contrast this with the two experimental fracking wells in Lancashire drilled by Cuadrilla, a leading onshore shale exploration company. They were restricted by law to tremors of 0.5 on the Richter scale, which is many times less than a lorry driving past – remember that the Richter scale is logarithmic. A study by Liverpool University has equated the impact of a 0.5 micro-seismic event to sitting down on an office chair. Perhaps it would be equitable to impose the same limit on HGV movements through the quiet villages of Suffolk and East Cambridgeshire.
Despite these restrictions both wells yielded high quality gas, something the Daily Telegraph’s Jeremy Warner denied. See here for the Cuadrilla CEO’s comments on the Telegraph report that the wells did not work. In the same response he trashes the assertion that the recovery rate from the Bowland shale, the big shale play that runs right across the Midlands, will be only 10 per cent. It might be as high as 30 per cent. That’s 150 years’ worth at current consumption, so allowing for the inevitable increase in population and demand we would be OK up to 2120. What’s not to like? Seriously, I’m asking, what’s not to like? There must be something, because otherwise why would the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) have demanded that both Lancashire wells be plugged with cement?
Then there’s the matter of scale. ‘A single 4-hectare shale gas site of 40 wells would require a solar park nearly 1,000 times the size.’ (Francis Egan, CEO Cuadrilla Resources Ltd). To match a UK-based, UK-piped and UK-used gas pad the proponents of solar energy would have to cover 15 square miles of English farmland with solar panels. We don’t have enough food-growing land already, particularly as the anti-car lobby has made us dilute our fuel with grain-derived ethanol.
Opponents declare that fracking cannot be carried out in the UK because of our ‘overcrowded’ countryside. The Wych Farm oil well in Dorset, the UK’s most productive on-shore well, has fracked laterals running out to sea, one of which goes straight under Sandbanks, England’s most expensive real estate, where house sales seem to be holding up. The last time I leafleted the Cambridgeshire village of Isleham, on the edge of the potential four square miles of solar panels, there were lots of For Sale signs.
There are problems with going for fracked gas. It will entail some people having to accept the inconvenience of a few dozen HGV movements to the ten-acre well pad when it’s drilled initially, and then for a few weeks a year. The sights and sounds of the drilling rig will be a temporary blot on the landscape, and there will be the possibility of a minor earth tremor too small to feel every few years when the wells have to be re-fracked. There is one major problem in not going for fracked gas, one that trumps all others. If we keep on the path we’ve chosen it won’t be long before the lights go out.
Do you know what the Greens call those who fight for their homes and lifestyles against the vandalism of the solar developers? They call them Nimbys.
Author’s note: This was difficult to write because of two problems. First, the subject and the way it is covered in the MSM and on the web raises my blood pressure. Second, the barefaced lies told by those who want renewable energy at any price sent me down innumerable cul-de-sacs. The solution, dear reader, is to check what anyone claims. Even me. And if the source is one of the ‘green’ charities, check twice.
My thanks to the valiant people at Say No To Sunnica, the local resistance group, for their inspiring example. Now that the stud owners round Newmarket have noticed that the BESS sites might poison their thoroughbreds, the mood music in the local press has suddenly changed. That’s very hopeful.