Ed Miliband, Labour’s spokesman on climate change, was not slow to criticise the government’s lifting of the moratorium on fracking last week.
However he made certain claims in an interview with the Independent which do not stand up to scrutiny:
1) ‘Fracking won’t reduce gas prices, because these are set on the international market’
This is the same tired old argument against oil and gas exploration. It is also wrong-headed.
There is no reason at all why the licences needed for distributing shale gas into the gas grid should not be conditional on a Contracts for Difference agreement, just as offshore wind is, or some other form of long term supply agreement.
Even if the gas is sold at international prices, the government will still be able to earn billions in tax revenue from shale, just as it has done for years from the North Sea.
Obviously the effect on retail prices will depend on how much shale gas is produced. Many anti-frackers argue that very little gas will be produced anyway. This may be true, but by the same argument the environmental impacts will be negligible too.
2) ‘Fracking is not safe’
The newly published British Geological Survey report makes clear that they have very little data on which to estimate the potential risk of earth tremors, particularly since the geology of the Bowland Basin is complex.
But when did we ever ban something because we could not accurately measure the risk? The only way forward is to drill some more wells to get that data.
There will still of course be all of the existing safeguards in place, with seismicity being constantly measured. The current threshold of 0.5 on the Richter scale will quite rightly be reviewed, and we will hopefully get something much more practical, in line with all other industrial processes.
But Miliband is not interested in anything practical. Instead he quite disgracefully talks of ‘a charter for earthquakes’ and ‘a dangerous experiment’. Both claims are utterly without foundation, and are intended to deceive the public, who are entitled to the facts and not hyperbole.
As the Royal Society review of fracking in 2012 pointed out, the seismic incidents measured from fracking are not ‘earthquakes’ but ‘tremors’, so small as to be not even noticeable.
The highest measurement from a fracking operation was 2.9, and most have been much smaller. Bear in mind that the Richter scale is logarithmic.
It is highly irresponsible of Miliband to try to alarm the public in this way.
This table is from a 2012 review of fracking by The Royal Society and The Royal Academy of Engineering.
The paper says: ‘The frequency of the radiated seismic waves is proportional to the size of the fracture. Since engineered hydraulic fractures are typically small, seismic events induced by hydraulic fracturing only produce high frequency radiated seismic waves, and so do not produce ground shaking that will damage buildings. The number of people who feel small seismic events is dependent on the background noise.’
As for Miliband’s claim that this is all a dangerous experiment, he apparently does not realise that fracking has been widely used in the UK for decades, without any of the problems he alludes to. Again according to the Royal Society:
‘The UK has experience of hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling for non-shale gas applications. Over the last 30 years, more than 2,000 wells have been drilled onshore in the UK, approximately 200 (10%) of which have been hydraulically fractured to enhance recovery. The combination of hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling allowed the development of Wytch Farm field in Dorset in 1979. Discovered by British Gas in the 1970s and operated by British Petroleum since 1984, the field is responsible for the majority of UK onshore oil production and is Europe’s largest onshore oil field. Over 200 wells have been drilled. Drilling vertically onshore then horizontally out to sea has proved more cost-effective than building offshore platforms, allowing oil to be produced beneath the Sandbanks estate, Bournemouth, from oil reservoirs 10km away. In 1996, British Gas hydraulically fractured a well in the Elswick Gas field in Lancashire (4.5km from Cuadrilla’s Preese Hall well). Gas has been produced from it ever since. In the 1990s, several wells were also fractured in the UK to extract coal bed methane.’
3) Renewables are the answer
According to Miliband: ‘You cannot escape a fossil fuel crisis by doubling down on fossil fuels. Renewables are today nine times cheaper than natural gas.’
This is an absurd argument. The energy crisis is solely due to an imbalance in supply and demand. The answer to that is to increase supply, not reduce it.
Comparing the price of renewable electricity and gas is a meaningless exercise, as you cannot simply replace the latter with the former. All the official projections clearly state that the UK will need plenty of natural gas for many years to come, despite big increases in renewable capacity.
He is also misleading by comparing the current international price of gas. What is relevant is the cost of extracting shale gas. Companies such as Cuadrilla and INEOS have been keen to spend billions on fracking, even when prices were much lower than now. Just 18 months ago wholesale gas prices were a tenth of what they are now. Under Miliband’s own argument, shale gas should be cost competitive against renewables.
Miliband’s arguments quickly unravelled when the GMB union dismissed Labour’s policies as ‘bourgeois environmentalism’. The union’s leader, Gary Smith, told the New Statesman that Labour must back fracking, hydrogen and new nuclear power plants to solve the energy crisis rather than bowing to the ‘bourgeois environmental lobby’, declaring that a ‘sprint for renewables just doesn’t cut it’.
Smith accused Labour of a ‘lack of honesty’ and of ‘not facing reality’ over the scale of energy development needed to guarantee the UK’s energy supply, the fragility of which has been shown up by the war in Ukraine. Smith said it was ‘demonstrable’ that fracking could be done safely. ‘We import a huge amount of fracked gas and we import methane from America, which is basically fracked gas,’ he said.
‘Now we have a choice: we are either going to import gas that has been fracked somewhere else in the world and put on diesel-bombing ships or we take responsibility for our own carbon. If it can be done safely, and that is demonstrable, then it’s time that we took responsibility for our own carbon emissions.
‘We should not get caught up in a bourgeois environmental debate driven by the bourgeois environmental lobby . . . The debate on the left needs to seriously talk about climate change, but it needs to be focused on jobs. And the renewables industry, and many of those who espouse it in politics, have no interest in jobs for working class communities. And we should stop pretending that we’re in an alliance with them. The big winners from renewables have been the wealthy and big corporate interests. Invariably the only jobs that are created when wind farms get put up, particularly onshore wind, have been jobs in public relations and jobs for lawyers.’
Gary Smith is spot on. Miliband’s obsession with wind and solar power is a dangerous illusion, a naive fantasy. It will put our energy security at risk, cost jobs and cripple the UK economy.
Race to the bottom
Meanwhile, Sir Keir Starmer wants to trash our energy security even sooner than the Tories!
According to the BBC: ‘Labour has set out plans to make the UK the first major economy in the world to generate all of its electricity without using fossil fuels. Sir Keir Starmer says achieving zero carbon energy by 2030 will be a key priority if he wins the next election. Sir Keir, who will make his keynote speech to conference on Tuesday, is kicking off the week with a promise to turn the UK into a clean energy “superpower”.
‘Labour says it will work with business to more than quadruple offshore wind power, triple solar, and double onshore wind by the end of this decade, while backing nuclear, hydrogen, and tidal power. “Our plan for clean power by 2030 will save the British people £93billion off their energy bills and break the UK’s vulnerability to Putin and his cronies,” said Sir Keir. “It will also support our drive for higher growth and rising living standards.” Labour says the plan will also “reindustrialise” the UK by creating more than 200,000 direct jobs and up to 260,000-300,000 indirect jobs.’
Has it not occurred to this clown that all the jobs he promises have to be paid for? And who does he suggest pays? Half a million jobs at £100,000 a year each, a not unreasonable estimate once materials and overheads are included, works out at £50billion.
Instead of simply making up numbers on the spot, and then doubling them, maybe Starmer would care to give us a properly costed budget for his renewable extravaganza?
He wants to back nuclear, but there is no way any new capacity will be added before 2030, other than of course Hinkley Point. And it will take a lot longer than a decade to build a hydrogen grid.
Starmer obviously does not know that bulk hydrogen can be made in the foreseeable future only by steam reforming natural gas, which hardly makes the resulting electricity fossil fuel free, carbon free, or for that matter cheap. Producing sizeable amounts of hydrogen from electrolysis will need a lot more wind power than his plan targets, and the idea is still strictly for the birds.
His plan for renewables will see capacity rising to:
Offshore Wind – 45 GW
Onshore Wind – 30 GW
Solar – 40 GW
On average, however, this will only produce 32 GW, leaving a huge shortfall. Nuclear and biomass may add another 10 GW, but that still leaves us potentially 20 GW short at times of peak demand.
And as we know, there will be weeks every winter when the wind stops blowing. With solar power also at a minimum in winter, Starmer’s precious renewables will often be producing less than 10 GW when we need between about 50 and 55 GW.
Maybe somebody could explain why the media still take Keir Starmer seriously?