Jim Armitage: Politicians put all eggs in one basket on energy
Jim Armitage is the City editor of The Independent and London Evening Standard group of newspapers. He has been a reporter and editor for more than 20 years and was recently shortlisted for the Press Gazette financial journalist of the year and The Society of Editors financial journalist of the year awards. He contributes news, investigative reports and comment to the Independent titles plus a daily column in the Evening Standard.
Friday 28 June 2013
It's really little wonder fracking is such a big deal for our political leaders. Because they some years ago bet our energy future on the hissing stuff when deciding on the next generation of electricity power stations.
The decision has been made to focus on building generators using gas and, pretty much, gas alone.
Despite Nye Bevan's phrase on the economy that Britain is a lump of coal surrounded by fish, coal-fired stations are already closing – too dirty for us. The planning process for new nuclear has a half-life like plutonium (no politician wants cartoonists depicting them as Mr Burns from The Simpsons – hence the refusal to green-light new reactors). So, bar the pinprick that is renewables, gas is the only option.
Whether we were right to place our entire energy future in one source is a matter of debate (simple answer from me: we weren't).
But now we have made this choice, we must diversify where the next generation of gas comes from. Basically, that means a number of things. First, hug the next Norwegian you meet. Let them hunt a few more whales if they really want to. Norway will become ever more crucial to us as our main source of gas. Holland and Belgium, where the main interconnector pipes leave the Continent for Britain, will be pumping like billy-o in future decades.
Secondly, liquefied natural gas, natural gas compressed into liquid form for transport to our shores by ship, will become ever more important. We now have three major LNG terminals, giving us a decent capacity to take more, particularly from Qatar, our biggest supplier by far. Our major contract with the emirate is up for renewal in a couple of years and, given global demand for LNG, we should be braced for a hefty price rise. Watch how keen our leaders are to get friendly with the new emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.
Also, see how we foster relations with other LNG nations in North Africa and the Caribbean. Last month we struck a deal with the recently gas-rich US to import LNG from Texas, too.
But, beside fracking, there's another potentially rich seam we must explore: coal gas. Far offshore, away from grumpy residents, lie thousands of hectares of coal which can be turned into gas.
The Coal Authority knows where it is and has done for decades. More than a dozen licences have been granted, and the oil industry veteran Algy Cluff, has won three of them. There's a rub, of course, and a big rub. Like fracking, we really have no idea whether they can safely extract the gas. But, as anyone who knows about minerals will tell you, if Algy's there, a bob or two's to be made.
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