One of the world’s leading energy experts launched a stinging attack on Chancellor George Osborne’s dash-to-gas policy warning that his heavy reliance on Britain’s shale reserves to generate electricity was “misleading and dangerous”.
Professor Paul Stevens, a recent winner of the prestigious OPEC award for outstanding oil and energy research, condemned Mr Osborne’s autumn statement for implying that gas would be cheaper in the future and that the price decline would be the result of tapping Britain’s shale gas resources.
He argued that the gas price could well increase significantly, while any decrease “will certainly not be the result of any shale gas revolution in UK or Europe”.
Furthermore, Professor Stevens slammed Mr Osborne for failing to acknowledge - or show an interest in resolving - the huge uncertainty over how much shale gas Britain will actually be able to extract.
Shale gas is produced using the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which releases the hydrocarbons by blasting a mixture of sand, chemicals and water into the rock at high speed. The technique, which was temporarily banned last year after causing two small earthquakes in the Blackpool area, is expected to get the go-ahead this month as part of Mr Osborne’s gas-centred energy strategy. This supposes that Britain has vast reserves of shale gas that will provide an abundance of cheap energy, although many experts say they have no idea how much there really is and, more importantly, how much of that could be extracted.
“Osborne’s view of the future of energy is misleading and dangerous. It is misleading because it ignores the very real barriers to shale gas development in the UK and Europe more generally,” said Professor Stevens, who has previously worked at the Universities of Dundee, Surrey and Beirut and is now at the influential Chatham House think tank.
“His view of the future is also highly dangerous if there is concern over climate change as indeed there should be,” adds Professor Stevens, referring to the fact that the increased use of shale gas would largely be at the expense of low-carbon technologies such as wind, solar and nuclear power.
Professor Stevens said that the ideological clash between the pro-gas chancellor and Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary who favours low-carbon technology, has created a high level of indecision over the role of gas which “will add to the very long list of other barriers to shale gas development in the UK”.
These barriers, such as Britain’s high population density, general opposition to local developments, the government’s ownership of all mineral rights, and the high clay content of the shale, mean that the fracking revolution in the US which has sent gas prices tumbling, was not applicable to this country.
“The chief executive of ExxonMobil stated in March 2012 that the technology, so successfully used in the USA, was simply not applicable in Europe and that more research was needed. The problem is that this sort of fundamental scientific research needs to be funded by the government – as it was in the USA. Yet there appears to be no appetite in the British government for any such funding and the European Commission has ruled out any such funding,” said Professor Stevens.