Letters: Frack and cut gas prices by a third

These letters are published in the print edition of The Independent, 6 September, 2013

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Despite being an economist, Lord Stern (“Cameron’s fracking defence is demolished”, 4 September) appears to have little grasp of basic economics, let alone the economics of the gas market.

Unlike with oil, the natural gas market is segmented due to the massive infrastructure costs of pipelines, liquefaction of natural gas, transport and re-gasification systems. Gas doesn’t miraculously get from one part of the world to another free of cost, which is why there are large differentials between the price of gas in export points such as West Africa and import markets such as Europe.

Europe is an interconnected market, and UK gas prices are linked to those of continental Europe. However, the more gas produced in the UK, the more gas available in Europe, and the less dependent the region as a whole becomes on imports of pipeline gas from Russia and North Africa, and liquefied natural gas from the rest of the world. Reducing Europe’s gas import requirement would have a major impact on regional and global gas pricing. 

The European gas market is an oligopoly, enabling suppliers to achieve higher prices than are justified by the cost of production. Increasing the volume of supply and the number of suppliers would create a more competitive European gas market and help reduce prices closer to the marginal cost of supply. This would suggest prices falling to around two-thirds of the current level.

If we don’t develop shale gas, the decline of North Sea gas production will necessitate an increase in UK gas imports. And if you increase demand at a more rapid rate than supply, prices tend to go up. 

Barrie Bain, Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Tom Bawden’s article reporting Lord Stern’s concerns over our Government’s dash for “fracking” gas is timely, as several recent scientific articles highlight the potential dangers for our drinking water.

Scientific measurements reveal increased methane in domestic drinking water near fracking wells. A plausible explanation is the escape of stray gas through existing, or new, fractures into underground reserves of drinking water.

In addition, scientific data reveals the presence of contaminants from fracking-well waste water in streams and water courses at the surface. This is most likely due to failure of water treatment facilities to deal with used hydraulic-fracturing fluids.

Add to this the surface leakage of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) during fracking, and the environmental issues are considerable on a variety of scales from local to global. It is time for a discussion informed by scientific data.

Professor Martin Menzies, Earth Sciences, Royal Holloway, University of London

5,000 badgers sacrificed to appease NFU

I emailed Stroud Tory MP Neil Carmichael about testing the 5,000 badgers due to be slaughtered in Somerset and Gloucestershire over the next six weeks. The vast majority of these badgers will be incinerated, providing no information whatsoever, with just 200 (perhaps now 120) being tested.

I asked why are so few being tested? Why is none being tested for TB? Who is going to select those that will be examined for humaneness of the kill? The last question is important, given that vested interests will, no doubt, be inclined to provide only those that have been killed cleanly.

Mr Carmichael has not answered my questions.

The results of the cull, like the scientific basis for the cull, would appear to be flawed. Nearly 5,000 badgers will disappear in smoke to appease the National Farmers’ Union.

Dr Clive Mowforth, Dursley, Gloucestershire

Martin Haworth of the NFU (“Why farmers back the badger cull”, 5 September) has all the conviction of Einstein’s madman who believed that doing (or, in this case, saying) the same thing over and over again would bring about different outcomes. It won’t. This threadbare rhetoric fails on every level. 

Tell us how many badgers have been shot so far. Tell us how many were shot cleanly. Tell us how many were suffering from TB. Tell us about the monitoring of the humaneness of the cull.

Nobody knows, including the NFU. Surely they can do better than this.

Irene Barker, Mendlesham Green, Suffolk

Ministers will get best advice

The Government’s Civil Service reform programme will strengthen the support for ministers. In June a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research showed that British ministers receive less direct support than their counterparts abroad, even in Westminster-based systems such as Australia and Canada.

I expect several ministers to introduce Extended Ministerial Offices (EMOs), but I do not accept Oliver Wright’s suggestion that such personally appointed offices could isolate ministers from challenging views (“Ministers send for the reinforcements”, 3 September). In fact, our reforms will ensure ministers receive the most candid and honest advice. We will soon be revising the guidance for ministers and private office staff to guarantee that advice prepared by departmental civil servants is always presented unadulterated to a minister.

We will also make it easier for ministers to bring in people from outside the Civil Service, so they can draw on a wider range of advice. I see no reason why personally appointed staff should provide less challenging advice. Over the years, I have been on the receiving end of plenty of tough advice from staff I appointed.

Our reforms will improve the way Whitehall works without affecting the fundamental values of the Civil Service.

Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, London SW1

Not all shoppers have cars

Terence Blacker (3 September) is right to say our high streets are a valuable focus for social contact and retail experience on a human scale. Much of the debate in this area seems to assume that everyone has limitless car access and infinite choice as to where they shop, and that cost and availability of parking are the key issue. This is far from being the case; many individuals and families depend wholly or partly on bus and other public transport services, which are usually clustered around existing town centres.

Can we ensure retail patterns of the future make provision for the community as a whole? And I see the high street as still having a significant role to play.

Peter Draper, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire

Lollobrigida, Queen of the Nile?

Apologies for sounding like a geek correcting a geek, but Francesa Steele was incorrect when she wrote (“Like a Batman out of hell?” 4 September) that Rouben Mamoulian considered Dorothy Dandridge for the title role in Cleopatra.

Mamoulian’s papers at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, are richly detailed for that particular film, from which he resigned in January 1961 Dandridge was never discussed for the part at 20th Century-Fox, nor did Mamoulian approach her personally – and I’ve read his diaries. The actresses discussed were Susan Hayward, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Dana Wynter, Joan Collins and (drum roll, please) Gina Lollobrigida.

A shame, don’t you think? In widescreen, Gina would have hit your eye like a big pizza pie.

Kurt Jensen, Alexandria, Virginia, USA

Learn a lesson from Byzantium

Your picture of Toxteth Reservoir (“Liverpool’s other cavern”, 4 September) does illustrate it is possible to combine aesthetics and functionality. But I suspect the (equally ethereal) Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, constructed in the 6th century, might pip it to the post as “one of the earliest examples of public health engineering”.

The burghers, architects and engineers of Victorian Liverpool and Byzantine Constantinople should be revered for foresight and imagination. Wouldn’t it be nice to see those in charge of our municipal infrastructure applying similar values today?

Peter Allen, Towcester

Americanisms for the trash can

To Peter Metcalfe’s list of Americanisms that we should now consign to the dustbin (or trash can) of history (Letter, 5 September), I would add American “coffee shop” (for café), “train station” (for railway station), “upcoming” (for forthcoming) and “canned food” (for tinned food). And, of course, describing a shop (not a “store”) as being “on” (rather than in) Oxford Street.

Nick Chadwick, Oxford

Purge our lovely, sensitive language of Americanisms? Oh, yes please. Let’s get rid of “alternate” (for alternative), “hopefully” (for I hope), “loan” (for lend) and “I’m good” (I’m well) for starters.

Sara Neill, Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Why don’t drivers put lights on?

An autumnal mist has caused a pile-up in Kent: what a surprise. So many drivers lack the basic intelligence to put their headlights on in poor visibility.

Why is it that this country is behind our cousins on the European mainland in having a requirement for headlights to be on all day? On recent trips to the Czech Republic and the Baltic countries, I noted 100 per cent compliance.

John Howard, Hornchurch

Pipers – you get one or eleven

John Smurthwaite (Letter, 5 September) asks: “Why are pipers always ‘lone’?” In truth, they often are, except when they come in elevens, accompanied by lords a-leaping, maids a-milking, geese a-laying, and the rest. None of which really contributes to the gravitas of a funeral service.

I suppose pipers are essentially a lonely breed – who look forward to Christmas.

The Rev Peter Sharp, Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire

Men are the biggest gossips

Women have always been aware that men are the bigger gossips. It was interesting that your article about gossip in the tech industry (“Between you, me and the blog post”, 5 September), which exclusively featured male rumour-mongers, was accompanied by a large image of two women gossiping. 

Anne Hay, Edinburgh

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