National Grid ends gas supply warning, but in long term we need to use less of the stuff

Frackers have called for them to be allowed to get to work and reduce the UK's reliance on imports. But there are other, better, methods of addressing the issue 

James Moore
Chief Business Commentator
Friday 02 March 2018 14:29
Storm Emma combining with the “beast from the east” contributed to a perfect storm hitting the UK’s gas reserves
Storm Emma combining with the “beast from the east” contributed to a perfect storm hitting the UK’s gas reserves

Well phew. You can keep the heating on after all and the hobs on your gas cooker will still produce a blue flame if you use gas.

The National Grid has withdrawn the first deficit warning in eight years after its call to the market to boost supplies achieved the desired result. The UK is no longer in danger of running out.

That hasn’t stopped the fracking industry from jumping in on the fuss that has been created.

“The UK is worryingly dependent on gas imports and this is forecast to increase to 80 percent by 2035,” said Ken Cronin, chief executive officer of industry body UK Onshore Oil and Gas.

“The need to ensure we have our own homegrown source of gas rather than pursuing this continued over-reliance on imports has today become very evident.”

Ineos, which has reduced consumption at its Runcorn plant during the cold snap, also chimed in telling Bloomberg: “These supplies can be provided by shale and yet multiple projects are being held up at the planning and surveying stage.”

Ah yes. Those blasted planners again. They’re responsible for the housing crisis and the energy crisis, and just about everything else that’s wrong with Britain. What rotters!

But in all seriousness, have the frackers – sorry the shale gas industry – got a point? Should we listen to the arguments of the likes of Mr Cronin?

Storm Emma combining with the weather system known as the “beast from the east” contributed to a perfect storm hitting the UK’s gas reserves. There have been problems with supplies coming from Europe, also shivering in the cold, and the country’s biggest storage facility was closed last year.

While domestic consumers were reassured that they wouldn’t get hit – companies like Ineos and other industrial operations have contracts that reward them with cheaper bills if they take one for the team – the UK was nonetheless skating on thin ice.

It is, as Mr Cronin said, increasingly reliant on imports in an unstable world that Britain’s lamentable band of politicians have contributed to with their Brexit posturing.

Listening to frackers would appear to offer an easy solution to the problem. The trouble with apparently easy solutions, which the UK is regrettably fond of, is that they are rarely good ones and they often create bigger problems further down the line.

Fracking brings with it a host of very real environmental concerns, and even if they could be dealt with (debateable), at the end of the day it still results in the burning of more gas, which pumps carbon dioxide into atmosphere.

This is something the UK and everyone else needs to stop doing.

One way of dealing with a problem of supply is to reduce demand. The fact that Britain’s housing stock is appallingly energy inefficient has been made again and again and again. Attacking that problem would be an environmentally friendly way of addressing the gas problem.

Of course, it wouldn’t eliminate the need for heating, but as Jonathan Marshall, energy analyst at the Energy & Climate Change Unit, points out, there are methods by which heating can be decarbonised.

Experiments in Manchester have trialled blending hydrogen in with natural gas. It produces water when it is burned and can be done safely up to a certain limit.

You could also move towards a greater use of electric heating.

Heat can be more efficiently generated distributed from a central hub, as has been done with some new build properties.

A decarbonisation programme presents a challenge, and it inevitably involves an element of risk because if you opt for the wrong solution it could end up looking expensive.

But it is one worth embarking on. Getting started on a long term programme would be a far better route to go down than opting for a quick fix that might not be so quick given the UK’s problematic geology.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments