Britain is paying the price for its fracking panic

Between 1980 and 2005, the UK produced more energy than it needed. Today, we import more than a third of our energy and over half of our natural gas. Households are facing an increase in their annual tax bills from £1,500 to an eye-watering £3,000. While the Business Secretary may have tweeted this week that the current situation is a matter of high prices rather than security of supply, families already struggling to heat their homes are unlikely to tell the difference as they decide whether to heat their homes or pay for food. This was never a foregone conclusion. A decade ago, the US shale gas revolution was well

How Britain’s fracking industry was regulated into irrelevance

This week the fracking company Cuadrilla announced that it was permanently closing its two shale mines in Lancashire, after the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) declared that shale gas companies must seal up the wells they had drilled and return the land to nature. It is, on the face of it, a very strange step to take at this time. The wells have not been producing any gas for some years, of course, ever since environmentalists launched their scare campaign against the industry. It was a campaign that was astonishing in its brazenness. Tiny earth tremors recorded near the wells, of a scale that is entirely normal in, say, the

How the Tories have fuelled Britain’s energy crisis

Britain is caught in an energy crisis of the government’s own making. It is true that gas prices have spiked all over the world — but Britain is suffering more than most. Energy suppliers are going out of business, thanks to the government’s price cap. Even fertiliser companies are going bust, with serious knock-on effects for the food industry: the British Meat Processors Association says shortages could hit within a fortnight. The trigger for this crisis has been the sudden surge in demand for gas as the global economy recovers from the Covid lockdowns. Gas prices have doubled in the United States, for example. In Britain, however, prices are five

Drill down and it’s obvious: the fracking debate was lost long ago

Five years ago this week, George Osborne as chancellor announced a scheme to place tax revenues from shale gas fracking in Lancashire and Cheshire into a ‘sovereign wealth fund for the north of England’. Soon after that, a leaked memo revealed him urging fellow ministers to intervene with planning authorities to fast-track fracking proposals and in particular to help Cuadrilla, the company whose drilling near Blackpool caused a seismic tremor in August big enough to give the current government reason to impose a moratorium on fracking ‘until and unless’ it’s judged completely safe. Jeremy Corbyn probably isn’t wrong when he calls this ban ‘an electoral stunt’. But it comes as

Barometer | 2 May 2019

Great shakes Shale gas commissioner Natascha Engel resigned in protest at what she called ‘absurd’ restrictions on fracking — in particular rules which state that fracking operations must cease. Has anyone ever been harmed by a tremor at magnitude 0.5? — The Richter scale was devised by seismologist Charles F. Richter in 1935. It is a logarithmic scale, each ascending number marking an increase of approximately 31 times the amount of released energy. — The largest recorded earthquake, in Chile in 1960, measured 9.5. A tremor less than 4.0 is unlikely to cause damage and one of 2.0 or below unlikely even to be felt. — A tremor of 1.0 releases

Thanks to the anti-fracking lobby, Britain can’t avoid Russian gas

Who stands between the government and a proper, effective sanctions regime against Russia? Not Jeremy Corbyn, though he might wish he could. Putin is going to get away with the Salisbury attack, suffering little more than a token expulsion of diplomats, thanks to anti-fracking protesters. They didn’t mean it, of course. When they stood before the bulldozers in the Sussex village Balcombe, jumped up and down about mini-Earth tremors in Lancashire they thought they were doing the Earth a favour. They saw UK-produced shale gas as a dirty alternative to clean, carbon-free energy. But they were wrong. In the short to medium term at least the alternative to UK-produced shale

More gas, less wind

The Global Wind Energy Council recently released its latest report, excitedly boasting that ‘the proliferation of wind energy into the global power market continues at a furious pace, after it was revealed that more than 54 gigawatts of clean renewable wind power was installed across the global market last year’. You may have got the impression from announcements like that, and from the obligatory pictures of wind turbines in any BBC story or airport advert about energy, that wind power is making a big contribution to world energy today. You would be wrong. Its contribution is still, after decades — nay centuries — of development, trivial to the point of

Power failure | 21 July 2016

Fracking is a British tradition. Since 1969 more than 200 sites have used hydraulic fracturing ‘without environmental catastrophes’ according to Dick Selley, an emeritus professor of geology, writing in the programme notes to Fracked! by Alistair Beaton. The satire takes the opposite view and regards fracking as a wicked novelty inflicted on rustic innocents by Big Oil, which hopes to steep the country’s aquifers with radioactive water and massacre all its customers at the same time. That’s the business plan, apparently. We meet a pootling granny (Anne Reid), who reluctantly leads a campaign to stop Deerland Energy from plastering southern England with horrible drilling platforms. Deerland hires a firm of

Hollande equals Thatcher? Not quite, Monsieur le President, but keep trying

Have you ever tried discussing the merits of gun control with a Texan, or of deregulated labour markets with a Frenchman and his Belgian cousin? The prejudices involved are much the same. Many Americans believe that guns in the home and the pick-up truck are their best protection against violent attack, and that the 13,286 US gunshot deaths last year would have hit an even higher number if gun ownership was more restricted. Likewise, French trade unionists believe a 35-hour working week combined with laws restricting any company that is a going concern from making redundancies are the best protection of their economic wellbeing, rather than a root cause of

The best things in the world spring up by accident

Since no one has bothered to ask what my must-read book of last year was I’m going to tell you here: it’s Matt Ridley’s Evolution of Everything. I don’t think it has appeared on nearly so many recommended lists as his previous bestsellers Genome and The Rational Optimist, nor has it been so widely reviewed. And I have a strong inkling as to why: its message is so revolutionary as to alienate pretty much everyone across the spectrum, from Christians and Muslims to corporate bosses, historians, feminists, educationalists and conspiracy theorists, from Greens and socialists all the way across (if there’s a difference) to Conservatives like George Osborne and David

Power shortages in Britain’s energy network are shameful

Last Wednesday, following what National Grid casually referred to as ‘multiple plant breakdowns’ of a number of power stations – desperate attempts had to be made to find back-up power supplies to keep the lights on throughout the evening. It was a clear demonstration of the dangers of the UK’s outmoded power network and successive failures of policy. And before anyone starts bleating about the government’s slashing of wind and solar subsidies, the wind wasn’t blowing and the sun wasn’t shining, so they were unable to help out at a time of crisis. As a result, there was little spare power to cover the gap. This meant that at one

The left love to pick and choose which scientific research they trust

There has been predictable frothing at the suggestion by Professor Averil Macdonald, Chairwoman of UK Onshore Oil and Gas, that more women than men oppose fracking because women are more prone to follow their gut instinct than the science behind fracking. I am going to keep out of that debate, not because I fear for my chances of landing an honorary fellowship – if Tim Hunt’s experience is anything to go by, the world of academia will fall in on Professor Macdonald — but because I am more interested in what fracking tells us of the attitude of the left towards science. Over the past few years the left has

The Living Wage is nifty politics – but let’s see more help for small business too

What is George Osborne’s Living Wage? Is it a ploy to shift cost from the taxpayer to the employer by reducing in-work benefit claims; or a sop to Tory MPs who were bombarded with angry questions about earnings inequality during the election, as well as a neat way of turning one of Labour’s few effective lines of attack? Or is it a principled act of fairness, acknowledging that the lowest earners bore the brunt of the recent recession? Knowing how the Chancellor operates, it is probably all of the above except the last: he is, as Sir Samuel Brittan once remarked, ‘one of those people who do the right things

Vivienne Westwood pays an unwelcome visit to David Cameron’s house

While politicians are currently debating the Assisted Dying Bill in Parliament, Dame Vivienne Westwood has decided there is a more pressing matter that ought to be on the news agenda. The eco-minded fashion designer is on her way to David Cameron’s house in a massive tank. Alas, it’s not a friendly visit. Westwood has hired out the fuel-guzzling machine in order to protest about fracking outside Cameron’s Chadlington home, in his constituency village: Dame Vivienne Westwood’s anti fracking tank rides to David Cameron’s house in #Witney. #HeartNews — Thames Valley News (@HeartThamesNews) September 11, 2015 It’s not the first time Westwood has taken part in a bizarre stunt in her quest

Get fracking

Over the past week, the government has finally made a decisive move to kickstart a fracking industry in Britain. Licences have been issued for shale gas exploration and the planning process streamlined so that in future, if local councils fail to make decisions within 16 weeks, the communities secretary will step in and adjudicate. It’s excellent news that the years of prevarication over shale seem finally to have come to a close, and greatly to the credit of our Climate Change Secretary, Amber Rudd, and Communities Secretary, Greg Clark. But the dismally slow speed at which our much-vaunted ‘shale revolution’ has taken place will end up costing this country. The

Fracking Lancashire

That democracy is a superior form of government to any other goes without saying. But in order to function, it has to be conducted in such a way and on such a scale as to ensure that the people or their elected representatives are making decisions based on genuine alternatives. With this week’s decision by Lancashire County Council to reject a second application for fracking on a site near Blackpool, something has gone seriously wrong. An important national issue has been allowed to be settled according to purely local concerns. Warned by their lawyers that there were no environmental or safety grounds for rejecting the application, councillors instead voted to

Contagion of a different kind as Greece wriggles off the hook

The clear winner in the Greek crisis is the author of The Little Book of Negotiating Clichés, whose royalties must have been pouring in as the clock ticked towards midnight while European leaders took positive steps back from the brink and found themselves speaking the same language, perhaps because they were reading from the same page. But assuming this predictable dance results in terms that Prime Minister Tsipras can persuade his comrades to accept before the IMF’s default deadline and the moment when the Greek banking system can no longer seek life-support from the European Central Bank — which is all still quite a big assumption — who will be

Why are renewable technologies held to a different set of standards?

The House of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee wants a moratorium on fracking so that what it calls the ‘huge uncertainties’ of its impact on the environment can be resolved. If they hadn’t noticed, we already have had a moratorium on fracking. All activity ceased in 2011 after a couple of minor earth tremors near Blackpool were linked to exploratory drilling by Cuadrilla in the area. What the company now wants to do – and in which it is being frustrated at present by Lancashire’s planners – is to resume exploration, having changed their procedures in response to the tremors. If there are ‘huge uncertainties’ over fracking, how would they ever

Why Vladimir Putin’s threats about cutting off Europe’s gas supply are all bluff

Has the West found a secret new weapon in its battle with Putin’s expansionist ambitions: reversible gas pipelines? Putin has never made a secret of his willingness to use energy as bludgeon against his neighbours. In 1999, the year before he became Russian leader, he wrote a pamphlet making the case that energy exports provided the means by which his country’s greatness could be restored. Putin’s behaviour over Ukraine has been typical. Over the past 15 years Russia has constructed a network of pipelines which can be used to bypass Ukraine. Starve Ukraine of energy, goes Putin’s thinking, and it might be forced back into Russia’s fold. What he didn’t

Ross Clark

Why aren’t fracking companies drilling offshore, rather than on land?

The city of Denton, Texas, doesn’t often make the news, but last month it did: it became the first city in the US – by a margin of 59 per cent to 41 per cent – to vote to ban fracking. Is the US love affair with shale ending? The industry has not been its own best friend, James Ball, special advisor to Tachebois Ltd, told the Spectator Energy Forum this morning. He asked the audience – made up of a large number of professionals from the oil and gas industry – how many had watched Gasland, the US documentary by Josh Fox which helped to form negative public view