Cameron Throws a Penny In the Shale Gas Well and Hopes His Wishes Come True
By Mat Hope
Shale gas has become a national talking point in recent weeks. The media debate has hit overdrive, with strong rhetoric occasionally displacing the facts. And now the UK Prime Minister (PM) has got in on the act—throwing his weight behind the creation of a UK shale gas industry.
Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, David Cameron is optimistic that exploiting shale gas can bring energy prices down, create jobs and help communities. He says that for those reasons, the UK "cannot afford to miss out on fracking." Evidence suggests the prime minister's optimistic claims should come with some caveats, however.
Cameron says adding shale gas to the UK's energy mix has "real potential to drive energy bills down." His claim contrasts with a number of reports that suggest shale gas production is unlikely to stop gas prices rising. He claims it's a simple calculation: more domestic energy production equals lower costs.
Research suggests shale gas may not affect bills until the 2020s, however. The London School of Economics's Grantham Institute and the Oxford Institute of Energy Studies, conclude this is because shale gas won't be competitive with gas imports for another decade. The government's own analysis suggests gas could cost about 10 pence per therm more in the 2020s than it does today.
It claims gas prices could go down if the U.S.'s shale gas boom continues, China exploits its reserves in a big way and a European shale gas industry—including in the UK—takes off. That could allow the UK to import gas more cheaply, potentially reducing bills.
So if shale gas production is going to reduce household bills, it needs to develop across the globe—not just in the UK. Even then, imports are likely to have a greater effect on prices than increasing the UK's domestic supply.
The prime minister claims developing a UK shale gas industry could create 74,000 jobs. But the number of jobs depends on how much shale gas there is, and how easy it is toextract.
The figure comes from an Institute of Directors report. But environmental campaign group, Greenpeace, has called the estimate "wildly optimistic" as it is based on figures from North Sea and US oil and gas production, which it describes as a "completely different" industry.
It's also questionable whether the UK currently has enough skilled workers to take the jobs. A survey by recruitment website, oilandgaspeople.com, found that 44 percent of respondents believe recruiters and companies will have to pay higher wages to hire qualified overseas staff to meet a sudden growth in demand.
So the number of jobs the industry can create will depend on how quickly it develops, and whether there are people with the skills to take them, which is hard to predict at this early stage.
Cameron hopes the community benefit package offered by industry to residents willing to host wells will be enough to stymie public opposition to fracking. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) recently announced that communities will get £100,000 for every well they host, alongside one percent of the well's revenue if gas is extracted.
The industry needs to drill exploratory wells before it can properly estimate how significant the UK's shale gas industry might be. But as the Balcombe protests show, not everyone is happy to have a frack pad in their community.
And paying off communities may not be the best approach, according to research by Geoff Wood, from the University of Dundee's Centre for Energy, Petroleum, and Mineral Law and Policy. Wood argues that communities need to be involved throughout the planning process if the government wants to prevent them obstructing projects later.
Only time will tell if the current scheme will be enough to encourage communities to sign on the dotted line—recent evidence suggests it might not.
A key cause for concern is the impact fracking might have on the local environment. Shale gas is extracted by firing water at chemicals at high pressure into shale rock, cracking it and releasing the gas. This has led to—sometimes overstated—claims that fracking can stimulate earthquakes and pollute local water sources.
The prime minister says the risks are minimal as "the regulatory system in this country is the most stringent in the world". Nonetheless, the UK's shale gas regulation is still being formulated, and the Environment Agency is yet to finalize the rules for the commercial exploitation.
There are risks involved in any form of energy production. Once the fracking rules are in place, expect a heated debate over whether or not they are sufficient to protect against the worst impacts.
Shale gas is likely to play a role in the UK's future energy mix, but the government and media are getting ahead of industry development. At the moment, Cameron's claims make fracking seem a little too free and easy—time will tell if the Prime Minister's optimism is justified.
This article originally appeared on Carbon Brief.
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For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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