UKIP’s policy on fracking is pretty clear, we are for it because it provides the UK with energy autarky, and would be a decent source of revenue. In fact, UKIP plan to establish a sovereign wealth fund with the proceeds. We have looked over the ocean to the US and seen the future, cheap abundant shale gas.
The UK is sat upon 1.3 trillion cubic feet of the stuff, and we have plenty of oil and gas expertise, plus a fleet of gas-fired power stations. We also have the comfort from the EPA in the States that there has been no evidence that fracking pollutes aquifers, and that a study by Durham University concluded that there was no evidence of earthquakes either. This all adds up to fracking being a no-brainer, does it not? In my opinion, the simple answer is no.
If UKIP goes headlong into promoting it, fracking will cost us votes to the Lib Dems, who I guarantee will be anti it. They will use snippets of ‘evidence’ from the States, and they will conclude that there are sufficient question marks over the safety and environmental issues, and that we should preserve the countryside. They will focus on the demonstrations in Lancashire and Sussex, and local antipathy. They will target the NIMBY vote. They will attack UKIP for being reckless and environmentally unfriendly Right Wingers. And they will succeed.
Why would the UK run headlong into fracking when there are concerns? My opinion is that we should sit on the gas and oil and let countries like America continue to take the risks, until all fears have been allayed, and the pain of technology development costs are paid for by someone else.
We should ask ourselves why no other European states are going after shale gas at the same rate as the UK. The answer is a combination political and geological concerns are holding them back. After all, we do not even need to frack ourselves in order to benefit from the effects of fracking. As gas prices have tumbled in the States, they have switched from coal to generate electricity, and as a consequence American coal has flooded the market bringing prices down by a third, from $128 a tonne in 2011 to $80 now. This despite the closure of the German nuclear power plants and the continued build of new plants in China and India which have pushed up demand.
In other words, we can enjoy cheap fuel while America takes the risks, and we do not have to pillage our natural resources. Why be the canary in the coalmine if you don’t have to be? New coal plants being built worldwide with (yawn) ultra-critical and super ultra-critical boilers that offer fuel to energy efficiencies of over 50%, which compares very favourably to the existing 35% currently enjoyed by the UK coal fleet, and is better than the 43% offered by our gas fleet, and will reduce our carbon emissions significantly.
There is one snag though, we have to leave the EU and rip up the Large Combustive Plants Directive which prevents us from doing this.
My next set of questions to the pro-frackers are thus: what are you going to do with the gas once it is out of the ground? Where do we plan to store the stuff, and how do we get it there, and who will pay for this? And if you want to export it, where is the gas line and the liquefaction plant?
If we are going to pipe the gas to storage we will need to build a new pipeline network, or we are going to have a road network capable of taking the massive fleet of tankers required. Then we have the really tricky question of storage. The UKs major storage facility is Rough in the North Sea, and holds enough gas for two weeks requirements.
Taking this whole new stream of gas will require a significant increase in space (three or four times as much), and for this we have no plans, and without the storage we will not be able to operate any new gas plants (which we do not yet have on order, in any case). If we want to export the gas we will need a plant or two to turn it into liquid, and some LNG tankers to transport it overseas. Oh, I should have mentioned all of this comes at vast expense and will take years, and bring with it more environmental degradation (and jobs).
So, apart from not having any methods of transportation, liquefaction, storage or conversion into energy we have no problems then, do we?
My point is basically this, UKIP have not thought through the fracking argument, and with a semi-prepared policy we are at risk of losing support to the anti-frackers, and boy, will they be a loud voice in 2015. I am in favour of exploiting the shale reserves that we have, but not until all the environmental is have been dotted and the infrastructural ts crossed, and until then I support using coal better, just as they are all over the world.
Ultra-critical and super ultra-critical boilers are proven technologies, and we have the infrastructure in place, and best of all we get to take advantage of fracking without taking the risks, and the result is cheaper electricity for all without having to sell off the family silver too soon.