Great Shale Debate: Europe Will Come Around
Britain’s Global Warming Policy Foundation is no stranger to controversy in the organization’s efforts to influence and counter-act what it sees as the “green agenda’s” damaging impact on economic growth and policy. But, according to the Foundation’s Director, Benny Peiser, that does not mean the organization denies the basic science of climate change, but believes there is a lack of debate about policies adopted by governments.
He explains, “The majority of our members accept the basic underlying science that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and if you pump enormous amounts of such a gas into the atmosphere it will have a warming effect – that, most of our members would accept. Where they would differ from the conventional wisdom is: we don’t really know how strong that effect will be over long periods of time, because that depends on all the feedbacks which are not very well understood, but, more importantly, our main concern is not with the science, but with the policies adopted by governments in the name of saving the planet from global warming. We think that the policies are much worse than what we have experienced in terms of global warming and that they are undermining our economies.”
Given that the Global Warming Policy Foundation has been an advocate for shale gas exploration in the UK, Mr. Peiser offered his views to Natural Gas Europe to preview his appearance the the European Unconventional Gas Summit happening in Vienna, Austria on 29-31 January 2013.
With the UK government’s recent green light for explorers, you’ve had some very positive developments in terms of the prospects for developing unconventional gas there. What’s the Foundation’s reaction?
Obviously, we’ve been one of the very few organizations in Britain which have said that unconventional gas is one of the few good stories in the fairly bad economic situation that Europe is facing. And it’s good, not only for the troubling economies, but, as we can see in the US, it also has a significantly positive effect on CO2 emissions. I think the US is the only large industrial country where emissions have actually dropped significantly over the last few years as a direct result of the shale revolution, whereas in Europe, ironically, with all its climate targets and legally binding agreements emissions are rising, not least because Europe’s whole energy policy is a complete fiasco and has led to a growing renaissance in coal fired power stations.
So, Europe, despite all of its green ambition, is actually going in the exact opposite direction, against natural and shale gas, and is banking on renewables, which is causing all sorts of unintended consequences, including what the International Energy Agency is calling “The Golden Age of Coal.” It’s an irony, but that is the reality of European energy policies.
Do you believe that the intentions of these policies, however, were good?
Whether the intentions were good all along remains questionable, because behind the green agenda lurk protectionist strategies – protecting Europe from cheap imports from abroad, and also the idea that eventually Europe would become the world’s largest exporter of renewable energy technology was another hope of the green agenda that hasn’t materialized.
The consequences certainly are contrary to what was expected and hoped for.
How would you evaluate public sentiment today towards unconventional gas in the UK?
There has been a significant shift in public opinion over the last 2-3 years. The hysteria about global warming has damped down; people are much less concerned about these issues and much more concerned about the economy and the recession. In terms of shale gas, the public opinion has shifted somewhat, mainly because there now seems to be an all party consensus that shale might be very good for Britain. After all there’s a growing realization that we might be sitting on a huge gold mine of shale reserves. We are waiting for a new estimate from the British Geological Survey, but it would appear that some of the shale plays in Britain are much bigger than the average shale plays in the US, which are already quite massive, but it would appear that some of the shale formations go much deeper – up to 5-6 times deeper than the biggest American shale plays.
So there’s a hope that this might generate huge returns, both for the government treasury as well as the introduction of an entirely new industry with all of the knock-on effects on industry as a whole.
Presumably, Britain would still largely rely on other sources of gas.
Yes, for the time being it will rely mainly on Norwegian gas, but who knows what would happen if huge amounts of unconventional gas eventually flow. Britain has conventional gas and oil from the North Sea, but that in itself isn’t enough. The country also imports coal, because it’s much cheaper than domestic coal. Britain also wants to build new nuclear stations, but it remains doubtful whether the economics will be viable.