Walter Russell Mead: Britain Jumps On Gas Bandwagon
The U.K. joins a growing consensus in favor of natural gas as leaders explore innovative solutions to the recession and dependence on Middle Eastern oil. The British government is set to approve up to 30 gas-fired power stations that will replace coal, nuclear, and older gas plants. Chancellor George Osborne expects this enthusiastic support for new energy will boost private investment in infrastructure and underpin long-term growth.
As The Financial Times notes:
The dramatic expansion of gas – seen by many Tory MPs as a source of cheap future energy – will be backed by possible tax breaks and a new regulatory regime for shale gas exploration. Environmentalists who want more emphasis on greener power are likely to be dismayed.
Encouragingly, the Tory government intends to reinvest any revenue back into the economy:
The chancellor’s financial package will be fiscally neutral, meaning that money raised from a squeeze on benefits and pension tax relief for the wealthy can be redirected to priority areas. They include measures to promote growth – moves to lift housing and job creation are likely – and support for middle Britain, including a freeze on fuel duty increases.
For all these advantages, environmentalist criticism of shale persists throughout Europe. France banned fracking last year, despite holding one of the biggest potentially recoverable reserves of shale gas on the continent. Earlier this fall, Socialist President Francois Hollande reaffirmed his opposition despite protests from energy companies and labor unions.
As it stands, European environmentalists are standing athwart progress, yelling incoherently. Whereas “green” solutions remain largely hypothetical—and costly—shale gas has already yielded results in reducing American carbon output.
Locally, natural gas is safer than nuclear power and cleaner than oil, presenting fewer hazards to users and the environment. Globally, its abundant supply in the U.S. and parts of Europe makes gas a viable alternative to the unstable energy empires of western Asia.
There is plenty of cheap, readily available energy to revolutionize the politics of energy. As more innovative countries like Britain, the U.S., and Mexico explore these promising opportunities, the holdouts in France and elsewhere will be left running on empty.