Mr Cameron’s problem with the truth

By now we are used to the amount of spin which politicians and the industry apply to this issue. Sometimes when mistakes are made it’s easy enough to concede that there may have been a slip of the tongue.

What are we to make of somebody who so consistently has problems with the truth though?

Mr Cameron is either spectacularly badly briefed by his civil servants, spectacularly ignorant or is trying to mislead us with spectacular regularity.

Last week we had the £1 million pound community bribe fiasco. OK – everyone can make the odd mistake. This week though we have his impassioned “we’re all in this together so we must get fracking” plea in the Daily Telegraph, which is notable for another couple of “slips”

He states in this article that:

Latest estimates suggest that there’s about 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas lying underneath Britain at the moment – and that study only covers eleven counties. To put that in context, even if we just extract a tenth of that figure, that’s still the equivalent of 51 years gas supply.

Now, we have to ask whether it is Mr Cameron’s maths or his knowledge of the subject which is so weak.

10% of 1,300 tcf is 130 tcf .

According to the same Daily Telegraph which he uses as his mouthpiece, we have a “current rates of UK gas consumption of 3.5 tcf a year

So that would be 37 years gas supply – not 51 then. Wouldn’t it? That’s quite a difference even if you do allow him that optimistic claim of 10%

In the same article he states with his customary assurance that

shale gas pads are relatively small – about the size of a cricket pitch

A cricket pitch is in fact 22 yards long and 10 ft wide. That is a total area of 61 m2. A typical production fracking pad would be around 2 hectares or 20,000 m2.

The “mistakes” are too consistent (they all err in favour of fracking don’t they) and regular to be slips of the tongue from a politician at the top of our system who must be briefed by some of the most highly paid and intelligent civil servants we have.

This trend does seem to be evidence of growing frustration and loss of control of the argument by the government – call it the Balcombe Effect if you will. If they were confident then we’d get the truth. Instead we get exaggeration and panic-stricken inaccuracy.

It certainly does not inspire confidence in our politicians.

[Post script – we have now read an article at Factcheck which contains a very interesting dissection of this issue.

It is interesting that Mr Cameron seems to have chosen to use just the 2012 consumption figure of 72 bcm or 2.54 tcf figure to use in his calculation – this is significant because the average annual UK gas usage between 2000 and 2012 was a much higher 3.6 tcf according to government data. Notably he has also chosen the lower of two values for 2012 consumption that we have been able to find in government statistics – 72 bcm (2.54 tcf) from this file rather than the higher figure of 2.9 tcf converted from the data in the DECC’s data set on Historical gas data: gas production and consumption and fuel input 1920 to 2012

This selectivity obviously allows him to exaggerate the potential lifespan of the supplies.

It is notable that in The Guardian , Professor Peter Styles, professor of applied and environmental geophysics at Keele University, said ” 10% that will be around 25 years of UK gas supply and by then we need to have worked out how we are going to power the UK in the long term”. Prof Styles has pointed out that increased supply tends to increase demand so he anticipates annual consumption of up to 5 tcf over the coming decades]

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