Fracking will mean cheaper energy!
In simple terms this suggestion was refuted a decade ago by Ed Davey, the then Energy Minister, when he pointed out that:
“North Sea gas didn’t significantly move UK prices – so we can’t expect UK shale production alone to have any effect.”
But let’s look in more depth at some of the arguments.
The myth that shale gas will mean cheaper energy prices in the UK is propagated on a regular basis and it is very seductive – especially in 2022 where the spike in energy prices and the invasion of Ukraine has moved energy centre stage. After all who can argue that being able to keep Granny (or yourself) warm in winter isn’t a desirable thing, and obviously anyone who opposes something that will make this possible must be an evil extremist with a hidden (probably Putin-funded) agenda, right?
Wrong. There has been a steady flow of highly reputable industry insiders and experts in science and economics who have lined up to explain that UK fracking is not going to have a material impact on wholesale or retail energy prices.
The main reason, and the common theme pervading most of these opinions, is that UK gas prices are tied to the prices paid all over Europe, and the volume increase from UK shale would not be significant enough to shift the dial there in any meaningful way.
Even Cuadrilla themselves have made it clear that they don’t expect fracking to reduce your gas price
Back in 2013 Lord Browne, who was at the time Cuadrilla’s chairman told an audience at the London School of Economics that fracking is not going to reduce gas prices in the UK
This view was confirmed the same year by Mark Linder, a public relations executive at Bell Pottinger who was also responsible for Cuadrilla’s corporate development, who told a meeting of concerned local residents that:
“We’ve done an analysis and it’s a very small…at the most it’s a very small percentage…basically insignificant.”
This statement caused some consternation as Cuadrilla’s had previously suggested in a press release that price decreases of up to 4% might result from fracking. When questioned about the disparity Cuadrilla did a hasty reverse ferret and stated:
“Cuadrilla’s never said it [shale] will bring down prices…We don’t think it will bring down prices, although it does have the potential to.”
So what about other commentators?
In September 2013 Lord Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics and author of the hugely influential Stern review on the financial implications of climate change, stated in an an interview with The Independent, that
“I do think it’s a bit odd to say you know that it (UK fracking) will bring the price of gas down. That doesn’t look like sound economics to me. It’s baseless economics”.
A study published in March 2020 by Warwick Business School pointed out:
“It is widely recognised that the open and liberal nature of the UK’s gas market means that the market price – the National Balancing Point (NBP) – is unlikely to be influenced by shale gas development.”
Discussing the current energy crisis a number of eminent scientists provided their perspective on the Science Media Centre website:
Prof Jon Gluyas, Director of the Durham Energy Institute, Durham University, said:
“abundant gas alone would not do anything to reduce petrol or heating-oil prices”
Professor Andrew Aplin, from the Department of Earth Sciences at Durham University, said:
“…potential gas production from thousands of wells would not change the price we pay for gas – and would be highly inconsistent with the government’s recently published and urgent net zero strategy”.
Professor Richard Davies, petroleum geologist and Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Engagement and Internationalisation) at Newcastle University said:
“It’s completely unrealistic for politicians to think this (UK fracking) will make a big dent in the costs of gas or our reliance on imports.”
The Campaign for The Protection of Rural England (CPRE) are clear that they don’t believe that UK fracking will result in cheap gas for anybody either…
…even if UK shale gas resources could be exploited at scale successfully we would not benefit from the significantly lower gas prices. The amount we pay for gas is largely determined by two things: the international liquefied natural gas spot market price and the European gas price. Consuming UK gas at the cost of production would require significant subsidies.https://www.cprepdsy.org.uk/what-we-care-about/fracking/
Scientific opinion is also reinforced by the Government’s own Department for Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy whose minister, Kwasi Kwarteng has made it clear on many occasions that he does not believe that fracking is an answer to either energy pricing issues or energy security. He tweeted in February 2022 that:
“The wholesale price of gas has *quadrupled* in UK and Europe. Additional UK production won’t materially affect the wholesale market price. This includes fracking – UK producers won’t sell shale gas to UK consumers below the market price. They’re not charities.”
Launching a review of the latest scientific evidence around shale gas extraction in April 2022, Mr Kwarteng doubled down on this stating:
It remains the case that fracking in England would take years of exploration and development before commercial quantities of gas could be produced for the market, and would certainly have no effect on prices in the near term.
So what *has* changed?
You might think that the arguments in favour of fracking helping out with energy prices would have been strengthened by recent events, but in fact they have weakened over time.
Why? Well back in 2013 the BGS released estimates for the amount of gas that they believed was in place. The central estimate for this resource was about 1300 trillion cubic feet (tcf) with about 10% of this estimated to be actually recoverable (130 tcf). The UK uses just under 3 tcf every year so gung-ho politicians and industry PRs waxed lyrical to anybody who would listen about our having 50 years of gas under our feet.
Sadly for them the resource estimates have since been downgraded to about 140 tcf meaning that with 10% recoverable we might be looking at 4-5 years’ worth of supply. If we spread this over 50 years we can see that this would mean about 10% of demand each year might be met. If you add 10% of UK demand to the European market of about 30 other countries you can why it would be unlikely to have a significant impact on prices.
Whilst it is obviously tempting for politicians with anti climate change mitigation agendas to deliberately mislead the public with claims about fracking providing cheap gas, it is clear that the industry themselves and more credible, less partisan, commentators can see that UK fracking will have no meaningful impact on either commercial or domestic gas supply prices in the foreseeable future.
As to the price volatility which may temporarily have made it look as though fracking might be economically viable, it would seem from the natural Gas Futures Prices that this is expected to diminish over the next couple of year returning us to the status quo ante.
We are in for a difficult couple of years but UK fracking isn’t going to help diminish the pain.