Ok – I know it’s only The Sun but…

Today’s Sun carries an article written by Nigel Lawson, ex Chancellor of the Exchequer, and chief cheerleader for fracking.

It is a masterpiece of bad logic and polemic, spiced with arrogance and stupidity. The sad thing is that people will read this rubbish uncritically and believe at least some of what he said. Let’s take a look shall we

In recent weeks it has become clear that we are sitting on mind-boggling reserves of gas on a scale never before suspected. They are locked in black rock known as shale, from which the latest technology, developed and now widely in use in America, can extract the gas safely and cheaply.
According to the British Geological Survey, there is enough now known to lie under Lancashire and Yorkshire alone to satisfy all the UK’s needs at the present rate of consumption for between 50 and 100 years. And that is without taking into account not merely the rest of the UK, so far largely unexplored, where shale gas is known to exist, but also our offshore shale reserves, which the British Geological Survey reckons could be up to ten times the size of our onshore reserves.

Lawson presents the estimates from the BGS as fact. If you read the report itself you will see that the estimates are heavily qualified and come with a warning that it would be highly premature to draw any conclusions about the amount of gas that would be technically or economically recoverable. He also exaggerates the estimates. The BGS central estimate for the Bowland Hodder shale is 1300 tcf. The top performing shale plays in the US average about 6% recovery. We use about 3 tcf a year so allowing a generous 10% recovery that would be about 44 years. Even using the BGS high end guess of 2281 tcf you would only get 76 years at 10% recovery, so Lawson’s claim that we “know” we have 50 to 100 years is ludicrous.

Nor is it just gas. There is oil in shale, too, which is now being extracted in the US using the “fracking” technology, in increasing quantities.


Having your own supplies of gas, in particular, is hugely advantageous since, unlike oil, gas is pretty expensive to transport from overseas, as it has to be liquefied first. As a result, in the US – which has already overtaken Russia as the world’s biggest producer of gas (and which may in due course overtake Saudi Arabia in the production of oil) – gas prices have plummeted, giving the economy a massive and continuing boost. So, with what seem to be the largest shale reserves in Europe – and maybe, who knows, in the world – we are a lucky people.

See what the cunning old fox is trying to do here. He thinks that if he tells us that prices have gone down in the USA, and that we are lucky people too, we’ll automatically believe prices will go down here too. What a shame that even Cuadrilla admit they won’t!

And what a shame that he forgets to mention that gas price reductions in the USA left drillers on a treadmill where their licences forced them to keep drilling at uneconomic rates, thus further reducing prices and deepening their losses. You’d think an ex Chancellor might understand a bit about economics but this seems to have passed him totally by. There’s none so blind as those that don’t want to see as the saying goes.

Or so you might suppose. But that is to reckon without the two ugly sisters who are determined that Cinderella shall not go to the ball. The first is an influential quango, the Environment Agency, headed by Labour peer Lord Smith, which (to some extent at the behest of the European Union) is busy inventing one phoney reason after another why the extraction of shale gas should not be given planning permission.

Yay! it’s hot button time – QUANGO – aaagh no! Labour – shock horror! European Union – quick fetch the smelling salts. Buried underneath the layer of vitriol is a sneaky statement that these people are inventing reasons not to give planning permission. It seems not to occur to Lawson that the planning system exists to control development in a way which protects people. Reasons are not being invented here. Omissions are being pointed out and regulations are being enforced. He is being highly disingenuous to suggest otherwise. Note that he doesn’t actually provide any examples of what is being “invented”.

The second ugly sister is the Department of Energy and Climate Change, under its Liberal Democrat Secretary of State Ed Davey, and its Energy Bill now before Parliament. It would give Mr Davey the power to sign very long-term contracts with inefficient wind power operators to provide so much electricity at between twice and three times the current price that there will be no market left for the cheap electricity that could be generated using shale gas.

Here he goes again – Ed Davey – Liberal Democrat? – how very dare he be one of THOSE!

The only source of renewable energy he seems to know about is wind power (this seems to be a particularly common piece of tunnel vision on the right wing of the Conservative Party for some reason). And we have the “cheap” thing suggested again, against all of the evidence from the many eminent sources which say shale wont bring cheaper energy to Europe.

And they are backed by well-funded Green pressure groups, such as Friends of the Earth, who are preparing unending legal challenges for anyone seeking to provide us with cheap energy from shale.

Green – oh no – (has he forgotten that “greenest government ever” stuff that that nice Mr Cameron sold to us??). It almost sounds as though he means financially backed doesn’t it. No he can’t be suggesting that now can he? Talking of well-funded pressure groups do you know that Lawson’s own well-funded pressure group, the Global Warming policy foundation is currently in danger of losing its charitable status after a formal complaint that it has persistently misled the public prompted the statutory regulator to probe into the group. Funny things these well-funded pressure groups aren’t they ?

Oh No – and he’s still banging on about that cheap gas that we aren’t going to have. When will he learn?

They are all motivated by a quasi-religious obsession that carbon dioxide, essential for life on this planet and produced when gas or oil is burned, is somehow evil. This is a belief without any serious scientific substance and one which our major competitors are rightly content to ignore.

Well I guess that a climate change denier would say that wouldn’t he? CO2 is indeed essential for happy plants – it is though implicated in rising global temperatures, and at a certain level in the atmosphere it asphyxiates humans. An “inconvenient truth” that one for Lord Lawson perhaps?

As to the suggestion that “this is a belief without any serious scientific substance” we can only say that it is amazing how he is able to ignore totally the body of scientific evidence which suggests that global warming is happening and that rising CO2 levels are heavily implicated. Unfortunately for Lawson saying something like that does not make it true.

Recognising that Brits have too much common sense to fall for this, they parade spurious environmental concerns, claiming that fracking will contaminate groundwater and lead to damaging earthquakes. Both these objections are entirely unfounded. Despite the hundreds of thousands of shale wells drilled in the US, there is not a single, authenticated case of groundwater contamination. This is hardly surprising. Groundwater, as its name implies, is near the earth’s surface. Shale gas is drilled deep, deep, down.

His appeal to the common sense of the Brits shows he knows what audience he is trying to mislead here. Unfortunately, as so often in this piece, he goes on to try to draw unreasonable conclusions by distorting the truth.

Here he claims concerns are “spurious” but his evidence to support this actually proves the opposite. There is evidence (as reported by the Telegraph only last month) that fracking has contaminated groundwater and even Cuadrilla had to admit that the earth tremor did damage their Preese Hall well so badly that it has now been abandoned. These concerns are in fact in no way “spurious” – they are very real!

His fatuous comment that “This is hardly surprising. Groundwater, as its name implies, is near the earth’s surface. Shale gas is drilled deep, deep, down.” displays either a surprisingly superficial knowledge of his chosen subject or the contempt in which he hold the intelligence of his readers. Surely he is aware of the bore hole which links the shale to the surface and how water moves. Maybe not?

There is usually at least a mile of solid rock between the groundwater and where the fracking occurs.

Yes – and as we point out a handy little connecting pipe susceptible to earth quake damage linking the area where fracking occurs to the surface. Without it fracking would be both impossible and rather pointless.

As for earthquakes, while there have been a few instances of minor tremors deep down where the fracking takes place, these have no effect whatsoever on the surface, where we all live.

Not true – there is evidence of damage to a road. It was minor but it did happen. As he knows though there was damage to the well as mentioned above. This is where the risk lies and he is being highly disingenuous, yet again, in ignoring what he plainly ought to know if he is going to use his influential position to try to move public opinion.

At my age, it probably makes little practical difference whether fracking goes ahead in the UK or not.
It will certainly go ahead elsewhere, as it does in the US to the great benefit of the American economy.
But I do still care about the future of this country.
I want my grandchildren to grow up in a country that is prosperous and confident, not one that is impoverished, fearful, and self-harming. That is what is at stake.

A nice little hand on heart, unselfish ending eh?

Lord Lawson – if you are really concerned about this country and your grandchildren, and are worried about the self harm which the government seems to be hell bent on inflicting, then please stop this ludicrous rhetoric and start looking at the facts.

You do your country a grave disservice by writing such illogical and misleading rubbish to promote your own political agenda.

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