It used to be trendy to join protests against new motorway extensions. So-called environmentalists climbed trees and set up camps to block bulldozers.
Remember “Swampy” and the tree-huggers? Now, the latest focus for the green protesters and their celebrity backers is shale gas. Anti-fracking groups are mobilising across the UK, feverishly shouting that shale gas extraction will pollute our watercourses, cause massive earthquakes and disfigure the landscape.
Already protesters have managed to force the fracking company Cuadrilla into temporarily suspending operations at its Balcombe site, in West Sussex, as groups there gear up for what they’re calling “mass civil disobedience”.
We need a reality check. Ofgem, the energy regulator, has warned that the closure of UK coal-fired power stations to meet EU 2020 CO2 emissions targets is going to leave us perilously short of electricity within the next 18 months. Right now, we have a 14% surplus generating capacity. But by 2015, that will have fallen to only 2%. Britain will be on a knife-edge, teetering on the brink of blackouts.
Instead of properly dealing with this looming problem, policymakers’ continuing obsession with renewable energy has seen more than 5,000 giant, industrial wind turbines installed from one end of the country to the other at a cost of £7billion. Sadly, due to their unreliability and the fact they don’t work when there is no wind and must be switched off when the wind is too high, they often produce only a trickle of the power we need.
Fearful that the successful exploitation of our massive shale gas reserves would render the entire wind industry obsolete, the green lobby is now in a blind panic, churning out endless lies about fracking and its alleged consequences.
Fracking involves pumping tens of thousands of litres of water mixed with sand, soap and citric acid, into deep wells under high pressure. The mixture causes rock formations to fracture and release stored gases. The Americans have drilled tens of thousands of wells and conducted more than two million fracking operations without a single recorded incident of groundwater contamination or explosions.
Boreholes for shale gas extraction are drilled down to 2,000m – more than 6,500ft – or more underground, thousands of metres below the aquifer. The risk of water contamination is negligible. With an estimated 200trillion cubic feet of shale gas deposits discovered in Lancashire alone – enough to power Britain for 65 years – we could be looking at the biggest energy revolution since North Sea Oil.
Shale gas emits about half the CO2 that burning coal produces, which is why the US has managed to reduce its CO2 emissions by 450million tonnes in the past five years, while EU greenhouse gas emissions continue to soar.
Carbon emissions in the US per capita are now below 1963 levels and meanwhile gas is at almost giveaway prices, kick-starting the US economy, boosting jobs and prosperity.
In Scotland, Australian company, Dart Energy, has been granted two licences to carry out exploratory drilling in Dumfries-shire. It has also identified two major shale gas fields at Airth, near Falkirk.
The British Geological Survey suggests UK offshore reserves of shale gas could be five to 10 times the size of onshore, perhaps over 1,000trillion cubic feet, putting the UK in the top 20 countries with shale gas reserves worldwide.
Already the shale gas revolution has shamed the wind industry by showing how to cut carbon emissions for real. We must stop the trendy protest army in their tracks and send them and their windmills packing. Shale gas could solve our looming energy crisis.
Struan Stevenson is a Conservative MEP for Scotland and president of the climate change, biodiversity and sustainable development intergroup in the European Parliament.