10:37 Monday 13th January 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[A]NDIE HARPER: The Government is offering councils that give the green light to fracking increased tax incentives worth millions of pounds. Now it comes as the French oil and gas giant Total says it’s become the first major energy company to invest in Britain’s shale and gas industry. Minister Michael Fallon explained how local authorities would benefit.
MICHAEL FALLON: Instead of going to central government, it will get money to spend on local services that could amount to £1.75 million pounds per well site. They’re also being offered, by the operators today, 1% of the revenues once the well starts to flow, and that could be quite significant. That could be five, six, ten million pounds per well head.
ANDIE HARPER: Nick Butler the head of Cambridge University’s Centre for Energy Studies isn’t convinced that this will be enough to overcome opposition.
NICK BUTLER: I don’t think that just giving them a little bit more of the revenue is going to change the minds of those people. I think you need very clear and simple trustworthy regulation, yet at the moment it looks rather complex. I think if you had that, then the exploration would go ahead, we’d see what resource there is, and what it would cost.
ANDIE HARPER: Joining me is the Cambridge-based environmental campaigner and writer Tony Juniper. Tony, good morning to you.
TONY JUNIPER: Good morning Andy.
ANDIE HARPER: So Nick Butler not convinced that this money being handed over to local authorities will convince opposition. What about you?
TONY JUNIPER: No, I don’t think this is going to change a lot of people’s minds. I come at this really with the principal concern linked to what large scale shale gas fracturing will do for our climate change targets. It’s true that gas is cleaner than coal, if we use it for electricity production , but it’s still carbon-intensive to meet the kind of targets that we’ve set out in law in the form of the 2008 Climate Change Act. And I think if we’re serious about tackling climate change, and the Prime Minister last week in Parliament was linking the recent storms and floods to climate change, then we need to be cutting our emissions in a way which is consistent with the science. Now I’m not against all gas, not even against all shale gas. But what we do need from the Government in the context of this policy on shale is to be setting out exactly how this fits with the wider picture. So is it going to be compatible with renewable energy? Are we going to be getting more wave power, tidal power, solar power and wind power? Or is this going to be displacing all of those, just filling the gap with more gas that will blow our climate change budgets? And so I think alongside these kinds of sweeteners that Ministers are talking about for local communities, we need a very clear understanding of what this means in the wider policy. And at the moment they’ve not done that. In fact they’re giving me every impression that what they’re trying to do is to finish off renewables, wind in particular, and to fill that gap with fossil fuel. And that’s not a policy I can support.
ANDIE HARPER: Do you have any other misgivings, other than this whole business of climate change? Do you have any other worries about its effect on the environment?
TONY JUNIPER: Well I do. It’s the local development impacts that I think are going to be really tricky to get by. And obviously one of the big opposition factors to onshore wind power in the UK has been the so-called industrialisation of the landscape. I don’t happen to agree with that. I think they’re rather nice things to have, if they’re in the right place. But I think people have underestimated the visual impact and the development impact that will come with this industry. I was in the United States last summer, and saw from an aircraft window what shale gas fracturing looks like on the ground. And it’s not simply one well that comes in and drills a bore and then takes the gas away. It needs satellite drilling stations in order to be able to get the gas that’s been released by the fracturing process. And if you’ve got low gas pressure in the shale basin, then you need more of these satellite wells. And looking from an aeroplane window, and seeing the road network on the ground, linking up these different well pads, in order to get the gas out, and you think about that kind of development in a crowded country like England .. . Because I’m looking at an area of desert in West Texas, which is not very heavily populated. If you start to apply that kind of development to England, pretty much all of the country obviously is pretty well inhabited these days, I think you’re going to find some very substantial opposition to that.
ANDIE HARPER: The problem is of course that people need energy; they want energy; they don’t want blackouts; they want to jump in their cars. But none of the ways of producing energy is universally popular. Nuclear, most people might think that wind turbines are harmless but there are an awful lot of people who are blaming them for noise and the rest of it. The whole thing is a real mess, isn’t it Tony? Because we don’t really have an energy policy, and this is the latest bit of sticking plaster.
TONY JUNIPER: Exactly, and if you look back over the last twenty years, certainly that I’ve been heavily involved in the energy debate, we chop and change the whole time. One minute nuclear is in. The next minute nuclear is out. One minute we’re going for renewables, then renewables are down the agenda. The next minute we’re going for shale gas. Where does it lurch to next? And actually, apart from this being a problem for the country’s energy supplies, this is also a big problem for the companies that are trying to work out where to invest their money. What kind of technology should they be backing? And I do think that we really need a clear policy, going forward, that can not only make sure the lights stay on in an affordable way, and that we meet our climate change targets, but also that can encourage people to put money into the technologies and businesses that have got a real future. And if you look at the way in which the solar power industry was incentivised, and there was lots of investment going in, and then suddenly the Government changed the policy. And companies that had bought millions of pounds worth of solar panels suddenly had a load of stranded stock that cost them a fortune. People went out of business as a result of this. And so that I think needs to alter, and we do need a long term clear consistent energy policy. And for me, at the heart of this, we have to have a very good understanding of how we’re going to meet out climate change reduction targets, and those storms and floods that we saw earlier this year I think are a portent of much worse to come. The Prime Minister said as much, and I think if he’s serious about this, and we do have to be serious, then we’ve got to get low-carbon energy built into the future. And if gas is going to be a little bit of that, in the short term, enabling us to bridge from the really dirty fossil fuels to the genuinely clean efficient use of renewables, then I think we need to have that put very clearly in terms of how this is going to be used as part of the energy mix that complements renewables, rather than wipes renewables out. And that’s the big fear that I have in terms of how Ministers have talked about this.
ANDIE HARPER: Tony, always good to talk to you. Thanks for joining us.
TONY JUNIPER: Thanks very much Andie.