CLIMATE change is widely accepted as one of the greatest threats to civilisation, so how can it possibly make sense to push ahead with shale gas exploration?
In whatever real-world scenario you choose, we will need gas to generate electricity and heat our homes for the next 20 to 30 years. This leaves us with the simple choice – should we produce and burn our own gas or rely on imports?
I accept the overwhelming evidence that our globe is warming exponentially. An increase in planetary temperatures of four degrees centigrade could lead to a rise in ocean levels of 35 feet, leaving 760 million people homeless and the extinction of almost 40 per cent of our animal and plant species.
A global crisis requires a global response. Good to see, therefore, governments around the world ratifying the Paris Agreement in 2015. The UK is committed to one of the toughest national targets, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. Let us hope that President Trump chooses collaboration over isolation.
Some will raise eyebrows at claims that the UK is leading action on climate change – but the UK is reducing CO2 emissions faster than any other G7 country.
The UK has never been cleaner or greener, having broken 13 renewable energy records in 2017. Last year around 28 per cent of electricity came from renewables, from only 10 per cent in 2010. Around 98 per cent of all solar installations have taken place since 2010, now powering two million UK homes.
Renewables cannot currently compete against existing coal and gas generation, so does require subsidies. These costs are predicted to treble over the next five years, from £4.6 bn in 2015-16 to £13.5 bn in 2021-22, according to figures from the Office for Budget Responsibility. We all pay for this through our electricity bills, amounting to around 20 per cent of charges.
Nevertheless, the Government is rightly determined to meet our targets. But we cannot meet all our energy needs until at least the mid-part of this century.
Gas power generation will be needed to fill gaps left by the closure of coal-powered stations and to continue to heat 22 million UK homes. Official estimates show that our reliance on imported gas will grow from the current 50 per cent to 78 per cent of our needs by 2035. Although Norway is our biggest supplier, we will increasingly need other sources including less environmentally-friendly liquefied natural gas from Qatar and, of course, from Russia.
As former Liberal Democrat Energy Minister Sir Edward Davey said in 2015: “We will need gas, as a bridge to a zero-fossil fuel future, at least for the next two or three decades. That’s reality. And I’d rather use Britain’s gas than Putin’s gas.” Quite.
The economic opportunity is also compelling. Since 1970, the oil and gas industry has paid almost £330bn in direct upstream taxes and a report for the Institute of Directors indicated that shale gas exploration could add 64,000 jobs to the 300,000 already supported by conventional production.
My Thirsk and Malton constituency sits on top of one the country’s largest potential reserves of shale gas. Both as the MP and life-long resident, I could only support exploration if there are strict controls on environmental impact, the preservation of our landscapes and the protection of other economic sectors, particularly food, farming and tourism.
The British Geological Survey will provide independent monitoring of air and water quality and seismic activity. My self-funded visit to the US shale gas capital, Pennsylvania, in 2015 left me in little doubt that these requirements can be met. The US has learned from its early mistakes and production is now well-regulated and safe.
Typically, UK regulations are even more stringent and deliver belt-and-braces levels of protection. In the report on my visit (see www.kevinhollinrake.org.uk/fracking) I argue that we need controls on the number of well-pads, proximity to settlements, traffic movements and direct access to suitable roads. I am pleased to say that many of my recommendations have been adopted within the draft York, North Yorkshire and National Park Minerals and Waste Plan. Along with colleagues, I have secured a complete prohibition of drilling and service activity in the
National Parks, Areas of Outstanding National Beauty and of Special Scientific Interest.
The physical and visual impact of a developed shale gas well pad is very low, in fact little different to the nine conventional well pads that we have had in Ryedale for the last 20+ years, so
I do not expect there to be any lasting impact on house prices. However, there are certainly short-term impacts for local residents, due to traffic movement and noise and light pollution, which is why I believe that at least some of the potential windfall of hundreds of millions of pounds should be paid directly to those residents most affected.
I have been accused of betraying my constituents by supporting exploration in my area. My answer is simple; cross-party support in Parliament determined this as a national opportunity in 2015, I cannot oppose it in my area on the basis that this is a good idea somewhere else.
Kevin Hollinrake is the Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton.