Proving what we already know about shale gas

 

  • Machiavellian caution.
  • Bad experience with shale.
  • Safe technology and regulation.
  • UK Government invests £30 million in testing practical procedures and performance.

By Bill Butterworth

10 March 15


 

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Innovation in art demands great technical skill and an appeal to the human mind. Still, only a few achieve success – maybe only one in a thousand. Similarly, in science and technology, innovation demands the same extraordinary skill and appeal to the human mind – and a good deal of luck. Maybe only one in a million gets recognition and commercial success.

“There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order. This lukewarmness arises partly from fear of their adversaries who have the law in their favour; and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything until they have had actual experience of it.”

NICCOLÒ MACHIAVELLI

The Prince and The Discourses

1513 – Chapter 6

We know that some (to be fair, probably not all) of the practices involved in shale exploration and production in the USA and some other places was environmentally wrong and some had serious long term consequences. We know we do not want that here in the UK.

We know that all burning of hydrocarbon fuels is producing global warming at probably higher rates that we like to admit and that the consequences are likely to be serious. Most reasonable people believe that and would like to try to avoid it getting worse.

We also know a few other things relevant to the shale discussion.

  • Some hydrocarbon fuels are worse polluters when used than others; brown coal is killing China, diesel produces significant particulates, petrol produces much Carbon dioxide per mile and so on. All do have real disadvantages. Shale gas is a relatively clean-burn fuel; it does produce Carbon dioxide but not much else.
  • The risks in shale exploration and production are widely aired and much discussed. (See this blog 27 January 15.)
  • Some of the technology for safe shale extraction is known and proven. (See this blog 4 December 14.)
  • Some of the technology is less well established but still potentially safe. (See this blog 5 December 14)
  • We live in the most inspected, the most monitored, the most regulated society the world has ever known.
  • The government has earmarked £30 million for research to trial, monitor and test exploration and production of shale. A small handful of universities are already spending that cash.

Machiavelli was right. Innovation and change always have detractors. However, GB has always been a trail blazer and we do now have the opportunity to lead in safe shale. Logically, as our population in the UK is expanding by something of the order of 250,000 per year, we do have to have more energy and we do need to start building its supply right now. This a matter of leadership; do we in the UK want to develop energy security and care for our own people or not?