Coalition energy policy came under fire from an unusual source this week – former energy secretary and noted fracking enthusiast Lord Howell. Based on “all the expertise in the planet”, he now claims the government’s view of shale gas “is much too optimistic and could prove extremely dangerous politically when the reality unfolds
”. Lord Howell went on to warn against those hoping to emulate the American shale experience, which would not have been possible without the highly controversial exemption of shale from the Clean Water Act.
It’s an intervention which stands at odds with members of the House of Lords Committee on Economic Affairs, which this week urged the government to treat shale gas development as a “national priority” given falling North Sea production. It should be noted, however, that Lord Howell is still more than happy to see fracking developed in “derelict” areas of the north.
Meanwhile the US shale story is becoming more complex: methane emissions
are probably much higher than initially reported; negative health impacts
are being validated; and coal consumption is actually rising
again as gas prices rise. UK supporters of fracking are keen to cut the red tape and get things underway as soon as possible, but experience elsewhere increasingly suggests we should be in no hurry.
The explosion and fire in a Turkish coal mine on Tuesday which has killed nearly 300 miners is a horrific reminder of the high price demanded by fossil energy. The disaster should be considered as just one of the many additional associated costs of coal, including air pollution and the highest carbon emissions of any other energy source.
Yet another such cost was exposed by an International Energy Agency report released this week, which showed how increasing coal consumption is negating the impact of renewable generation. As a result, the global cost of pegging climate change to +2°C has risen by $8 trillion in the last two years: slower decarbonisation leads to higher overall costs.
There was some positive news, however, for the renewables sector. Solar led the way with a 14% rise in jobs, and worldwide the renewables sector now employs 6.5 million people. In Germany renewables generated a record 27% of the electricity supply in the first quarter of 2014.
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