The ten whoppers by Boris on shale Gas and fracking in the Telegraph


4:21 pm - December 12th 2012

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by Damian Kahya

Britain should get fracking, says the Mayor of London in a surprisingly detailed intervention into the UK’s energy policy in the Telegraph on Monday.

We give 10 of his claims the once over in the same good humour as he makes them – albeit with far, far too many numbers.

1) The cost of disposing of their [nuclear] spent fuel rods is put at about £100 billion – more than the value of all the electricity they have produced since the Fifties.
Unproven.

This refers to an article in the Sunday Times which adds up the cost of decommissioning with the cost of nuclear power stations and compares it to the cost of power generated from Nuclear power calculated in today’s prices.

The decommissioning cost is not discounted and the cost in today’s prices may not represent the actual cost. Furthermore Mr Johnson appears to have ignored the construction cost, discussed in the article.

2) A new building like the Shard needs four times as much juice as the entire town of Colchester
False – external source.

The zelo-street blog points to an Independent article in which The Shard’s architect argues the building uses less energy than a town of 8,000. Colchester, it points out, has a population of 104,000. 

3) The total contribution of wind power is still only about 0.4 per cent of Britain’s needs.
Unclear.

It’s unclear what units Mr Johnson means here. Does he mean our electricity or energy – which includes, for example, the gas we burn for heating or oil we burn for transport.

In terms of our electricity needs, wind generated 16Twh of power in 2011 compared to total generation of 364.9Twh. That works out at 4.4%. Relatively modest by European standards. The government wants total renewable generation to triple from 9.4% in 2011 to 30% by 2030.

Perhaps the Mayor meant energy. In that case you want to divide wind generation in 2011 by primary demand in that year. By our calculations you get 0.6%, which is closer – but still not 0.4. It’s likely there is a calculation which yields that number for energy – we just don’t have it to hand. 

4) We are prevented from putting in a new system of coal-fired power stations, since that would breach our commitments under Kyoto.
False – but we’re being pedantic.

Our commitments under Kyoto don’t specify what we can and can’t build, they relate to emissions. The government has decided to rule out coal new build as one of the ‘least cost’ ways of reducing emissions.

5) We are therefore increasingly and humiliatingly dependent on Vladimir Putin’s gas 
False

Figures from UK Trade Info suggest we don’t import any gas at all from Russia.

We do import lots of gas from Qatar which – coincidentally – helped to build the energy guzzling (apparently) Shard.

6) ..Or on the atomic power of the French state.
True

We imported 4.7Twh of (almost certainly) atomic power from the French state. That’s 1.3% of our electricity needs. Some may find even this modest level of imports from France utterly humiliating. 

7) There is loads of the stuff [shale gas], apparently – about 1.3 trillion barrels – we could power our toasters and dishwashers for the foreseeable future.
Unproven

Again with the units. Gas, being a gas, doesn’t really come in barrels. Oil comes in barrels. We presume Mr Johnson meant barrels of oil equivalent (BOE). 

By our (rough and ready) calculations 1.3 trn BOE of gas works out at 7,293 trn cubic feet of gas, which is, as Boris might put it, oodles more than anyone, anywhere, has estimated for the UK.

8) The extraction process alone would generate tens of thousands of jobs in parts of the country that desperately needs them.
Unproven

Cuadrilla has forecast that it’s operations in the UK could generate 5,600 jobs with around 1,700 of them being in Lancashire over nine years – presumably a ‘part of the country that desperately needs them’. 

Shale drilling is also expected to take place in the Mendips and East Sussex where Cuadrilla are prospecting.

Shale in the UK however would generate revenues for the Exchequer and could – if reserves are sufficient – help the UK’s balance of payments as Poyry point out irrespective of what impact it has on jobs or bills.

9) And above all, the burning of gas to generate electricity is much, much cleaner – and produces less CO2 – than burning coal
True – probably

Generating power from gas is about half as polluting as using coal.

However, fracking is slightly more complicated. The process involves repeatedly using high pressure water to break up rocks so the gas is released up the well. However the water used itself returns to the surface still containing large amounts of methane. If this is not captured, but released into the air, it is 21 times more polluting that Co2.

As a consequence of these so-called ‘fugitive emissions’ some studies – including this study of atmospheric data around fracking wells by the US National Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) - has found shale to be almost as bad for the climate as coal. 

10) As for the anxieties about water poisoning or a murrain on the cattle, there have been 125,000 fracks in the US, and not a single complaint to the Environmental Protection Agency.

False

The US EPA has recieved complaints about shale, like this one. UK regulations would be likely to be tougher than those in the US however, potentially reducing worries about localised environmental impact – according to the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering. Tougher regulation, however, may also drive up some costs.

—-
Damian Kahya is Greenpeace’s Energydesk editor, and a former foreign, business and energy reporter for the BBC. You can following him on Twitter @damiankahya.
a longer version of this post is here

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Reader comments


A surprisingly honest looking piece from Greenpeace, which I welcome.

The problems with discussing the potential of UK shale gas extraction comes from both sides. Those in favour make wildly hyped claims that things can be just the same as the U.S. The people who are opposed engage in scaremongering, propaganda and blatant lying.

The UK is now importing around half of its natural gas needs. Even if UK shale gas at least closed that deficit or even generated a gas surplus it would not lead to the low gas prices which prevail in the U.S. The U.S. is a closed market because they currently do not have the infrastructure capacity to export their gas abundance as LNG onto world markets. Therefore, the extraordinarily low gas prices in the U.S. is because they have a gas glut. That would not apply in the UK because we are not a closed gas market.

Firms involved would make good profits and the Treasury would generate tax receipts and it would be good for our trade deficit. However, the impact on consumer prices would only be marginal. So claims that prices would fall to U.S. levels is purely hype. However, it would increase UK energy security and energy security has been raised to a national security issue.

The people opposed indulging in scaremongering are being equally dishonest. The real reason they are opposed is not for honest environmental concerns. They are opposed because shale gas negatively changes the economics of some renewables. Instead of being honest they engage in propaganda and scaremongering about minor earthquakes and water aquifers etc. How many times will we be treated to the image from Gasland of the person setting fire to their water tap. Something they could always do in that area because it had nothing to do with shale gas.

” We are therefore increasingly and humiliatingly dependent on Vladimir Putin’s gas
False ”

A lie that Andrew Rawnsley in a quite disgraceful propaganda piece in the Observer also promoted last Sunday in an anti-shale tirade. He even managed to cite lobbyists funded by the Russian state in his article without bothering to tell the readers that is who was funding them. The Russian state does have an interest in European shale not being developed, they are quite happy to get into bed with naive environmentalists to promote anti-shale propaganda. We may not depend on Putin gas but much of Eastern Europe does. The last thing Russia wants is a Europe-wide shale gas industry. If Greens want to align their interests with Putin don’t be surprised when they get called out for it.

The crux of the matter is we will continue to need gas for the foreseeable future. Anti-shale activists are not promising us a gas-free future. We get around 80% of our domestic heat from gas. Therefore, leaving our shale gas where it is will just mean we will continue to import gas from Norway, The Netherlands and LNG from Qatar. In that context it does not make much sense to not exploit our own supplies.

We need more honesty around this issue and less propaganda from both sides. The last thing we want is yet another issue where the ideological engage in petty point scoring.

3. Northern Worker

Regardless of the words of a politician, and Boris is one of the best at spinning, I’m unclear as to why the green lobby is so opposed to fracking. I know this is inviting yet another torrent of uncheckable facts to and for fracking or greeness more generally, but I cannot, for the life of me, see why fracking is a bad thing.

Gas from fracking has massive potential to solve our power needs with a source available in this country. CO2 is reduced, because gas-fired power stations are relatively clean. It will create jobs both directly and indirectly. It cuts imports and we might export the gas too.

Okay, it might be that we don’t have the reserves claimed, but it’s not taxpayers’ money involved. The companies doing the fracking are the only ones liable to lose their shirts. As for earthquakes, a couple of points on the Richter scale is neither here nor there – the scale is logathrithmic.

I know, I know, I’m just some strange engineer who has spent his life in mucky factories. But mucky factories create good jobs and presently these factories are being exported to China and India. One reason is our energy costs are too high, and a second is the amount of regulation we have. I should know, I’ve been involved in boxing up factories here and shipping them lock, stock and barrel to India and China – 20,000 real jobs lost here and moved abroad. It doesn’t make the world any greener if all you do is move things elsewhere, especially places where they aren’t bothered about pollution or CO2.

4. Northern Worker

Richard W – excellent!

5. Helene Davidson

From the US Energy Information Agency:

In a welcome development almost no one saw coming, America’s greenhouse gas emissions have fallen to 1992 levels and are expected to continue to decline, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA).
In addition to a sluggish economy and more fuel efficient cars, “fracking” has been a big driver of this trend. “Fracking” is shorthand for hydraulic fracturing, the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock. The EIA projects U.S. greenhouse emissions will fall below 2005 levels by 2040.
“It is a revolution,” says Joel Kurtzman, a senior fellow at the Milken Institute. “We should be using it. We should be embracing it. It’s domestic. We spend $350 billion a year buying foreign oil. We can replace almost all of that with natural gas.”
Indeed, there are multiple benefits to increased natural gas production, including less dependence on foreign oil and opportunities for the U.S. to be an energy exporter. Lower energy costs are also helping to revive U.S. manufacturing, creating jobs in addition to those directly associated with fracking activity.
The boom in domestic natural gas production has really been the biggest macro economic development of 2012 — even if the election, the fiscal cliff and various other concerns have overshadowed it.
See: The Fracking Revolution: More Jobs and Cheaper Energy Are Worth the “Manageable” Risks, Yergin Says
As an aside, Kurtzman notes the U.S. is now on track to meet the emission targets of the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty the U.S. did not sign, much to the chagrin of many greens.
“The reason why we’ve had these changes is not because of policy,” be it carbon taxes or the Kyoto treaty, Kurtzman says. “The treaty itself is not working from an environmental or policy perspective. What is working is the fact that low-priced natural gas is replacing coal; that has a dramatic effect, which is measurable” as electricity produced by natural gas emits 43% less carbon dioxide versus coal.
While Kurtzman and others see a victory for free market capitalism, fracking is highly controversial and has replaced greenhouse gases as the primary concern of environmentalists. Among other issues such as air pollution, opponents fear contamination of local water supplies from the chemicals used in the practice.
See: What the “Frack?” Natural Gas Is Key to America’s Energy Independence, but Is It Safe?
“There are risks in fracking but there are a lot of alarmists about fracking,” Kurtzman says. “It is not 100% safe but it’s a very good technology and we’re getting better and better about it.”
With big companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron now embracing fracking, Kurtzman expects the practice to become safer and more widespread.
“This is different than a wildcatter going out five or six years ago in Pennsylvania to drill a well,” he says. “These are very big targets with very deep pockets [who are] very concerned about lawsuits; presumably they’ll do it right.”
In addition to companies’ aversion to litigation, there is a “learning curve” when any new technology is adopted. Citing Joseph Schumpeter’s classic invention-innovation-diffusion paradigm, Cambridge University researchers Tooraj Jamasb and Jonathan Kohler say this very much applies to fracking too, Reuters reports.
Undoubtedly that’s cold comfort to environmentalists — BP’s a big company too. But the economic positives of cheap domestic energy produced via fracking are increasingly hard for policymakers to resist.

Thank you, Damian Kahya, for your thoughtful essay.

@OP: “The zelo-street blog points to an Independent article in which The Shard’s architect argues the building uses less energy than a town of 8,000. Colchester, it points out, has a population of 104,000. ”

The expression “the building uses less energy than..” is clumsy; it’s the people who use the building who consume the energy. Excuse that piece of pedantry, please, because energy consumption is about people and how they do things.

My back of an envelope calculation based on floor area suggests that there’ll be ~3,000 office workers, ~350 hotel guests plus a smidge more occupancy equivalence to include the restaurants and luxury flats. I was surprised that the architect’s claims stand up so easily.

I’ll be genuinely interested to read how well The Shard’s combined heat and power system performs. Cofely who worked on The Shard are creating a CHP system in the central area of Leicester which explains some of the holes in the roads here. When you watch a huge installation under construction, you become more aware of the building cost and the incidental disruptive costs. With that in mind, I’m more aware of how difficult it is to calculate a cost benefit analysis for fracking in the UK or for any other energy source.

@OP: “Cuadrilla has forecast that it’s operations in the UK could generate 5,600 jobs with around 1,700 of them being in Lancashire over nine years – presumably a ‘part of the country that desperately needs them’. ”

I grew up on the Fylde coast and am a happy Lancastrian. In my teens I looked at test rigs just beyond the River Ribble estuary and waited for something to be found. Nothing substantial was found, of course, until recently. I share your scepticism about job creation but 1,700 new jobs on the Fylde or around Preston and Blackburn would have a measurable impact. It doesn’t matter that many of the new jobs would go to newcomers to the county; small engineering companies and their employees would still have a field day.

Whether to frack Lancashire? I can see the economic reasons but I need to be convinced about the environmental impact.

Is he going to have this fracking with all that in means in terms of poisons, carcinogenic materials, and the danger of earthquakes in London, or is it only to be done in the north west (not his favourite part of your green and pleasant land) and of course in Scotland which he seems to loathe with passion.

@7. Tris: “Is he going to have this fracking with all that in means in terms of poisons, carcinogenic materials, and the danger of earthquakes in London, or is it only to be done in the north west (not his favourite part of your green and pleasant land) and of course in Scotland which he seems to loathe with passion.”

I have not collected a list of places that Boris Johnson dislikes but I will start one and add those locations.

@ Tris

why not add a few more non sequiturs…surely fraccing adds to dangerous dogs, rapists, paedophiles as well!…The things you quote are all just activist fiction. The “earthquakes” in Blackpool are about the same as driving a double-decker bus along a road. The poisons and carcinogenic materials are present to a greater extent in your nappies than in the mining operations.

10. Steve Lindsey

[deleted]

@10 being able to type with your eyes swivelling so much is quite a feat. Your disliking of Greenpeace is fine, but by no measure are they terrorists. That’s simply idiotic.

12. Steve Lindsey

@11

Do some reseach

13. Steve Lindsey

[deleted]

@ Richard W

The last thing we want is yet another issue where the ideological engage in petty point scoring.

A beautifully balanced comment and almost the only intelligent assessment of fracking I have come across.

However I suspect the above plea will be in vain.

@Richard W

Your plea for a non-ideological debate may be correct, but it’s irrelevant to this article, which as far as I can see is a balanced assessment of facts. Which fact do you think is ideological in nature, rather than, well, facts?

So BoJo makes 10 claims of which three are (apparently) false and a fourth is false if taken pedantically. The other six points are either true or arguable. I would have thought that this was a pretty good score for any politician expounding on a major new policy area.

Ricahrd W @ 2: Splendid. When the next anti-fracking piece appears on LC, I ope you will repeat your comment.

Actually, point 5 is true; gas is a fungible resource.

It was a fairly typical BoJo article. A serious subject was approached in a slapdash manner. He got paid £5,000 for cobbling together something from some press releases and what he’d heard from some lobbyists. A proper reporter would be lucky to get £50 for doing the same thing.

@ 15. Adam Bell

Adam, I don’t have any problems with the article. However, I can see how this shale gas issue is going to go with some people on both sides trying to turn it into a left right wedge issue. So my comments are really about the wider debate rather than this particular blog.

It is to be hoped that the shale debate proceeds with facts and realism. I rather suspect it won’t and we get inundated with scaremongering about toxic chemicals etc with the intention of frightening people. As if nearly all chemicals were not toxic if used inappropriately.

I can understand why environmentalists are opposed to UK shale and the truth is the reasons have very little to do with environmental concerns about the actual shale extraction process. To me they are being quite consistent if they argue against using shale gas for new power plants to generate electricity. I get that and it is coherent on their terms of how they want us to get generate energy. However, they are not promising to heat our homes with renewables. So we will need gas even if we generated no electricity from shale gas. They are never going to convince any UK government or the majority of the population that it is right for the UK to import gas if there are reserves of gas under our own soil. Answering why that could possibly be the right thing to do is part of the debate that must be had.

20. Stephen Jones

No.3 – 0.4% is for onshore wind. The other 0.2% is from off-shore.

Misleading? Maybe. But I don’t think it is a whopper, it is factually correct.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Vivian Carol

    Oh please read this and RT as far as possible! http://t.co/1RVyZnxr

  2. green rocinante

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  3. Jim Jepps

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  4. Professor Spank

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  5. Michael Hanley

    It's a shame @Telegraph don't employ fact-checkers: Mayor Boris Johnson's column was riddled with inaccuracies http://t.co/U0fheE7G

  6. ian rose

    10 whoppers by Boris on #shaleGas & #fracking in the Telegraph http://t.co/g3CCcfRP via @zite ~gotta love Boris, some good stuff in here Nye

  7. Bill Cassidy

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  8. Ben Raza

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  9. Steve Pike

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  10. Summerhead

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  11. Alex Braithwaite

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  12. Sunny Hundal

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  13. Liza Harding

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  14. Darren Johnson AM

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  15. LadyRoisin

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  16. Tom Banham

    @iblametom no, I'm with you there. Although the Liberal Conspiracy fact check on that article is revealing: http://t.co/IJcBRBUL

  17. Mick Smith

    The ten big whoppers by Boris Johnson in the Telegraph, on gas and 'fracking' in the UK http://t.co/U0fheE7G #icymi

  18. Robin Tudge

    @BFarey – oi you ICAP man – http://t.co/cVMf20f5 to frack or not to frack?

  19. Tom Carroll

    Boris Johnson @MayorofLondon managed to fit 10 lies into his Torygraph article about fracking. They are corrected here http://t.co/eoc6zZ6f

  20. sandy

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  21. Emily King

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  22. James Henry

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  23. Ryan Ellis

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  24. Hannah

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  25. Ryan Coley

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  26. Anne

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  27. Anne

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  28. Kofi

    The ten big whoppers by Boris Johnson in the Telegraph, on gas and 'fracking' in the UK http://t.co/U0fheE7G #icymi

  29. Gareth George

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  30. Fran Ambrose

    please read this and RT as far as possible! http://t.co/dj5OuUyi #frakinguptheenviroment

  31. Newbloke

    The ten whoppers by Boris on shale Gas and fracking in the Telegraph http://t.co/t81FYwV0

  32. Chris Down

    It's a shame @Telegraph don't employ fact-checkers: Mayor Boris Johnson's column was riddled with inaccuracies http://t.co/U0fheE7G

  33. The Independent View: Why Ed Davey should support Tim Yeo for the sake of our energy and environment’

    [...] returns from Shale Gas ‘fracking’ in the UK. Boris Johnson is helpfully churning out very misleading articles to bolster the [...]

  34. Bridget Foy

    The ten whoppers by Boris on shale Gas and fracking in the Telegraph | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/U3lD3liA via @libcon

  35. Marisa Hunt

    The ten whoppers by Boris on shale Gas and fracking in the Telegraph | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/jbZMJTbk #naturalgas #fracking

  36. Frack Free Fylde

    The ten whoppers by Boris on shale Gas and fracking in the Telegraph | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/i4gHhnl9





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