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Shale gas: If we've got it, flaunt it

Energy minister warms to UK fuel

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The shale gas revolution was given a guarded welcome by Parliament yesterday, with the economic and security benefits to the UK judged to outweigh environmental reservations.

Exploration consortium Cuadrilla reckons that the UK could be self-sufficient for 15 years using cheap gas extracted from the Bowland shale alone - and reduce its dependence on imports from Russia. Plus, techniques are improving, so the self-sufficiency period could stretch to several decades.

One of Parliament's loudest climate change advocates, the Greener-than-thou chairman of the energy select committee Tim Yeo (Con, South Suffolk), said that shale gas companies had to maintain public confidence and follow best-practice guidelines outlined by the committee. But, he said, the benefits of cheap gas were immense and shouldn't derail shale.

"I urge the government to consider the potential benefits to Britain. There are legitimate concerns, of course, about the environmental impact, and those concerns must not be ignored. However, those who call for fracking to stop completely must produce scientific evidence to justify their demands, and I do not believe that at present such evidence exists," Yeo concluded.

On earthquakes, Yeo noted that Cuadrilla had recorded tremors of magnitude 2.3 and 1.5 "probably" caused by shale exploration, and reminded Parliament that:

"To put that into context, the European microseismic standard classifies a magnitude 1 earthquake as one that is not felt, a magnitude 2 earthquake as scarcely felt, and a magnitude 3 earthquake as weak."

There was no threat to the population, or the environment, from the earth shivers.

David Mowat (Con, Warrington South) agreed, adding: "I believe that we have wrongly placed some efforts by confusing 'decarbonisation' with 'renewables'.

"Decarbonisation is necessary and it is a legal requirement. Some of the renewables targets might not always lead to us making the right decisions about how we decarbonise, and at what rate."

Energy Minster Charles Hendry gave it a guarded welcome.

"I think that it is too early to know how significant shale gas may prove to be as a contributor to future UK energy supplies," he warned, but warmly welcomed the potential benefits.

"The government are committed to ensuring that we maximise economic recovery of UK hydrocarbon resources, both offshore and onshore. We see it as in our national interest to maximise returns on our indigenous resources. We are moving to a situation where we are net importers of gas, and there is a multi-billion-pound benefit to the UK economy from optimising our resources. We are keen for that to happen," he told MPs.

He added, encouragingly for shale backers, that the public didn't realise quite how deep shale fracking takes place - far underneath the water table. He also pointed out that the flaming faucets featured in the scare movie Gaslands had been shown to be unrelated to oil or gas exploration deep below ground.

Hendry's boss Chris Huhne, a Liberal Democrat, recently raised the idea of handicapping the gas power stations with "carbon capture" technology that doesn't yet exist, but, er, typically involves pipelines taking the deadly CO2 compound out to sea.

MPs noted that Caroline Lucas, the only Green MP, was curiously MIA. Lucas was not present for the debate.

Perhaps her electric car had broken down.

Read the full debate here. ®

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