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I find it strange how people can end …

Comment posted Question: How can we license fracking when we have permanent drought? by Dr Douglas McKenzie.

I find it strange how people can end up in opposing camps in regard to energy production and how politicised it can all be. As I have said before,there are pros and cons to all technologies and using a mix seems to be the most rational approach. I was listening to R2 at lunchtime and there was a UKIP person on in favour of fracking and nuclear power but against windfarms and a climate change sceptic. Funny how they all seem to go together!

Turning to shale gas specifically, there are indeed huge quantities of shale gas in major deposits pretty much everywhere around the globe. What the recoverable reserves are is a more moot point but much of the hyperbole around it providing us cheap and abundant gas supplies for ages to come reminds me all to clearly of the promises that nuclear power would provide us with electricity that was “too cheap to meter”.

On the upside, it is an energy reserve and we have some in the UK so it could be used to offset gas imports thus improving energy security. If the gas is also being used to displace coal burning then there is an environmental gain here also as gas produces about 50% of the CO2 emissions of coal and the power stations are much more flexible in operation than coal (so much better at balancing the grid). It is interesting to note that much of the opposition to shale gas in the USA comes from coal mining interests. Abundant shale gas supply would depress wholesale prices so might make gas plants cheaper to operate.

There are, however, serious environmental concerns. Water usage is one (and a possible answer to that is given above). The minor earthquakes are just that but the activities are likely to weaken strata and so much more likely to cause subsidence. Contamination of aquifers is possible but unlikely given good regulation. I would say that health concerns around fracking are likely to be much higher than around windfarms and more justified. There are also real safety concerns. Look at the current problems with a methane gas leak in the North Sea: there would need to be restrictions or at least severe safeguards on fracking operations within several miles of habitations to deal with the consequences of a major leak (just as there is around major gas pipelines).

Biggest problem is going to be, as Webcraft suggests, the NIMBY resistance to fracking. Whoever coined the term “fracking” was doing the industry no favours!

In summary, I expect that shale gas will be hugely important in the USA and China but probably quite small scale and localised in the UK.

Dr Douglas McKenzie also commented

  • Yes, important to distinguish between demand and production. Renewables presumably about half again of total production (as production is about twice demand from memory). But still an impressive growth.
  • I haven’t read the NS article yet but I did read elsewhere that fracking companies MUST keep drilling to maintain their licences: hence the glut. This might seem a good thing as consumers get cheaper gas (though I also noticed that the reduction to the consumer was only a couple of cents per therm), however, it is likely that lower costs just mean that consumers use more.

    Ignoring Malcolm for a second and addressing this to the non-ostriches: is anyone else surprised at just how much of our electricity is now being produced by wind?? Looking at the daily figures, it is clear that wind is now much more important than hydro (including PS) and that surprises me given how new the technology is.

  • I’m afraid you are degenerating into talking what might be politely termed rubbish.

    There are advanced prototype wave generators being deployed world wide as we speak. Salther’s ducks were commercialised. What has slowed renewables down was not technological difficulties but political will. During the Thatcher era renewables were not favoured so very little R&D spend came their way. Progress was thus slow.

    Advanced technologies take time to create, refine and finally commercialise. We have been working on fusion reactors for over 40 years now and still don’t have a working model. Fission reactors only developed to the point they have because of massive initial investment into their development for military purposes.

    20 years is in fact a fairly short time for engineering: if you look at “new” techniques in the oil and gas industry you will find that virtually all of them take at least a decade of research before they are deployed (sometimes longer).

    Wave power works, wind power works, algal biodiesel works. What you are moaning about is that they don’t have price parity with fossil fuels but coal has been with us for over 200 years now and oil 100. It takes time and money to catch up.

  • Not me who is being disingenuous here. There were two surveys: the IPSOS MORI survey asked solely about wind power. The first question was: to what extent are you in favour of or opposed to the use of wind powert in the UK?
    28% strongly in favour of; 38% tend to favour; 22% neutral; 5% tend to oppose; 3% strongly opposed and 4% didn’t know.
    Hardly a resounding cry against wind power.

    Taking the second survey, I see you are doing the same thing you did with support for the SNP: you interpret everyone who does not vote for whatever it is you don’t like as being against it.

    I haven’t been able to find the actual survey yet but here is what the Scotsman actually says:

    The YouGov survey showed that while 65 per cent believe wind should be part of the mix, this was down from 78 per cent seen in a similar survey by Scottish Renewables in 2010.
    Instead the preferred choice in Scotland is for tidal and wave energy to become the main supplier with 32 per cent backing the option, even though it is still in its early development stage.

    If I am reading this correctly, there was a question asking the polled people what ORDER they would put their FIRST preference for electricity generation. We see that the largest category went for wave and tidal then 18% went for wind. This is not the same thing as saying only 18% backed wind – indeed the first paragraph indicates that 65% wanted to see it as part of the mix. Another You Gov survey looking at specifically Scottish attitudes found that 88% were in favour of wind.

    Turning to your other points: It was Salter’s Ducks that were being developed as wave power generators. The reason that they didn’t flourish is that Thatcher pulled the plug on support for their development to focus UK energy efforts on nuclear. Had the same support that went into nuclear gone to wave energy I suspect we would not only have excellent wave generators but the UK would lead the world in this technology.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salter’s_duck

    More reading, less bias.

  • Same survey, different interpretation.
    I suppose most of us would back wave over wind if it was equally affordable and available. But it isn’t (not yet at least). I say most, as other marine users might not be as keen.

    Salient point though is that support for renewables is high with the public willing to absorb the higher costs. It will be interesting to see if they are as keen on nuclear under the same premise.

Recent comments by Dr Douglas McKenzie

  • Rustle with Russell
    More utter rubbish from Lynda Henderson. Have you actually spoken to Bob Allen? Whoever told you the story sold you a pup and in your arrogance you cannot admit to be wrong so you make up this story that he was persuaded not to resign.

    Your position is completely untenable.

  • Russell back in the bathtub, now trying to sink Keith Brown’s boat
    I’m afraid you condemn yourself by your own words. I don’t think that anyone reading what you have written here and the language you have used would conclude anything other than that you have a deep dislike for Mr Russell and that dislike is leading you to basically lose all sense of either proportion or impartiality. It doesn’t matter how well (or otherwise) you know Mr Russell you are clearly exercised by your interpretation of his actions and it is leading you well beyond the pale in what I would consider fair comment.

    This vendetta against Mr Russell and the SNP is destroying FA’s credibility and I have to confess that I’m seriously considering whether or not to continue reading FA (which will cheer Malcolm up if nothing else). I for one am becoming increasingly disenchanted by the constant negativity and sheer nastiness that has crept into this blog. I say that with a lot more sorrow than anger because I think that FA could have been great and indeed still could but there has to be a degree of balance, civility and indeed humour. All we are getting here is bile and it is causing me heartburn.

  • Russell back in the bathtub, now trying to sink Keith Brown’s boat
    To be honest, this post clearly shows that you are speaking from your personal dislike of Mr Russell rather than an unbiased analysis of the man. Phrases such as “publicity hungry coward” are well beyond what is reasonable comment.
  • Russell back in the bathtub, now trying to sink Keith Brown’s boat
    You don’t seem to understand the separation of a MSP’s duty to his or her constituency and their responsibilities as a Government Minister.

    Yet again, this is another instance where a member of the Government can do no right: speak up and be condemned as “desperate” or stay silent and be accused of not serving your constituents’ interests.

    It is just as well that Mr Russell has broad shoulders!

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