Nick Grealy – who wants to frack shale under London – gives his views on the anti-fracking movement, the shale industry, the 14th licencing round and attractions of London
Nick Grealy runs London Local Energy, a company that recently bid for two drilling licences in north west London and another on the Surrey border. He is a speaker at onshore oil and gas conferences and the publisher of No Hot Air, a pro-shale website. He proposes: “a global ban on coal trade as soon as possible and the replacement of coal in generation with natural gas, renewables, nuclear and energy efficiency”. He regards himself as NYLON (New York-London). He was born in the UK and has lived in Ireland and New York. He returned to the UK in 1992 when he married. “I thought it was a sane country to raise a family in “.
London Local Energy
It’s not just me. There are other people. There is more than one distinguished geologist [but he won’t say who]. I have been pleasantly surprised by the many people who have said ‘Can we help?’ We want to do good for the planet, to have fun and to make money. You cannot get better than that.
I have been waiting for this for years. I have been looking at it since 2008 and planning this for the last two years. Why? I guess it was people saying would you want it [fracking] under your house [in Kingston]. That was the first place I looked. If it was under my house it would not bother me in the slightest. If someone was drilling 10,000 feet below from five miles away it would not bother anyone in the least.
I may do it [drill beneath his home] one day. But in the 14th round, you could only apply for a limited number of contiguous blocks: I think it was four maximum. The prospectivity is in the areas that we looked at. I was originally thinking about a block that contained Kingston and went more into Surrey. But I thought there would be more competition.
I know exactly where I am going to drill. It will not disturb anyone. I could conceivably do it and no one would even notice. [He won’t say where]. People are not going to be saying you are destroying a site. The demonstrators are going to need their own security guards. London Local Energy will surprise you. [He won’t say how.] We will surprise you.
It has been a huge amount of time and effort preparing to do this. We hope the government will make a decision and it will be positive to us and it will come soon. We are preparing to be lucky.
What did you have to do to apply for a licence? I will not say. I am not going to give you the information. It will all come out when the results are announced. Why not apply before?
The last round was in 2008. The only company who knew anything [about shale] was Cuadrilla.
London is an exciting vibrant city. People don’t come here for quiet life. There are a lot of people with a lot of ideas. People welcome innovation. I like how ideas bounce off people. It is really interesting. London has changed in the past 10 years. There is such a buzz about London now.
People in London have a completely different mind-set from somebody who retired out in the countryside. I would not live anywhere outside of London if you paid me. The countryside is ok. I cannot understand that people can think they could be disturbed [by shale]. The number one [shale] myth is industrialisation of the landscape.
In Lancashire it [the reasons for recommended refusal of Cuadrilla’s applications] all came down to noise and trucks. I don’t think anyone is going to say there is an extra truck every 20 minutes on the North Circular road. The noise of a refrigerator at night – no one is going to complain about that in London.
Shale gas and oil
I got interested because I have an open mind and I do not listen to experts. I’ve been talking about shale oil since 2008. No one knew anything about it. And now shale is transforming the energy market. But at the time everyone was listening to the peak oil message.
I had a meeting in London. The Herald Tribute was not at my local newsagents but the Wall Street Journal was. There was an article about Chesapeake [the drilling company]. In 2008, oil was $140 and US gas was $12. The article said there was enough gas in the US to make the US the Saudi Arabia of natural gas. I saw it was happening in Pennsylvania. I used to live two hours away. I don’t know much about geology but if natural gas is in Pennsylvania then it should be everywhere in the US. The more I looked into it and the more of the academics I spoke to they said yes it can be everywhere.
At the time, peak oil was so pervasive. All the energy policy in the UK was based on this idea that gas and oil were running out and were going to be incredibly expensive. That would make any number of things affordable, like renewables, nuclear and Russian gas.
This [shale gas] was coming out of the left field. 10 years ago they were building natural gas import terminals in the US and getting money to do them. Then I started hearing – 2009-10 – people were talking about exporting gas from the US.
The most beautiful words in the English language are not I love you. They are I told you so.
Opponents of shale gas
They want to dismiss all oil and gas. There is no single person in the oil and gas side that dismisses renewables. We think shale could accelerate renewables. You can have cheap solar and wind and gas and they can all work together.
The mass lobby of parliament in January: MPs looked out of the window and they said ‘We outnumber these people [opponents of shale gas] by two-to-one’. Whatever you think of politicians, they can count. What are they going to do? Lose 25 votes?
Politically, apart from maybe 30 individuals and four journals, no one gives f***. There was nothing about shale in Zac Goldsmith’s [his local MP] election material.
The leaders of this alleged movement – they take themselves so seriously. They should get out more. For people who join, there is a social thing. They like to go there and meet up and they think they are doing something. Other people join the RSPB.
Lots of these people are the same generation as me, or slightly older and they are trying to relive their youth. The 1960s took its toll on them – a combination of youthful drug abuse and early onset Alzheimer’s. It’s not a pretty site. They are revisiting the lost ideals of their youth. Shale gas is a vehicle for them.
Is climate change really the most important thing on the face of the earth? There are other problems in the world. It is a problem that too many people die of childhood illness and there are too many premature deaths from air pollution.
Did the industry predict the opposition to drilling at Balcombe expected? I cannot speak for the industry. There was a well that had been drilled in 1989 and no one knew it was there. If everyone had just kept quiet no one would have known anything. It created a lot of division in the town for no good reason.
There’s a well pad in LA with 56 wells. It’s been there since 1960. It would provide enough gas to heat 150,000 UK homes. And you can see it right on Google street view. You have to have shale done in a way that is appropriate to the community. I do not think I would be appropriate to put wind turbines all over London. If you put one on every street corner you just might generate enough energy. Repower Balcombe is a great idea but it only generates enough energy for five homes. What about the rest?
My criticism of people in the oil and gas industry is they sit round or years on end doing nothing. They have perfectly decent jobs talking about it. It is much more fun to say I am trying to save the world.
I am just trying to keep the lights on and restrict the amount of my money that goes to Norway or to the Qataris. We could keep the money here and use it to insulate homes or do things for the NHS and education.
I think it is important but it is not the end of the world. If we do not get shale oil in Europe, I know plenty of people from the US, Russia, Algeria who will sell it to us.
No Hot Air
I have always said that not many people read No Hot Air, only smart people. I have always been touched and surprised at the amount of people who have touched out to me, though less so in this country. In other countries, people are appreciative of what I am doing. Why do it? I needed a job. And that was it. How did you make money from it? With difficulty. A bit of consulting, speaking engagements, a report in 2010.
I’d really rather live in France. But France has a moratorium on fracking. France will change. There are only two years until the election. I speak to people in France at much higher levels than in the UK. Support for shale is very high in France. Everyone all over Europe is looking to UK shale. The Bowland shale is one of the best on planet earth. When people see that the world does not come to an end, every country in Europe will get on board: France, Germany, Spain – there is a huge amount of shale.