Research

UK shale gas overhyped because geology is unsuitable for fracking – Scottish research

pnr 170812 Frack Free Creators - Knitting Nannas Lancashire3

Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas site where drilling is expected to begin this week. Photo: Frack Free Creators – Knitting Nanas of Lancashire

As Cuadrilla prepares to drill the UK’s first horizontal shale gas wells, research from a Scottish university suggests the country’s geology won’t support fracking.

Professor John Underhill, Chief Scientist at Heriot-Watt University, said today Britain could be 55m years too late for a shale gas revolution. Shale-bearing rocks may not be suitable for fracking because they have been uplifted, tilted and deformed by geological changes. He said:

“It would be extremely unwise to rely on shale gas to ride to the rescue of the UK’s gas needs only to discover that we’re 55 million years too late.”

He said geology had been sidelined in assessments of the UK’s shale gas potential.

“The implication that because fracking works in the US, it must also work here is wrong.

“Both sides of the hydraulic fracturing debate assume that the geology is a “slam dunk” and it will work if exploration drilling goes ahead.

“The science shows that our country’s geology is simply unsuitable for shale oil and gas production.”

Professor Underhill said there were areas in the UK with large potential deposits. But according to research based on seismic imaging of the country’s underlying geology, he said the basins had been uplifted, cooled, pressured and deformed by folds and faults. This made them “detrimental” to the recovery of shale gas.

He said:

“The only question that has been addressed to date is how large the shale resource is in the UK.

“The inherent complexity of the sedimentary basins has not been fully appreciated or articulated and, as a result, the opportunity has been overhyped.”

Supporters of UK shale gas argue that it should be developed to help Britain be less dependent on imports, now running at 55% and expected to increase.

But Professor Underhill suggested that shale gas may not be the solution to energy independence:

“There is a need to factor this considerable and fundamental geological uncertainty into the economic equation.”

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning that the most successful US shale regions, like the Marcellus, Barnett and Haynesville plays, were in continental interiors with simple structures. The shale was buried at 2-3km, putting it in what he called “the goldilocks zone”: not too hot, not too cold, just the right temperature.

The US shale areas were also relatively stable and undeformed, supporting the use of subsurface imaging, gas and oil detection and directional drilling needed for shale exploration.

But the UK shale regions were very different, Professor Underhill said. More than 55 million years ago, sedimentary basins, including those considered to contain large shale resources, had been buckled against the stable interior of continental Europe.

“Areas that were once buried sufficiently deeply with temperatures at which oil and gas maturation occurs, lifted to levels where they are no longer actively generating petroleum.

“They have also been highly deformed by folds and faults that cause the shales to be offset and broken up into compartments. This has created pathways that have allowed some of the oil and gas to escape.”

Reaction

UK Onshore Oil and Gas, the industry, body (UKOOG), told DrillOrDrop this morning, said more exploration was needed. Chief Executive, Ken Cronin, said:

“The industry is currently in the process of 3D seismic surveying, core drilling and flow testing in various parts of the country to determine a number of questions including the extent of the geology and whether gas will flow commercially – this process of exploration is an industry standard around the world.

“Consequently the data that Professor Underhill based his work on is limited. All operators are very much aware of structural complexity in parts of the European continent and the programme of 3D seismic acquisition is designed to quantify this in detail for the first time.

“The notion that all North American unconventional plays are structurally less complicated than in Europe is questionable.

“It is too early to make any firm predictions but with imported gas predicted to rise to 80% by 2035 it is important that we get on and complete this work.”

Geologist Nick Riley, a support of shale gas exploration, said:

“Professor Underhill is correct about the basins in the UK being more structurally complex and having a different burial history than the classic shale basins of the USA.

“Industry is well aware of the geological issues in the UK, hence the need to drill and test. So let’s get on with it.”

83 replies »

  1. There is little intention to go for more oil and gas. Just to replace imports with our own, if possible and economical. If we can do that, then we have other possibilities to utilise those fossil fuels and mitigate against adverse environmental impacts.

    I like CONCEPTS such as lagoon generation, but when a company proposing such schemes says “if the scheme works (£1 billion from the tax payer) we will build a bigger one”. No-either guarantee the scheme will work cost effectively, or take the risk. Get to that stage, and such can be judged as alternative, until then it is Alice in Wonderland stuff.

  2. And for each platform, how many wells. How much drilling. How many vehicle movements. How much noise. Over how many years. How much diesel burnt. How much acid, water and other chemical pumped into the ground. How many incidents, because they will occur. How much of everything involved, over how long a time-frame. The idea that fewer pads lessens the problems is misguided at best; if anything it concentrates the problems, potentially making them even more damaging. The problem is not easy; I didn’t say it was. But when will anything substantial take place to address the issues, other than sacrificing the countryside to yet more of the same, fossil fuels. And yes, times are changing, towards renewable energy. And it’s happening in Balcombe where solar panels have been installed on four local schools and buildings at one farm. A solar farm, initiated by RePower Balcombe, has been built nearby. Batteries have been installed at one of the schools and are further reducing their need for electricity from the grid. There is an ongoing project installing LED lighting in a number of locations. And all this has been achieved since the 2013 demonstrations. Potentially the street lighting will be converted to LED lighting, reducing both the energy needs and maintenance costs. And sites for further solar installations are actively being pursued. Balcombe has not simply been protesting; it has been taking positive action to contribute towards resolving the problems. I wonder what actions the communities of others who comment here have taken, rather than placing their faith in onshore oil and gas and accepting the resultant destruction on behalf of communities elsewhere. We are not the luddites.
    P.S. I rather like wind turbines. From the top of the i360 tower in Brighton, you can just see them out at sea in the distance. And they look so much nicer than a concrete platform covered in industrial hardware. Apparently the occasional boat has to visit them to check and maintain them; perhaps they could use wind power on the boats.

      • It’s a great idea Al….they do it in France. Would be a two fold saving. Less power needed; great savings to the local council purse so they can spend it on social care for the elderly.

          • The street lights go off at 22.30 here in the village. The church is lit up all night to deter lead theft.
            Opportunistic theft from cars parked on the street is not unknown in lit or unlit villages.
            We are not on a main road.
            A torch is a good think to have.
            A few people moved to the village due to it being so dark ( no street light shining in your bedroom window all night ). Some dislike it.
            The lights are white, low energy.

            • You may have an unusual dark little unmolested corner of UK at present but remember the parable of the swallows. if you advertise it they;’ll come. Better to keep quiet about it and let them frack.

            • i wouldn’t believe anything in the Gruniad. Councils have for years been justifying street lighting on the basis that it reduces crime. if you were correct there would be a clear case for saving money by not having any street lighting at all.

            • Peter, something to bring up with the councils, perhaps?

              In France there are very few street lights at night, I am not aware of a raving crime wave over there.

              I understand your fear of losing those hard won possessions, but there is a case for some areas to be able to restrict lights use at night. In cities clearly there is a case for night lights due to increase pedestrian traffic and all around later operating hours for social purposes; the CCTV needs lighting to catch those who do not pertain to community values!

              Non-essential lights off means money saved and less energy burned. If the country were a business I’m sure the lighting needs would be streamlined to ensure best practice and no wastage.

              There are other ways to deter crime, starting at the source and resourcing our police properly; using them to fight crime and not be business’s private army.

  3. This is typical of Green energy and Climate Catastrophe debates. Professor John Underhill is making a political statement hugely extrapolated from his limited scientific work. The company, Cuadrilla, is well aware of the science and doing what mineral resources companies always do: rationally assessing the risk as it explores. The big difference is this: Underhill risks nothing. Right or wrong, he is unaffected, stays in his job, continues his work. Cuadrilla, on the other hand puts its money where its mouth is. If wrong, it loses. If it is right, and only if it is right, it wins. Which is why Cuadrilla does not extrapolate from what it knows to make wild generalised assertions about the future of shale exploitation in UK.

    • I really cannot see why academics making political statements based on their academic expertise are somehow less worthy of consideration than people speculating with “their” money.

      The issue at stake here is one of energy security and whether it makes sense to gamble so much on the existence of an economically exploitable quantity of shale gas – when there are many reasons to suspect that this strategy will not work. ( I leave aside here the issues of the environment, public health and so on). That is an important public matter in a democracy and the idea that people with money have more right to be heard and taken into account than others is, in my view, what is wrong with out democracy.

      As in so many matters fracking policy has been made by the well resourced, the well connected, the well represented, the well protected, the well hidden (the shareholders of companies owning Cuadrilla are based in the Cayman islands are they not?), the well informed (as regards their own agendas – they rarely care about impacts on others). Meanwhile other people somehow don’t count – even if they have professorships in subjects relevant to the matter of public policy in question.

      • There is nothing wrong with scientists making political statements. What is wrong and thoroughly unscientific is the leap to the general from a very narrow and highly specific study. It is an abuse.
        As for gambles, it is Cuadrilla’s shareholder’s own money, not the tax-payers. Green energy takes vast sums of public money and feeds it into Green energy rent-seekers.
        It is not at this stage staking energy security on the viability of fracking. It is merely allowing private enterprise to explore the possibilities.

        It is a policy of cutting off possibilities before they have been explored that would be detrimental to energy security.
        The so called impacts of shale exploration and drilling have been greatly exaggerated by scaremongering green energy zealots who can’t see that if CO2 is a problem, shale gas provides a very effective means of reducing emissions. if you are concerned that compensation regimes in place should anything go wrong are inadequate, then you should be advocating improvements to them rather than trying to stop UK exploring all and every means of ensuring economic energy security.

        • Peter. You wrote

          “The big difference is this: Underhill risks nothing. Right or wrong, he is unaffected, stays in his job, continues his work. Cuadrilla, on the other hand puts its money where its mouth is. If wrong, it loses. If it is right, and only if it is right, it wins. Which is why Cuadrilla does not extrapolate from what it knows to make wild generalised assertions about the future of shale exploitation in UK.”

          First of all academics do risk something important – their academic reputation. No academic will get very far by getting it wrong on important issues. In addition many academic subjects work hand in glove with business interests and are highly dependent on industry money for research grants. There is a revolving door relationship with industry and many academics are highly dependent on sponsorship and being on good terms with associated industries. In this regard the fossil fuel sector is one of the most well connected in government and in political power structures. Big sums of money are at stake in decisions related to academic issues and as a result academic disputes can become very deep and bitter. One has only to look at the dispute regarding Professor Smythe to see what happens to academics who have an view different from colleagues who are closely aligned with this very powerful industry. Your dismissive rhetoric in regard to Prof Underhill regards me of that earlier dispute.

          Secondly the claim that green energy takes tax payers money whereas frackers do not is not the full story. Try this article:

          http://energydesk.greenpeace.org/2016/05/25/oil-tax-how-the-uk-taxpayer-could-spend-millions-funding-the-hunt-for-fracked-gas/

          Taxpayers also carry many other risks too – like paying for road damage or health costs to communities and workers. I am a sceptic of how effective the local authority planners are and even more sceptical about the Environment Agency. However their procedures are not without financial costs for tax and council tax payers.

          Taxpayers are carrying the longer term risk of fracking too. When falling oil and gas prices prompted companies in Alberta (Canada) to abandon their operations in 2014-2015, it was the provincial government that was left with the task of closing down and dismantling orphaned and abandoned wells. In one year the number of these increased from 162 to 702. Johnson, T. (2015, May 11). Alberta sees huge spike in abandoned oil and gas wells. CBC News.

          Would that not occur in the UK too? Questions have been raised if insurance bonds for companies going bust would be adequate. It seems to me that there is a strong chance that taxpayers will end up paying.

          In fact I would go further. In the USA there is a huge wall of debt accumulated by fracking companies that is getting bigger and is likely never to be repaid. One wonders if these well connected companies will get bailed out by the US tax payers – and over here when the fracking companies go bust what will happen then? The realist and cynic in me suspects that if they are well connected they too will get bailed out in another exercise in corporate welfare.

          Thirdly your choice of phrase “scaremongering green energy zealots” – suggests to me that you think it OK not only for people to risk their money but also to take risks with the health and wellbeing of people in adjacent communities and with future generations – greater risks than many public health experts think is advisable on precautionary grounds.

          It is of course true that policy is best based on hard facts so it would be ideal to wait to see what the situation is in regard to the economics of shale as well as in regard to the environmental, social and public health costs and impacts. To prevent research and further development now cuts off that possibility. However, I cannot see anything wrong in cutting off such possibilities if the discovery in the future that there are negative impacts would be serious enough and could not be reversed at that stage. Many serious diseases and public health risks will take many years to be fully revealed if they do occur. Then it will be too late. There are enough preliminary indications to be concerned about this. The case to cut off future research and development is then made even greater if there are grounds for believing it is a waste of time anyway because of UK geology.

          In this regard I note that all over Europe the fracking industry has failed to take off and has disappointed initially hyped expectations often because the geology is not favourable. In Poland for example there were also great hopes for a shale boom. The exploration disappointed those expectations. Underhill is not the only one who thinks that this could be a destructive exercise in time wasting.

          https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/sep/29/fracking-shale-gas-europe-opposition-ban

          • Brian, regarding academics. Prof Underhill does make some odd statements about the geology. He points out that US shale basins are in the goldilocks zone at 2-3km depth. Preston New Road is penetrating to 3.5km according to the BBC 1 NW tonight report I saw this evening. Prof Underhill also fails to really get to grips with the BGS studies. I pointed this out where he cites the Weald Basin as not being a very good basin for shale gas – yet does not refer to the BGS report which concluded the same with lots of data a few years ago he also makes the claim that there needs to be a clear distinction between the term resource and reserve. Again, the BGS reports are very clear on this. Here is the link. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/bgs-weald-basin-jurassic-shale-reports. Prof Underhill worries me as BGS Scotland has now moved to the HWU site – surely as Chief Scientist for HWU he would not ignore such rigorous reports, when his own institute hosts BGS Scotland? Prof Underhill also fails to note that shale gas is a source rock. The gas cannot escape easily and the BGS reports demonstrate gas is trapped in Bowland Shale – termed gas in place – as a resource. Indeed, even at the surface gas has not escaped, nor have wet gases been lost, as was proven in a study by Leicester University on a 12.5 kg sample I provided to them. Underhill may be right that shale gas may not flow at economic rates – but that too is a moving feast. His point about faulting is a good one, but even the Barnett has faulting, related to karst collapse in the underlying Ordivician carbonates. There is no doubt that gas is trapped in UK shales, and that it flows when that shale is fractured. Even conventional wells show gas peaks on there logs during shale penetrations. So – I suspect Prof Underhill has some more rigorous explaining to do in the light of BGS studies and lots of UK onshore well sections/logs. I must say though that Prof Underhill is in a very different league to Prof Smythe. An analogy might be like comparing the Premiership with the Conference league. You just need to go to Prof Smyth’s website to get a feel for his lack of respect to me and many academics, including FRS’. Statements that he makes such as “once an aquifer is contiminated it is contaminated forever” is just not scientifically accurate. It’s just a slogan. I have also taken him to task that his support for a moratorium on shale gas drilling – “until we learn more”. This is unscientific, how can we learn about UK geology without drilling and testing????

          • Nick, As I am not a geologist I am not going to comment on details like this where I would be out of my depth. The point I made that academics do risk something – if you are right then Underhill will find his reputation suffers. He will also not endear himself to an industry that providees geologists with work, research grants and the like.

          • Academics do not risk their reputations. His comments to a journalist are his personal views, not quotations from his scientific paper. Yes, big sums of money are at stake and the current trend in politics is to favour green issues so that’s where the big money is. Scientists who go with the trend get the money, those that do not do not get the money. It is as simple as that. I am not saying this is true in this case but in general that is how the catastrophic human induced climate change funding by the taxpayer is driven. A scientist who seeks a grant on the basis that there is not a problem is unlikely to gain political priority, which obviously is accorded to problems and the best of all are those which threaten the extinction of humanity. That should be obvious. Greenpeace is an interested party and lost the plot a long time ago. There is a difference between subsidies and grants and loans available to all companies, and between certain sectors where there is a national interest. Fossil fuel companies do not receive subsidies in UK. Solar and wind power is subsidised and is the single most significant cause of rising energy prices in UK and in many other countries.
            as for your statement, “the case to cut off future research and development is then made even greater if there are grounds for believing it is a waste of time anyway because of UK geology.” please explain how Cuadrilla has mitigated its risk of losing money either by the drilling eventually proving uneconomic or by potential claims for damages. I don’t know the answer, but I am fairly confident that its board of directors has had to address these risks and that if it gets it wrong, the directors will pay a personal penalty.

            • You write

              Academics do not risk their reputations.

              Response

              I don’t agree – they risk their own reputations and sometimes universities are sensitive if the research of individual academics might risk the reputation of a university in which they work. In point of fact universities reputations are now measured and ranked. If you google “academic reputation” you will find literature, including academic literature about this topic.

              You write

              His comments to a journalist are his personal views, not quotations from his scientific paper.

              Response

              I dont understand the point you are making here.

              You write

              Yes, big sums of money are at stake and the current trend in politics is to favour green issues so that’s where the big money is.

              My response

              You don’t say. There was me thinking that both in the USA and under the Tories in the UK renewables and energy conservation programmes had been under attack over the last few years while fracking and a white elephant called Hinkley Point has been promoted. Cutting support for onshore wind and solar, killing the “Green Deal” – admittedly a poor scheme but replacing it with nothing, privatising the so called Green Investment Bank… I don’t see any “big money”.

              You write

              Scientists who go with the trend get the money, those that do not do not get the money. It is as simple as that.

              My response

              Since the trend is currently supporting fossil fuels then Professor Underhill is going against it.

              You write

              I am not saying this is true in this case

              Response

              Quite – then it is “not as simple as that” is it?

              You write

              but in general that is how the catastrophic human induced climate change funding by the taxpayer is driven. A scientist who seeks a grant on the basis that there is not a problem is unlikely to gain political priority, which obviously is accorded to problems and the best of all are those which threaten the extinction of humanity.

              Response

              Yes indeed – the issues that ought to get political priority are indeed those that threaten the extinction of humanity. Would you like to deny that that is a possible outccome of catastrophic climate change? Do you think public policy should prioritise things more trivial than possible extinction?

              You write

              That should be obvious. Greenpeace is an interested party and lost the plot a long time ago. There is a difference between subsidies and grants and loans available to all companies, and between certain sectors where there is a national interest. Fossil fuel companies do not receive subsidies in UK. Solar and wind power is subsidised and is the single most significant cause of rising energy prices in UK and in many other countries.

              Response

              So what do you say then to this piece by Bob Ward of the LSE commenting on International Monetary Fund research in 2015?

              “Figures published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) show that the UK Government may not be looking in the right place if it wants to cut energy subsidies. The IMF’s latest analysis estimates that the UK will spend about US$41 billion (£26 billion), equivalent to 1.37 per cent of its GDP, on subsidies for fossil fuels this year. The bulk of this total is due to fiscal policies that do not address externalities, such as global warming and local air pollution, caused by the consumption of oil, coal and gas.”

              http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/new-figures-published-by-the-imf-show-the-uk-provides-more-subsidies-for-fossil-fuels-than-renewables/

              As it happens I agree that wind and solar are going to be expensive to generate – and it will be expensive too to balance supply and demand when the sun is not shining and the wind not blowing, probably very expensive. However, the extraction costs for fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal – are also rising because of depletion. So even were there no climate crisis there would still be a need to drive energy conservation and develop new energy sources. That is, indeed, why fracking is happening – because the cheaper and easier to tap fossil energy sources are being exhausted with the result that more complex, costly and expensive energy extraction methods are being developed instead. (ie fracking and “unconventional fuels”). The trouble is – if energy prices were to rise sufficiently to cover the rising costs of extraction and generation it will drive the economy into recession. There is a problem of affordability. Many fracking companies in the USA are cash flow negative and losing money. In the UK there is a strong chance that frackers will not break even and lose money here too.

              There is a problem of the financial affordability of energy whether it is generated as electricity from renewable sources or is extracted as fossil fuels through fracking. Costs of generation by renewables AND extraction of fossil fuels are on a rising trend.

              I have argued this with others on this website before and there are those who say that the technology of fracking is developing so fast that costs are not rising but falling. However, this is debatable – most of the falling costs in recent years are short term. Falling costs of production have been temporary and because of the recession in the fracking industry in the USA which meant that service companies cut what they were charging to keep work. In addition the recession meant that activities were cut back to the sweet spots only creating an illusion that there was a general increase in productivity and falling costs.

              http://www.artberman.com/shale-cost-reductions-are-10-technology-and-90-industry-bust/

              In summary, when you try to pin the blame on subsidised renewables for rising energy prices its a grotesque oversimplification of a much more complex problem. The costs of maintaining and developing the sources of energy system in our economies are rising – financial, environmental and social – and this will occur whatever technology or energy source is prioritised. These rising costs would have risen too even were there not a climate crisis – which there is – because of fossil fuel depletion. Because our economies are based on plentiful supplies of cheap energy this will inevitably create serious problems – not least in the fact that fracking companies who carry the high costs of extraction cannot cover their costs and eventually go bust.

              https://srsroccoreport.com/u-s-fracking-oil-industry-in-trouble-investors-losing-faith/

              In my opinion it means that the chief priority is learning to live with less energy – energy conservation and lifestyles that share more are the priority.

              You write

              as for your statement, “the case to cut off future research and development is then made even greater if there are grounds for believing it is a waste of time anyway because of UK geology.” please explain how Cuadrilla has mitigated its risk of losing money either by the drilling eventually proving uneconomic or by potential claims for damages. I don’t know the answer, but I am fairly confident that its board of directors has had to address these risks and that if it gets it wrong, the directors will pay a personal penalty.

              Response

              I don’t care if the directors of Cuadrilla have to pay a personal penalty – what I care about is that the public end up paying – by bailing them out in a variety of ways. e.g. as I said – paying for the costs of roads, paying for healthcare costs of workers and communities, local authorities paying to clear up the mess when they go bust – or even bailing them out financially directly because they are well connected.

            • Reply to Brian Daley…..Re IMF fossil fuel energy subsidies.

              Brian, the subsidy information information is interesting.

              It is noted that fossil fuels are subsidised more than renewables. The IMF data table shows the UK subsidised HCs to the tune of £26 billion, or $41 billion at 1.6 to the dollar as per 2015.

              I think the headline is somewhat misleading, giving the impression that somewhere that amount of cash is being handed over in subsidy or it costs lots in terms of global,warming, environmental damage and people dying from pollution.

              The data breaks down as follows, being the ‘subsidy cost’ for products.

              In the UK, in 2015 coal cost £17.5 billion, Natural Gas 7.8 billion, and petroleum £175 million.

              The cost per capita for coal was calculated as £460 to Tonne. The cost for petroleum ( petrol, diesel, heating fuel) was negligible compared to coal and Natural Gas. This seems counter intuitive as air quality in the UK is deteriorating as traffic levels increase, not as coal power stations shut.

              Discrepancy in pricing

              Why the coal cost is so high is interesting, and I would need to dig into the assumptions, but for comparison the cost per tonne of coal used in Germany is £318 Tonne, and for Russia £439 Tonne.
              Hence I am somewhat suspicious of the Russian total, as they do not have a fleet of relatively clean burning coal fired power stations similar to those in the U.K., nor the various clean air acts which regulate domestic use.
              The lower german total may be due to the higher cost of electricity generated, i.e. The German gov is getting the difference in cash from the consumer due to higher energy prices, and passes this on to the lucky owners of renewable energy sources?

              Comparison to other countries

              Germany’s has a similar level of subsidy, some $44 billion, with the lions share being coal related. If my comparison above is correct, Germany takes $11 billion in cash off the consumer and hands it elsewhere or keeps it, as a result of coal burning.

              In terms of subsidy per capita for coal, G and petroleum, the U.K. subsidises them to the tune of $634 per year per person, Germany $638 ( due to higher coal burn ), Luxembourg $3747!, USA $2176, Russia $2334, China $1652.

              The IMF figures show that for China the pre tax subsidy is $ 1.13 Trillion, and post tax subsidy is $2.27 Trillion
              Pre tax is selling fuel below cost.

              The UK numbers look small, and certainly show the issues to face re global warming, and where the battle would be won.

              Good news

              The good news is that in 2016, the UK reduced the IMF subsidy numbers by £9 billion, reducing from £26 billion to £17 Billion by reducing coal use from 38 to 18 million tonnes.

              Unfortunately Germany will not show such a reduction as their coal consumption only dropped from 78 to 75 Million Tonnes 2015 to 2016, meaning that they were some $9 billion dirtier than the UK, mainly due to coal consumption. Which is no such good news, although they are pressing on with renewables.

              Overall

              The headline that we spend more on subsidising fossil fuels than renewables is misleading. We can never spend £26 billion on renewables in 2015, or £17 billion in 2016 as the money is not real.
              Indeed, the and IMF figures would seem to indicate that rather than heat your house with coal fired electricity, a coal fire or gas, better to use fuel oil. Or go start the car and sit in it, as the subsidy for,petroleum products is so small.

              The key issue is pre tax subsidies, which for the UK are negligible. Neither the IMF data or the headlines linked compare pre tax subsidies for fossil fuel and renewables, so we are still in the dark as to who gets the lions share in the UK. I am sure someone will look at it.

              NOte, all numbers are rounded up,or down, and exchange rate is 1.6. $ to £ as per IMF data.

            • The IMF data is misleading and confusing. Whether something is subsidised depends on the definition of subsidy. Although the IMF data includes real direct subsidies it also includes very large numbers based on extremely fanciful definitions. For example, $147 billion of the US “subsidies” total of $699 billion is “congestion”. A further $59 billion is attributed to accidents and $9 billion to road damage. Such nonsense accounts for over 30% of the figure given by the IMF as US subsidies to fossil fuels. This is absurd. the summary figures on which journalists like those of the Guardian, base their ridiculous claims and scaremongering are based on such figures – the Guardian: ‘G20 countries pay over $1,000 per citizen in fossil fuel subsidies, say IMF’.
              Another proportion of the IMF’s ‘subsidies’ is based on the idea that something should be taxed but is not taxed. That is not a subsidy, but an argument for, say, a carbon dioxide tax. Such rubbish is the basis of the Guardian’s claim that the USA “gives $700bn a year in fossil fuel subsidies, equivalent to $2,180 for every American.” The true figure of direct subsidies is $40.
              Finally the IMF argues for a consumption based tax which is regressive. In part because of the EU’s VAT, Europe has more regressive taxation than the USA, ie the poor pay a higher proportion of their income in tax than the rich.
              Essentially, the IMF report on which so much of the attacks on fossil fuels and fracking are based is dreadfully misleading. It is political propaganda masquerading as economics, and deliberately so. It can be safely ignored.

            • Peter
              Those accidents and congestion will be the ones that ones that only occur if you are driving a HC powered car. If you drive and electric BMW, then you would be protected from such events I guess, according to IMF assumptions.

              The IMF paper was a discussion doc, so it must have worked, as here we are discussing it.

              But, as ever, when you read behind the headlines, whatever they are, they are usually skewed somewhat.

            • Dear hewes62, you are very generous. “an assumption”? No, it is downright deceit. The cost of congestion is a cost of being stuck in a traffic jam, etc etc. it makes no difference whether your vehicle is diesel, petrol, electric, nuclear, rocket, wind or pedal powered. Ditto ‘road damage’. This is such an elementary mistake in accounting for costs, or in accounting terms allocating costs, that it can only be described as deceit. whilst there is some sound economics in the IMF paper, removal of all but the sound economics would result in an economic case for shutting down all public subsidy of Green energy projects. The paper is designed for the political purpose of promoting Green Energy, which is essentially a rent-seekers paradise: tax payer under-written highly leveraged investments for those with some funds to invest, the opinion formers who make money by connecting the controllers of public money with recipients and with the fund providers, ie taxpayers and consumers, by generating public support for the owners of the money to part with it or to accept being parted from it, ostensibly for a good purpose. And what better persuasion can be found than the threat of the annihilation of life on earth? The idea that the miserable puny species of humankind can control the power of the sun and all the other forces on the climate of the earth in order to maintain some ideal mean temperature, which by the way has yet to be defined, when it does not by its own admission even understand all the processes involved is just absurd. It would be funny and worthy of Sheridan or Shakespeare on the stage if it were not so dangerous.
              I am not discussing the IMF paper but responding to the deceits being propagated by some of the contributors to these threads. That such people have taken it up shows that propaganda works, nothing more. Presumably that is what you mean by ‘it must have worked’. Yes, it has propaganda value. But that is all. [Edited by moderator]

            • Peter I think it helps to be aware that economics originated as a branch of moral philosophy – its early theorists were people like Aristotle, St Thomas Aquninas and St Augustine. Adam Smith, Bentham, et al were all moral philosophers concerned with individual and collective ethical decision making.

              What we are discussing here are moral or ethical issues – issues about how we should decide things that have an effect, not only on the environment but on other people. Your assertion that “direct subsidies” (ie involving money payments) are “real” but that a monetary valuation of the inconvenience of congestion, the loss, pain, suffering and death associated with accidents, and the resource use associated with repairing road damage is somehow is a “nonsense”, “ridiculous”, “absurd” “rubbish” – is an ethical judgement.

              As it happens I think there are philosophical questions about turning ethical and moral questions into money calculations – this is a profundly anthropocentric approach and there are societies and people who do not think in this way. However that they should be taken into account in the sense of being given weight in political decision making about the energy system seems to me beyond question.

              This is all mainstream economic theory. Every textbook of environmental economics will have stuff about this in it. You have doubtless heard the phrase “polluter pay” – and when polluters do not pay this is an ethical decision. Or, in my view, an unethical one>

              If you make your profit by polluting the atmosphere, sending current and future generations to early graves then in my ethical judgement your profit is made as a theft from the lives of other people – or a subsidy from others that you are not paying for. Either way it is an ethical decision – or rather, a profoundly unethical one.

              I note your opinion on these ethical matters.

              More on these matters are discussed in chapter 26 and elsewhere in my book “Credo” – which is based on teaching I did on economics, environment and ethics at Dublin City University in 2013. My book is now available for free download at http://www.credoeconomics.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/credo.pdf

            • Science evolved from philosophy. So what? you may be debating ethics. the IMF paper is not. it is pretending to be economics. Your view that something that is not taxed should be taxed and is therefore subsidised is not accepted economics. It is a moral stance, if you like but it is not economics. The IMF paper seeks to promote Green Energy by economic argument. Therefore it is a deceit, aka propaganda. What I have just written is a philosophic argument. There are many things that are given relief from tax which I do not use. Why should I subsidise the people who use them. If you want to use more expensive Green Energy, that is your choice. that is no reason for me to have to pay for your choice. But i am very happy happy for you to make that choice provided you don’t expect me to pay for it.

              CO2 is not pollution. That is another lie propagated by CAGW alarmists, of which you seem to be one. Here is a moral stance for you: be honest about the facts.
              I did not say that the costs to others of one’s actions should not be accounted for. I said they should be correctly attributed, with examples like congestion. That is not a cost of fossil fuels but a cost of transportation. If what you cite as examples are in fact attributable to fossil fuels I would have no problem supporting a tax on fossil fuels on that basis. However, another lie propagated by CAGW alarmists is that all these things are caused by human induced CO2 emissions. That is no more than untested theory. It is a lie that must be upheld in order to sustain the flow of trillions of dollars into CAGW and Green Energy. That money could be better spent on other things. In order to sustain your supposed moral and ethical stance you need to show that you are correctly attributing the causes of what you see as potential future costs to present activities. Contrary to another lie the science is not settled. If it were the models that form the basis of the alarmist theory would be supported by empirical evidence. They are not. They run hot by a factor of 2-3. the data is inadequate and not all the processes are understood so they are not even represented in the models. You would also have to justify reversing the greening of the planet and enormously improved crop yields that have resulted from higher CO2 concentrations. Where is your ethics on causing increased hunger and food poverty in the world by removing CO2 from the atmosphere. And don’t waffle about rising sea levels and worsening weather because that is yet another alarmist lie.
              Speaking of carbon pollution, you may have noticed that almost all life forms on earth are carbon based. Perhaps you would agree that to save the planet we should kill all the people. The plants and other animals would probably survive without humans. I await a lead from the Greenies and alarmists to go first.

            • Attribution – if motor fuels are cheap and people motor more then you get more congestion, accidents and road damage etc. The IMF paper does say on this

              “Although taxing road fuel is a relatively inefficient way to reduce traffic congestion and other externalities from vehicles, it is appropriate to reflect externalities in energy taxes until more efficient policies are comprehensively implemented—particularly given political inertia and the fact that few countries presently have anything approaching fully corrective charges (Parry and others 2014).” The IMF notes a need to find other ways (policy instruments) of tackling these problems.

              I don’t usually defend the IMF but their paper does acknowledge that

              there are many uncertainties and controversies involved in measuring environmental damages in different countries—our estimates are based on plausible—but debatable—assumptions

              The issues here are about economics AND ethics. If governments do not act to ensure the “internalisation of externalities” in economic jargon overall welfare is not maximised AND in ethical terms there is unfairness.

              Failure of the state to act in markets to set right issues like climate change is a moral failing and an economic one – one that can be traced back to the vastly unequal power of the fossil fuel lobby on government. Why economic issues are also ethical issues is discussed in this paper by myself. http://www.feasta.org/2016/01/22/putting-moral-philosophy-back-into-economics/

              Yes, I share the consensus among the overwhelming majority of scientists that humans are causing dangerous climate change. CO2 is not necessarily per se a pollutant but too much of it is. This is probably when it is above more than 350parts per million in the atmosphere – above which the danger of the ice caps melting and other runaway processes occuring is too great. Other gases are also dangerous in excess – such as methane (some of which leaks from gas fields). Sea levels are already rising and at an increasing rate. They are currently rising at one eight of an inch a year.

              You regard this as scaremongering – I regard it as a frightening fact that needs to be understood and acted upon.

              The idea that more CO2 encourages plants is highly reductionist thinking. For plants to thrive they need, so to speak, an appropriate “package” of conditions – including the right growing temperatures, the right amount of water at appropriate times, the right soil nutrients, the right protection from insects and so on. Growing amounts of CO2 changes all of those growing conditions – and in many cases in ways likely to be unfavourable.

            • There is no evidence that 350 ppm is the maximum CO2 concentration the earth can withstand. None. There is no reliable estimate of an ideal temperature or ideal CO2 concentration. There have been many experiments in horticulture on CO2 concentrations. None show a 350ppm max. This isn’t controversial. The earth is greening and crop yields are rising. Do you deny this? The ‘Overwhelming Scientific Consensus’ is also a myth.There are many scientists who do not support alarmist claims such as your statements, “humans are causing dangerous climate change” and calling this theory ‘a frightening fact’. You are scaremongering. What is frightening is the belief of people that humans can control the climate. Utterly preposterous. There has been no change in the rate of rise of sea levels since records began, at least a century ago.
              So tell me, once you have eliminated all human caused CO2 emissions how do you propose to restore sunspot activity so that we avoid the next ice age? Only as far back as the 1970s dramatic cooling of the earth was the ‘frightening fact’ requiring bucket loads of our money to be given to the government. Thankfully people had more sense in those days. Do you know about the crop failures and starvation of Highlanders in Scotland during the Maunder minimum? That is what a cooler climate does. Where are your ethics on that?

              If you want to control the climate you need controls that work both ways: to cool the earth when it is too hot, and to warm it when it is too cold and some idea of ideal values of temperature and all the other factors influencing the climate. Have you a handy list you can refer to and the mechanisms you propose to control each and every one of them?

              By the way if you look at analyses of the EPICA ice cores you will find that for the last 800,000 years rising CO2 concentrations have lagged temperature rise. So how does CO2 cause rising temperatures? Can you also explain why the 100,000 year cooling cycle starts when the CO2 level is at a maximum? This is consistent with ice cores from Greenland, although they cover a much shorter period of time.

              Your complacence and that of many people like you is what is truly frightening. This is the politics of fear. It is highly unethical. Yes the planet is warming. That is a good thing. The human effect on the climate may or may not be significant and it may even turn out to be dangerous. But we do not know that and it is grossly irresponsible and immoral for people like you to campaign on the basis that the planet can be saved only if we divert trillions from what we do know to be worthwhile uses onto vain and useless attempts to control the climate. the poor countries of the world do not need green energy. They need cheap energy for economic development. Only then will they prosper. And please don’t use them as your experimental laboratory for ‘green’ development. Ethics only on your side of the argument? Risible.

            • [Edited by moderator] …the usual reference, that you somehow are supporting the poor. It is the usual tactic of the more affluent middle-class, to try and excuse their excessive and wasteful lifestyles. It is the affluent who are destroying the Global South, the environment and driving inequality, even in the UK. [edited by moderator]

            • Patrick Sudlow, do tell us all what affluence you have given up in your support of the poor or your switching to ‘Green Energy’? And who is it campaigning for others to pay for your switch to Green Energy by legalised imposition against our will? It is you! I am perfectly happy for you to buy whatever Green Energy you want. I object most strongly to your campaigning for my paying for it, especially on the basis that it is some kind of moral obligation. And by the way, what was that charitable work you did in Africa to help the poor? As it happens I have done charitable work in Africa and several of my family still do. And none of them support Green Energy. [Edited by moderator].

            • Peter, you make many assertions but you do not link your assertions to peer reviewed scientific articles in reputable journals. In response to your various points these are all links to peer reviewed articles.

              350ppm CO2 as a target:

              Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?

              http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/2008/TargetCO2_20080407.pdf

              Extreme weather and harvests 1964 – 2007

              Inffluence of Extreme Weather Disasters on Global Crop Production

              http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v529/n7584/full/nature16467.html?foxtrotcallback=true

              Modelling climate impacts of climate change on global food security to 2050

              https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-014-1277-y

            • I have read only the first reference and see no need to read further. Your first reference is to a paper lead by Hansen, a man who has more to lose than anyone on the planet, with the possible exception of Al Gore – already losing to the box office, I am pleased to see, if CAGW doesn’t occur. The desired level of CO2 concentration is an input assumption based on a 2006 paper by another CAGW alarmist, LDD Harvey, from Toronto. Both assume the climate models are correct. Since 2006 even the IPCC has had to acknowledge that the climate models have significant shortcomings both in terms of data and completeness. In fact it is a mathematical impossibility to solve the multi-variate partial differential equations necessary to model the climate accurately. Even using goal seeking, heuristics and approximations it taxes the most powerful computers. Single effects can be modelled accurately but many of the feed back mechanisms and influences are not sufficiently understood even to be approximated in the models. As policy tools they are woefully inadequate and can easily be manipulated to produce the result required for policy purposes. Although Harvey’s paper is not available in full it is clear from his summary and intro that his aiming point for CO2 concentration is not related to the effect on crop yields and healthy plant growth. It is related to IPCC policy which itself assumes that temperatures are driven by CO2 to a level above which it is assumed to be dangerous. Both the danger level and the CO2 sensitivity are unsupported by empirical data and have since been revised downwards by the IPCC. Nice try but if you want trillions of dollars for your cause you need to be more convincing.
              I haven’t read the Nature article but I can guess that it goes something like this: bad weather causes crop damage as quantified empirically etc etc, we know climate change will make it worse. We know this is caused by mankind. Disaster looms. Ditto the Springer article. CAGW is merely an assumption and I agree if it were true i would be first onto the barricades with you. But it ain’t proven and until it is it justifies no more than caution. Were any of you activists proposing cautionary and proportionate measures on this basis I would support you. But you aren’t. It is always impending disaster, points of no return and so on. The empirical evidence simply does not support such claims.

            • “I have read only the first reference and see no need to read further.”

              Then I see no need to try to discuss with you further. You make not the slightest attempt to engage with the issues in the Hansen et al paper but make an ad hominem against Hansen. On the other two papers about crop yields, food security and climate change on your own admission you guess what is in them and then write a reply to what you guess they contain.

              In other words you find excuses to ignore the arguments and evidence of a different viewpoint and then defeat the argument that you assume is being made.

              For me then this discussion is over as it is completely futile to try to discuss with someone who ignores what one says and the evidence that one puts forward.

            • What you sent me was not a peer reviewed study – it was someone drawing their own conclusions from a collection of peer reviewed studies about the Medieval Warm period in the Northern Hemisphere – Greenland, Canada, the Arctic etc.

              I don’t need to do a robust refutation of your interpretation because others have already done such refutations. In summary

              (1) The existence of a warm period in part of the globe does not give us an adequate global picture overall. While the parts of the Northern Hemisphere were warmer other parts of the globe were cooler including the tropic Pacific. A network of 78 scientists in 68 institutions around the globe called PAGE (past global changes) have reconstructed the last 2,000 years of data whereas you cite only northern hemisphere data. What they found confirmed the “hockey stick” – it also confirms the medieval warming and following little ice age but not as global synchronised events.

              http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v6/n5/abs/ngeo1797.html

              Incidentally this study appeared in Nature Geoscience in 2013. Your literature review was mostly of articles from a decade earlier. Although updated in 2013 your review does not include the work from the PAGE network.

              (2) There are human induced causes of climate change and natural causes. No climate scientist denies this. The natural causes will include things like the wobble in the angle of the planet’s axis as it spins around the sun, variable solar activity, changes in the amount of dust in the earth’s atmosphere reflecting solar energy back into space, changes in the earth’s albedo – and non human caused variability in greenhouse gases – eg. when temperature changes are brought about by the factors just mentioned this effects then a warming ocean may off gas methane and thus accelerate a warming. All of these have produced a marked wobble and fluctuation over the centuries including in the period that humans were not around and scientists attempt to measure and draw all of these things together in a total picture.

              (3) Here’s a well put refutation of your position on the medieval warm period based on peer reviewed science

  4. Brian Davey
    Re the IMF discussion paper and the data tables for fossil fuel subsidies.
    The IMF do give the figure of $41.23 Billion as Post tax subsidies for fossil fuel.

    The subsidy breaks down as follows (roughly)
    $28 billion for coal
    $12.43 billion for Natural gas
    $0.28 billion for petroleum products (petrol, diesel etc)

    This is not cash being handed out to the industry. For coal its consumers not being charged sufficient for the electricity, to cover the environmental costs of its use.
    Likewise for natural gas.
    For petroleum products it seems that the high price of fuel mitigates the damage. So there is almost no subsidy on diesel it seems!

    The premise of the paper and figures, inter alia, is that the gov needs to increase tax on coal and N gas in order to then use that tax to help reduce consumption. it is not a subsidy, its the population not paying the full price for the fuel then use. If we pay more, then the subsidy shrinks.

    The good news is that in 2017 the largest contributor (coal) is shrinking fast (ie there is less subsidy by using less coal). Also, subsidies direct to the producer are so small as not to be worth mentioning (no large handouts to them).

    Compared to the rest of the globe we are not doing so bad. Our subsidy per capita is $635. For Germany it is $638, with coal being their biggest problem. They do not have the benefit of as much nuclear, and have less gas – they are having to burn lignite and coal to keep the lights on.

    The per capita subsidy in Luxembourg is $3747, so they must be keeping warm in the winter.

    Overall, there is no wad of cash going from government to fossil fuel, just us consumers not being taxed by that amount and handing it to the government. Of course, were it more expensive we may not use as much, or the money may be used to subsidise solar panels and so on. We just need to agree to pay more for fossil fuels in terms of tax and hope they use it wisely. One to debate in parliament soon.

    • Andrew. Apologies that I did not respond to your earlier posting.

      There are, I think, two points which I partly debated with Peter Gardner

      Firstly in the jargon on mainstream economics economic activity gives rise to impacts (costs and perhaps benefits) which fall as financial costs on the companies responsible (internal costs) and which fall on people and the environment outside the companies (called Externalities). I don’t like this way of conceptualising which implies you can reduce all issues and to money valuations and then make all problems OK with payments – but I will work with it for the purpose of this reply. If companies do not pay to put right the negative “externalities” that they cause then I think it legitimate to call this a subsidy.

      Secondly, in regards to the UK there are also subsidies in the form of tax breaks. All companies and individuals benefit from the existence of the services of the state without which they could not operate. When they are “let off taxes” that other companies and individuals have to pay then I think that this is akin to a subsidy too. In this regard I am referring to “enhanced capital allowances” which allows companies like Ineos to pay a lower rate of tax on its offshore activities and devote the money saved to shale gas development – likewise Centrica has committed to fund Cuadrilla to the tune of £60m derived from paying tax at the lower rate of 40% on their offshore operations.

      If you want to argue that the word “subsidy” has to mean a direct payment go ahead. I can’t see the point in quibbling about the meaning of a word – the point is that the fossil fuel interests are being treated favourably when, if humanity is to properly take into account the damage that fossil fuel producers are doing, states should be giving them an appropriately hard time in order to curb their output.

      Incidentally I also don’t like the terminology of “externalities” because it makes it seem as if impacts by companies on communities and the environment are somehow a special case in a market economy. These impacts are not unusual or special cases – they are ubiquitous. For example all economic activities involve the use of energy and since almost all energy is currently derived from fossil fuels almost all economic activities have “climate externalities”. As such this problem should be mainstream to the economic theory but economists almost always totally ignore the climate crisis and energy. I explore this in my book Credo.

      • A guide to subsidies for renewable energy:
        https://assets.kpmg.com/content/dam/kpmg/pdf/2015/09/taxes-and-incentives-2015-web-v2.pdf

        Direct public financing of renewable energy:
        https://www.gov.uk/guidance/funding-for-innovation-in-renewable-energy
        not to mention Cardiff Bay and other publicly funded schemes.

        R&D tax incentives available to all sectors of industry:
        https://www.gov.uk/guidance/corporation-tax-research-and-development-rd-relief

        Would you care to say which specific tax breaks are available only to the fossil fuel industry? You might find some designed to encourage risk-taking in order to secure UK’s energy supply but that is not a subsidy to fossil fuels but funding of a public good: national energy security. Name one subsidy given only to fossil fuel companies because they are in fossil fuels and not for any other reason.

        We should also take into account the enormous environmental damage being caused by for example Germany’s Energiewind strategy: clearing of natural habitat, killing of birds, switching productive and sustainable farm land to biofuels, etc. etc. It is tiresome to have to keep on making these points.
        South Australia is another example of the exaggerated claims of Green energy being economic and sustainable being found out by mother nature. To prevent a state wide blackout recurring the Federal government now has to chuck in another few hundred million to re-engineer the grid because the original Green Energy budget claimed all costs were accounted for, when they clearly weren’t – as several engineers pointed out at the time. Move on, no subsidies here. But Hey, this is politics, not economics, not truth.

    • Exactly. Alarmists twist words. A levy or tax that some people argue should be paid on the basis of presumed indirect costs is not a subsidy as an objective economist would know it. The only subsidies available to the hated fossil fuel industry in UK are the same sort of incentives, grants etc as are available to other sectors of industry. Your last para hits the nail on the head. A UN official (can’t remember her name) this week let the cat out of the bag. The climate and green energy drive does not aim to save the planet or environment but to wind back capitalism and distribute western wealth to developing countries, ie. to impoverish advanced economies. One could say the same of campaigners for mass immigration, although their target is Western culture as a whole, somewhat broader than capitalism. We could do with more of such such honesty.

      • Peter
        Thanks.
        I am off to read Credo, although as a confirmed capitalist it may be hard work. My first book I read for my Soul was V.L.Allen. ‘The Militancy of British Miners’. 1981. It was hard going.

        At the end though it says pits were closed because of cheap imports, which were highly subsidised while UK coal was not. It also argued that pits should stay open until all the coal was mined. It spoke a lot about local democracy and that the gov ignored the wishes of local people and closed pits. What goes around, comes around.

        Hence I find it quite interesting that it was a conservative government who were accused of de industrialising the UK, and now is accused of wanting to re industrialise it, while the Labour Party was the champion of industry before, and now is the champion of de industrialisation. ( but not subsidies maybe for steel plants and so forth ).

  5. Peter and Hewes62

    If you are going to take a poke at my viewpoint go ahead – but please take care to criticize what I actually say. It is a waste of all our times to attack a point of view that I do not hold.

    If the government “subsidises” or “favours” or “incentivises” or “encourages” fossil fuels for energy security reasons then it is still subsidising them (or favouring them or whatever your preferred word is).

    I cannot recall ever writing that the government was subsidising or giving tax breaks or whatever to fossil fuels solely because they were fossil fuels.

    I am not an uncritical advocate of renewable energy systems – my main priority would be energy efficiency, energy conservation and social institutions for sharing which particularly focus on helping people get through very difficult times – precisely because of many of the problems with renewable energy, some of which you mention, are real and there is little chance that wind and solar can provide the basis for the continuance of a consumer society and a growth economy.

    It may interest you to know that there is a fierce debate in the green movement with some people like myself very sceptical because of the limited potential of renewable energy both because of some of the externalities of renewable energy which you mention, plus its intermittency plus the very high cost of developing it and the high cost of mitigating the intermittency. I am also highly sceptical of biofuels and bioenergy again for reasons no doubt familiar to you.

    One thing that is not admissable in current economic thinking, or indeed admissable in the thinking of almost all people, is that there are situations for which there are no ready made solutions. We are always led to believe that if there is a problem someone will invent or develop a technology to solve that problem. This is a faith of the modern world. Energy analyst Arthur Berman puts it succinctly when he says that Americans have more faith in technologies that have not been invented yet than they have in God. The attitude is much the same in this country – people always assume there will be a “techno-fix”.

    At this point most people fall into nice neat camps as to what “the solution” is depending on what technology they favour (or have sunk their money into) – and then go about picking holes in the rival technologies and the strategies associated with them. Well I have news for you. I have read the critiques of renewables and find them compelling. I have also read the critiques of fracking and unconventional gas and find these arguments compelling too. I have read the critiques of biofuels and they make sense – and so too do the arguments against nuclear….

    So am not a supporter of fracking or shale gas development and that is for health, environmental and climate grounds – but that does not make me a naive advocate for wind and solar and biofuels or nuclear.

    As regards fracking I do not support it not only because of externalities but on narrow commercial grounds too – perhaps you have not noticed but fracking has failed to take off virtually everywhere in the world because virtually everywhere it is tried it does not make commercial sense.

    To make out a case on grounds of energy security does not in my view make sense because on the very narrowest of private commercial grounds it does not look very likely that unconventional gas can be extracted at a gas price that will allow the industry to make a long run and consistent profit. This has been the experience in the USA – since 2009 most of the industry has been making losses and accumulating debts. It has been in a continual negative cash flow. It’s a Ponzi scheme and no sensible government develops an energy security policy by aping a Ponzi scheme that will soon bust. Indeed recent reports are that the industry in the UK is getting no where because most investors have no faith in it.

    What this tells me is that we are in a situation where there is NO neat solution that allows us to continue on a path of economic growth in a consumer economy.. Indeed we face profound dilemma because we have reached the limits to economic growth. This is a major theme of my book Credo. All apparent solutions have more costs than benefits and that is why “the solution” (if this is the right word ) is accepting that the Titanic will eventually go down. There is no “price” that will incentivise someone to come up with a clever solution and stop the ship going down. As the problem is that all the new technologies have more costs than benefits (when you take into account their externalities) then the only “solution” is degrowth – contraction – organised to be as equitable as possible. In that contraction I see some place for wind and solar in an intermittently powered society but I am terrified that an already grim situation will be made much worse by a legacy of contaminated land and contaminated water and an even worse climate catastrophe brought about by unconventional gas field development.

    Finally, for me the emphasis on sharing is crucial – sharing space to save energy and domestic facilities (eg co-housing) sharing transport (like lift sharing and expanded public transport), sharing growing space and land(community gardens and community supported agriculture), sharing appliances, tools and community workshop space….but that’s just a part of it and for the rest you must read my book..

    • Brian
      My reply of 24th August was stuck in the Drill or Drop spam filter. I wrote another one which got through. Then the stuck one was posted. Ho hum. Just in case anyone thought I keep writing the same stuff.
      Meanwhile, up to page 56!

    • My criticism is perfectly valid. the issue is discrimination. the green energy camp argue that subsidies of fossil fuels are unfair because they create an unlevel playing field unfavourable to Green energy, either by stating it baldly or by implying it. The argument is meant to be a defence against the subsidies of Green Energy which really are discriminatory. The fact is that the tax breaks available for R&D are available equally to Green energy and fossil fuel companies. if one works out more than the other other that merely reflects the size of each sector and has nothing to do government policy favouring fossil fuels. Therefore the charge that fossil fuels are unfairly subsidised is without foundation. There is discrimination in policy and it is vastly in favour of Green Energy.

      A more honest argument would be that you want two things: a) positive discrimination in favour of Green Energy and public money because it is otherwise not sustainable; and b) discriminatory policy against fossil fuels by making them ineligible for tax concessions available to Green energy and other sectors of the economy, ie, you want to kill it off completely by removing all the Government/public support available to other industries.
      Whether you personally would go that far is not very relevant. It is what the Green Blob aim for and you are supporting it.

      There is another factor here: the financialisation of economies. Companies like Boeing make more money from financial services than manufacturing aircraft. This unbalance now spreads through sectors and across industries. The aim is not to make something useful or provide a useful service but to make money in any way possible. It is rampant in Green energy whereby investors make investments that are highly subsidised, highly leveraged and their returns are underwritten by the tax payer. It removes the risk to the owner of the capital and misdirects capital investment from things for which there is genuine need and value. It encourages rent-seeking. Green energy is a multi-trillion dollar industry because of this, not because it has utility or worth. It is becoming increasingly damaging in directing investment away from genuinely useful economic activity.
      Of course you can argue that if we don’t do this then the end of the world is nigh. But I don’t believe you and neither do most people for one simple reason: the science is far from settled. It is nothing to do with higher morals and future generations. My argument against Green Energy has equal moral weight and I reject absolutely your attempt to claim a higher moral stance, which is hypocrisy. It is Green Energy that pursues the dollar above all else, not fossil fuels. It gets the public dollars by spreading fear through the general population, which provides a great advantage to any politician claiming during an election to be able to save us, and has gone past a tripping point by which its proponents cannot now back down without losing all credibility and ending their political careers. It is highly immoral and dishonest and utterly corrupts democracy. You should have nothing to do with it.
      Were Green Energy not a religion it would be possible to argue for reasonable policies to encourage research to remove uncertainties and hedge our bets, which I would gladly support. That is no longer possible because the zealotry of CAGW has gone too far. No scientist can express doubt without fear of losing their job. No politician can fund any research that is not intended to reinforce the expenditure of millions that he or she has promised for Green Energy or saving the planet, or saving humanity, and, as a bonus, bashing the hated fossil fuels. We have platform-denial and other vicious attacks on free speech in so-called universities (seats of learning!) and other fora and the media. There are calls for anyone not supporting The Faith to be imprisoned, laws to criminalise expressions of doubt. It really is getting very close to fascism.

  6. I wonder if it has escaped your notice that, in the USA, it is people who are convinced by the arguments and findings of climate scientists who are losing their jobs under the Trump administration and in the EPA. Your picture of the fossil fuel industry being discriminated against and victimised by the powerful green lobby which is perpretating a scientific fraud is so far from the reality I am amazed you can write such stuff. It is also far from the reality in the UK where over the last few years green policies have been dismantled while shale gas has been promoted. In the UK the tax breaks available to fossil fuel companies to promote shale gas are not available to renewable energy companies to develop renewable energy. If there is “discrimination” it is the other way.

    As I have already said promoting shale gas as an energy security strategy is not a good idea when the US experience is that shale gas is a Ponzi. Thankfully UK investors are proving very wary of shale and in this regard have more sense than the government . A policy for “security” cannot be built on bubble economics.

    http://consciousnessofsheep.co.uk/2017/07/17/fracking-companies-in-trouble-as-investment-dries-up/

    In an earlier email I presented you with links to peer reviewed articles which you then told me you were not going to read. You were certain that you already knew what was in them. I used to work in the voluntary sector mental health services and I cannot think of a clearer example of psychological “avoidance” – refusing to notice or acknowledge ideas and facts that do not chime with your existing “faith”.

    As I have also written before on this forum – trying to maintain a discussion between people of different “faiths” is often futile. People are reluctant to give up their ideas on politics, religion, economics, technology and their general world view when these “faiths” are shared in relationships with other people of same viewpoint – for example with work colleagues and others like people of the same political persuasion. They are prepared to ignore contrary opinions (because they “already know that they are wrong”) to avoid the cognitive dissonance that comes with adopting ideas out of line with the beliefs of those around them. To a degree one has to do this because none of us have all the time in the world to continue pursuing new ideas anyway.

    If you come up with something new to say that seems credible I will reply again – otherwise not.

    • Brian, “In the UK the tax breaks available to fossil fuel companies to promote shale gas are not available to renewable energy companies to develop renewable energy.”

      Please provide a link to an official government site that states what any of these tax breaks are. If you can’t do that you have no credibility. Don’t quote alarmist sources. When you’ve done that we can compare them to the public support given to Green Energy. BTW, Shale is very green compared with coal, but that’s another argument. Let’s stick with the tax break exclusive to fossil fuels or shale, whichever of the two it is.

        • Thank you. The link is to a reduction in an ADDITIONAL TAX on oil and gas companies that does not apply to renewables. It reduces only the additional tax because exploration is not profitable at a rate of 62%. It is intended to incentivise investment in exploration of unconventional exploration so that commercial viability can be ascertained. You call that a subsidy? Is this reduction not available to renewable energy investment because they aren’t taxed at 62% to start with? Exploration is not eligible for the R&D tax incentives that are available for renewables and other companies. It is perfectly reasonable for the state to provide these sort of incentives for exploitation of strategic national assets like oil and gas. I would say the same principle should apply to renewables if dealing with a comparable asset but we are not. This incentive does not support production. Green energy subsidies do. Furthermore, renewables require baseload and backup fossil fuel or nuclear generation of almost equal capacity to renewable capacity for periods when it is dark and the wind is either not blowing or is too strong. Where will that come from? The exploration of unconventional oil and gas. You count this incentive against fossil fuels only but fail to acknowledge the connection between fossil fuels and renewables in the mix. Renewables need fossil fuelled energy supplies.
          And the total cost is estimated to be £20 million. Hardly a game changer in terms of competition between large sectors of industry.

        • I missed your post providing what you call a ‘a well put refutation of your position on the medieval warm period’. I haven’t stated a position so I am not sure why you think it is. Anyway the video starts by saying the Medieval Warm Period was warmer than the following cold period and temperatures were similar to those of the mid 20th century. Hardly debunking anything. As for your reliance on peer reviews, there have been several well researched analyses of peer review showing to be far from rigorous or objective in many cases. The Hockey stick has also been discredited.

  7. What the video on te medieval warm period said was that air temperatures were similar in the medieval warm period to air temperatures averaged over the globe to the mid 20th century.

    If you cherry pick only that part of the talk it is highly misleading because

    (1) It was not as warm as the last decade and also

    (2) The video explains why the warming (and subsequent cooling) was caused by a combination of natural factors like the increase in solar activity, the amount of volcanic dust in the atmosphere and a difference in the earth’s orbit. If we allow for these factors today – and if we assume that they are the only factors to be taken into account – then calculations show that the earth should be a lot cooler than it actually is.

    The fact that the earth is not cooler but warmer is because the natural factors that should have cooled it have been overwhelmed by the influence of greenhouse gas emissions and this trend is continuing.

    The other link that I presented was an large scientifc study by 78 scientists who collected data for over 2,000 years for the whole globe. If you are going to disagree with these scientists then I think you have to explain where their data was wrong and in what ways it was wrong.

    Explain what is wrong with their evidence? Why is their data faulty? Why are their temperature reconstructions from the data based on faulty methodology?

    When you have done that and got it into a peer reviewed paper I might respect your viewpoint. Until then I regard your view as based on merely on your personal assertion.

    78 scientists spent a lot of time looking at the evidence – I doubt that you have spent as much aseven 1% of the time that they did looking at the issues. If you can’t explain why all their data and/or their temperature reconstruction methodology is wrong then have the grace to acccept their conclusions.

    Here is the link again

    http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v6/n5/abs/ngeo1797.html

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