Solstice 2017

Solstice

Summer Solstice over  Frack Free Chew Valley

The summer solstice in the Chew Valley started with the possibility of the Conservative Party manifesto commitment to change the planning law for shale applications so that “non-fracking drilling will be treated as permitted development“.  The legal definition of “hydraulic fracturing” is very specific and “non-fracking” covers a multitude of sins. However, later in the morning the Queen’s Speech omitted to mention unconventional gas so it seems that this proposed legislation will not reach the statute book any time soon.  There is no national or local mandate for it, let’s keep it that way.

 

Election 2017

It is election time again, so where do the political parties stand on unconventional gas?

The Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party would either ‘ban’ or ‘oppose’ fracking.

UKIP energy policy supports fracking and is firmly based in head in the sand climate change denial nonsense. However, there is no UKIP candidate standing in North East Somerset so we don’t need to consider it further.

The Conservative Party policy reiterates David Cameron’s desire to mimic the US Shale Gas experience citing lower energy prices, energy security and carbon benefits of displacing coal. It also states that ‘non-fracking drilling’ will be treated as ‘permitted development’, meaning that planning permission would not be needed.

Geographically England is nothing like the USA and a US style fracking ‘revolution’ is not compatible with ‘maintaining public confidence’ on account of the scale of the operations required to bring about such a retrograde revolution on a densely populated island. Belief that the US experience can be replicated in England is naive and widely recognised as such. Coal will have disappeared from the UK energy mix before fracking may get going so fracked gas will either displace imported gas or renewables, with no emissions benefit.

In the Chew Valley Coalbed Methane rather than Shale Gas is the mineral of interest. The definition of ‘fracking’ in the Infrastructure Act is so specific to shale that it does not cover the development of Coalbed Methane whether fracking takes place or not. Making ‘non-fracking’ drilling ‘permitted development’ sweeps away planning considerations in relation to unconventional gas in this rural economy.  The 300 gas wells that Coalbed Methane specialists GeoMet Inc estimated the Chew Valley and Mendip could ‘accommodate’ would therefore not need planning permission! This is the extraordinary policy that the Conservative Manifesto sets out and wants you to vote for.

Whilst there is no extant exploration licence in the Chew Valley area at present it is quite conceivable there could be again in the future.

Party

Position on Developing Unconventional/ Shale Gas

conservative The discovery and extraction of shale gas in the United States has been a revolution. Gas prices have fallen, driving growth in the American economy and pushing down prices for consumers. The US has become less reliant on imported foreign energy and is more secure as a result. And because shale is cleaner than coal, it can also help reduce carbon emissions. We believe that shale energy has the potential to do the same thing in Britain, and could play a crucial role in rebalancing our economy. We will therefore develop the shale industry in Britain. We will only be able to do so if we maintain public confidence in the process, if we uphold our rigorous environmental protections, and if we ensure the proceeds of the wealth generated by shale energy are shared with the communities affected. We will legislate to change planning law for shale applications. Non-fracking drilling will be treated as permitted development, expert planning functions will be established to support local councils, and, when necessary, major shale planning decisions will be made the responsibility of the National Planning Regime. We will set up a new Shale Environmental Regulator, which will assume the relevant functions of the Health and Safety Executive, the Environment Agency and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. This will provide clear governance and accountability, become a source of expertise, and allow decisions to be made fairly but swiftly. Finally, we will change the proposed Shale Wealth Fund so a greater percentage of the tax revenues from shale gas directly benefit the communities that host the extraction sites. Where communities decide that it is right for them, we will allow payments to be made directly to local people themselves. A significant share of the remaining tax revenues will be invested for the benefit of the country at large.
labour Labour will ban fracking because it would lock us into an energy infrastructure based on fossil fuels, long after the point in 2030 when the Committee on Climate Change says gas in the UK must sharply decline…[The Conservatives] have allowed fracking in national parks.
libDem We will oppose ‘fracking’ because of its adverse impact on climate change, the energy mix, and the local environment.
greens We will introduce a ban on fracking.

Table shamelessly summarised from CarbonBrief.org.  Visit CarbonBrief.org for a full analysis.

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Laughing Gas Emissions Red Herring

Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg MP is well known for his enthusiasm for the unabated burning of fossil fuels, for the reduction of environmental regulation and for his climate skepticism. So it is nice to see him belatedly expressing concern for an environmental health issue – None of us can afford to ignore dangers of diesel, Somerset Guardian (16/2/2017). However, rather than actually addressing the substantive issue (the health impacts of burning fossil fuels) he uses his article as a stick to beat the EU with and he constructs a red-herring fallacy to trivialise the impact of carbon dioxide emissions on climate change.

Mr Rees-Mogg quotes the shocking statistic that air pollution contributes to 40,000 premature deaths each year in the UK “primarily caused by nitrous oxides that are produced by diesel engines”. Nitrous oxide (N2O) is of course laughing gas (dephlogisticated nitrous air to Mr Rees-Mogg), rather than nitrogen dioxide (NO2) which is produced by diesel engines and gas boilers and which causes harmful air pollution.

The policy of promoting diesel over petrol engines was a well intentioned but bad policy based on bad information and lobbying by the car manufacturers. Mr Rees-Mogg blames an “EU green agenda” rather than the criminal actions of the car industry or the lack of regulatory enforcement by national governments, including the UK. The EU is threatening to fine the UK for being in breach of its NO2 limits since 2010, not the other way around.

The motivation behind the switch from petrol to diesel was to reduce CO2 emissions from petrol engines in order to mitigate global climate change – on the basis that companies such as VW were not knowingly cheating the system, which they were.

Mr Rees-Mogg says “The policy was determined because of fears about carbon dioxide emissions and an agreement made across the European Union to reduce them. Petrol creates more carbon dioxide than diesel engines but carbon dioxide does not lead to serious health complaints, indeed it is perfectly safe as a background atmospheric gas for people to breath”.

In these two sentences Mr Rees-Mogg has constructed a logical fallacy that says – because carbon dioxide is not toxic it is therefore harmless, so we shouldn’t be concerned about it and producing more is not an issue. This meme, which is often used by the fossil fuel lobby to misinform, detracts from the real issue which is that emissions from burning fossil fuels, including both diesel and petrol, is a very serious problem that both kills people through air pollution and which is dangerously disrupting the Earth’s climate.

Mr Rees-Mogg has clearly not read the report from the Royal College of Physicians on air pollution (the source of the 40,000 figure) which highlights the co-benefits of mitigating climate change and reducing air pollution.

Given that fossil fuel combustion is a major source of both greenhouse gases and local air pollutants, if action is taken to address climate change there could be major improvements in outdoor air quality as a result of decarbonisation of power and transport systems, and improved efficiency of energy use. Indeed, the economic benefits of improved health resulting from reduced exposure to fine particles and other local and regional air pollutants as a consequence of climate policies have been estimated to be sufficient, on their own (ie without reference to climate benefits), to justify a range of climate actions being adopted”.

Neither air pollution nor climate change are laughing matters and their solutions lie in both strong environmental regulation and leaving fossil fuels in the ground – two things Mr Rees-Mogg is not the slightest bit interested in.

Rees-Mogg’s red herring…

Climate Reality, 400 ppm

In June 2013 Frack Free Chew Valley convened a meeting in Chew Magna and invited 20 local parish councils to attend.  The next week the Conservative councillors in Bath and North East Somerset (BANES) tabled a motion to oppose unconventional gas development and this was supported by both the Lib Dems and Labour. Eventually all of the licences in BANES were relinquished and the gas has remained in the ground (where it belongs) not in the atmosphere.

During that meeting a slide was shown of atmospheric CO2 concentrations with time. This graph, produced by the late Professor David MacKay, showed atmospheric CO2 concentrations hovering around 395 parts per million (ppm).  In June 2013 it had just been reported in the media that the symbolic 400 ppm had just been touched, although the values varies with the season. A safe concentration is considered to be 350 ppm to avoid the possibility of “seeding irreversible catastrophic effects”.

CO2 Concentration with time

CO2 Concentration with time. 1769 was the year that James Watt patented his steam engine. The blue line are direct CO2 measurements at Mauna Loa in Hawaii. 

The World Meteorological Organisation has just reported that the 2015 global average was 400 ppm, pushed past the post by the recent El Niño warming event.  These cumulative concentrations are going in one direction (so far as people who are alive today are concerned) and will persist for generations.

CO2 Concentrations, with time, WMO

CO2 Concentrations, with time, WMO

Meanwhile, climate change denial remains alive and well in the West of England with UKIP MEPs proud to deny the science, MPs peddling misinformation on renewables, and journalists engaged in extreme cherry-picking (the rebuttal).

Far better to go to someone who knows what he is talking about (and who has got a Nobel Prize):

Here are the resources he is talking about. Have a read!

Yet more climate change denial from UKIP South West MEP Julia Reid

Julia Reid, MEP for the South West, has stood up in the European Parliament yet again to (yet again) repeat a standard set of climate myths that were debunked years ago, saying:

We in UKIP deny climate change alarmism supported by green lobbies, often financed by the Commission, …“&c, &c, &c.

When she says “green lobbies” what she means is mainstream climate science which is uncontentious.

We have already covered these tired and debunked myths from Dr Reid before:

South West MEP Julia Reid repeats climate myths (again)

We have also commented on the spooky correlation between climate change denial and Euro-scepticism:

Flat Earth Politics

It is quite extraordinary that one of Britain’s political parties has a stated policy of climate change denial when the world’s science academies, governments and the United Nations consider it to be the most serious issue of our times.

It is also extraordinary that our MP Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg seems to share these unscientific myths that make up the UKIP energy & climate policy, see Climate change alarmism cause our high energy prices and Carbon Emissions and Climate Change

On cheap energy Mr Rees-Mogg has said “Hydraulic fracturing may be part of the solution but carbon emission targets will not be” but his figures on renewables are all muddled up and based on bad journalism rather than credible sources.

Far better to listen to our national Science Academy on the important subject of Climate Change:

and follow up with their evidence and causes resources.

NB Science has know about this for well over 100 years.

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Muddled View on Carbon Emissions & Renewables

Concerned constituents have written to their MP Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg about Hinkley Point nuclear power station and the need to decarbonise our power sector in a cost effective and timely manner maximising the use of non-nuclear renewables.  Regarding renewables Mr Rees-Mogg responded:

I also understand that some people would like the Government to spend more money on renewable energy instead of nuclear power. It is important to remember that the United Kingdom produces approximately only 2% of the world’s carbon emissions. It is, therefore, more important that the UK Government ensures that the most vulnerable people in society are protected rather than producing renewable energy that, even though it may be greener, is nonetheless unreliable and would raise energy bills for everyone. Households are already estimated to be paying £60 per year which may rise to £226 by 2020 owing to subsidies for renewables. I have included an article explaining this potential rise for you reference“.

Giving this Telegraph article as evidence.

It sounds reasonable but what lies beneath this logic and evidence?

Emissions

It is true that the UK only produces about 2% of the world’s annual carbon emissions but it is our cumulative emissions that define our climate change impact.  As the UK was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution we have a head start on the rest of the world and we come 7th  in the world’s cumulative emissions ranking after the USA, China, Russia, Brazil, India and Germany.  On a per capita basis the UK has historically produced more CO2 emission than any other country in the world.  That is quite an achievement.  This places a heavy moral responsibility on the UK to take a lead in reducing our national and per-capita emissions considering that we have already hogged such a dis-proportionate slice of the world’s safe carbon budget.  See National contributions to observed global warming

Morals

Fulfilling this moral responsibility (to both the rest of the world and to future generations) to reduce emissions is not mutually exclusive with fulfilling our moral responsibility to help those in our society in fuel poverty.  Presenting it as an either/or choice is a false dichotomy.  Those in fuel poverty can be helped with energy efficiency measures or by putting the costs of developing renewable energy onto general taxation rather than on bills, so that those who can pay do pay.  This does not preclude also dealing with climate change. Similarly, dealing with climate change using renewables doesn’t mean living in caves – another of Mr Rees-Mogg’s false dichotomies.

Subsidies

What of Mr Rees-Mogg’s assertion that renewable subsidies on household bills “may rise to £226 by 2020”?  In a nutshell Mr Rees-Mogg has cherry-picked a confused and incorrect journalistic article (from a paper he writes for) rather than referring to the transparent analysis of the government’s statutory advisors.  He also ignores the vastly larger subsidies that are given to the fossil fuel industry

So, Mr Rees-Mogg i) misrepresents the UK’s contribution to global warming, ii) makes a false moral argument about fuel poverty based on i, and iii) uses a set of incorrect statistics to exaggerate renewable subsidies whilst ignoring fossil fuel subsidies and readily available credible estimates from authoritative sources.

Chapter & Verse

Mr Rees-Mogg quotes from an article by the Telegraph’s deputy political editor Stephen Swinford (19/3/2015) who says “Green levies on energy bills will treble by 2020 because of renewable targets, official figures suggest”, attributing the figures to the Office of Budget Responsibility, although Mr Swinford gives no source for the figures which seem impossible to verify, including by climate sceptic bloggers.  Mr Swinford adds “Separate figures published last year show that the policies account for 5 per cent of energy bills at present – equivalent to £68 a year – to 15 per cent of an annual energy bill by 2020, equivalent to £226”, quoting the Telegraph’s energy editor Emily Gosden (6/11/2014) in Green levies on energy bills to double by 2020, official estimates show.

However, Mr Swinton isn’t quoting Ms Gosden he is miss-quoting her and has taken the estimated 2030 subsidy and moved it to 2020 creating not a doubling but a trebling of the subsidy by 2020.  As presented in Ms Gosden’s article the correct figure for 2020 is £141, not £226.

Mr Swinton ploughs on regardless and quotes from a report by the Centre for Policy Studies (18th March 2015) saying “Scrapping the UK’s green energy targets in favour of gas-fired power plants would save consumers £214 a year by 2020, the report suggests – despite ministers’ insistence that the total impact of the policies will be only £141 per household by then”.  So having replaced the government’s 2020 estimate with the 2030 estimate, as reported by his energy editor colleague, he then mistakenly uses another report referring to 2020 to erroneously justify the mistake he has made whilst also mentioning the correct figure for 2020 of £141.

This is seriously shoddy journalism on the part of the Telegraph, but it gets worse.

What is this Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) report, what does it say and who wrote it?  The report’s main message is that “ditching the renewables target and returning the sector to the market would save households around £214 a year, assuming gas replaces renewable power” and that “This option would depend on securing a permanent opt-out from the EU renewable directive”.  The report concludes, “ditching renewables and encouraging shale fracking is better economics and more effective at reducing carbon dioxide emissions”.   These conclusions are based in part on work by Professor Gordon Hughes for the Renewable Energy Foundation (REF) and emails to the CPS report author.  Professor Hughes has produced reports on wind power for both REF and Lord Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).  Both REF and GWPF are climate sceptic and anti-renewable energy, although this may not be immediately obvious to the casual viewer of their web sites.  The GWPF has been a relentless promoter of hydraulic fracturing. The director of REF is GWPF’s energy editor and has recently joined the GWPF’s, so called, Academic Advisory Council.  Professor Hughes’ work on wind for these organisations has been robustly debunked by the late by Prof David MacKay of Cambridge University, by Imperial College and by the UK Energy Research Centre.  CarbonBrief also comment.

In her Telegraph article reporting on the CPS report Emily Gosden said the DECC points out (but Swinton ignores) that “The figures in this report don’t add up and ignore the urgent need to cut our carbon emissions.” DECC unusually published a rebuttal of the CPS report saying “The report today by the Centre for Policy Studies ignores the reality of the energy market. It wrongly suggests that we can ditch renewables for gas, with no explanation of where we would source that from. It also appears to suggest that we should row back on the tremendous gains we have made in the fight on climate change. Given the dire consequences of global warming this is not an option”.

The CPS report was written by Rupert Darwall who is a prominent climate sceptic and who has published with the most prominent climate sceptics some of whom have been outed as being paid by the fossil fuel industry.

What do the various renewable subsidies actually mean for household energy bills?  CarbonBrief provided a clear explanation of what these figures mean (7th November 2015).

cb_graphic

CarbonBrief.org graphic of the same data, showing how bills are predicted to be lower with renewable policies than without – including support for households in fuel poverty and network costs

As we move forward these estimates will change and Mr Rees-Mogg would probably do better to read the government’s statutory advisor’s report Power sector scenarios for the fifth carbon budget  (October 2015) with analysis by Imperial College.  This shows that the likely cost to consumers of renewables in 2020 is £105, not £226 nor £214 or even the £129 in the above graphic.  And for that we get to meet our climate change commitments and deal with renewable intermittency issues and support households in fuel poverty.

Why does Mr Rees-Mogg choose to use unreliable information sources rather than the robust and transparent analysis of the Committee on Climate Change?