The Euro Economy

Britain is greedy for some industry, while Germany is afraid of losing its competitive advantage; Europe is on the verge of plunging blindly into hydraulic fracturing, the shining solution which could let us down completely.

European Energy Commissioner, Günther Oettinger, has recently told German press that the EU energy department will be looking into shale gas in the future, and urged Merkel to do the same. There’s a rising tide of support for the new form of energy, with British MPs calling for backing for UK shale gas, and the energy form being discussed this week in Brussels as a future energy solution in Europe.

At this stage it is important to step back and consider the true worth of “fracking.”

First, we need to look at the matter realistically. Wildly contradictory figures in regard to shale gas have been thrown around from different ends of the debate. Notably, we still aren’t sure how long shale gas could last us, or how much it could cost us.

There was a recent report in the UK from the Institute of Directors (IoD) on the future of shale gas, in which it was claimed that the gas could be the “new North Sea” for Britain, creating 70,000 jobs in the UK and revenue of £4bn a year.

The report, funded by shale gas company Cuadrilla, has not convinced everyone; particularly not green supporters. Friends of the Earth Energy campaigner Tony Bosworth said: “This report does little to back the case for a UK shale gas revolution. MPs say clearly that shale gas production may threaten our climate targets, may not stop the price of gas from soaring further and we can’t rely on it to improve energy security.”

Meanwhile, former geoscientist David Hughes has recently published a report on the future of U.S. energy generation. In it, he claims that, realistically, the US has a maximum of about 35 years before their gas levels will peak and begin to decline.

 

There are also other concerns. In particular, some in Europe are – rightly – worried by complaints from American householders that the hydraulic fracturing process to achieve shale gas has caused toxic and flammable tap water, as well as polluting the air. There has been one reported case of an entire family living nearby to an American factory, whose dog died suddenly after lapping up the water, while the family themselves fell gravely ill.

Evidently, the matter still lacks sufficient evidence as yet to be calling it the future of the entire continent, as some have been eager to.

Yet in Britain, the prospect of getting a competitive advantage in industry has proved too much to resist for many MPs, who have been in danger of pushing for what at this stage would be fundamentally reckless investment in the energy source.

“Shale gas is about more than simply gas. It is about wider British industry, providing secure energy and raw materials for manufacturers.” Those are the words of Dan Byles, a Conservative MP and chair of the new House of Commons group for supporters of unconventional oil and gas. “If we get this right, in future I believe the world could look to the UK as the gold standard for a well-regulated and safe shale gas industry that benefits local communities and the nation.”

Pride in our own industries would be great, and so would a solve-all, Europe-wide golden solution to energy sources – but we need to be very careful about we are really seeing here. In our haste to grasp at a steady energy source, we could wind up leaning on a support which doesn’t exist. And falling over.

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