Geoffrey Lean's latest article has an air of panic about it as it becomes increasingly clear that his battle to prevent the shale gas revolution is being lost. Accusing the Conservatives of insanity, he goes on to launch a barrage of disinformation on the new energy source:
But what about shale gas, which has seen prices plummet in the US? I was one of the first British journalists, back in January 2010, to report on its “game-changing” potential, but I must admit it seems to have been overhyped. The US cost crash arose from a glut of wells coming on stream as the economy flatlined: prices are now increasing and are expected to double within three years.
Gluts of energy are, indisputably, good for consumers. And that prices are rising in the US is, frankly, not an issue. If they double, the price might hit the dizzy heights of five or six dollars per thousand cubic feet, levels at which frackers can get an economic return. This is still half the price in the UK.
Even then, it is widely agreed, shale gas will be more expensive to exploit in Europe, and its contribution will be limited.
This has indeed been argued, although there is much less to the argument than meets the eye. The main barriers to shale exploitation are governmental in nature and can be dealt with by a sufficiently determined administration. Arguments that there are insufficient drilling rigs in the UK - an oft-put reason for the alleged limited impact of shale - are almost preposterously short-sighted when one realises that these rigs are built to be tranportable and can be put on the back of a lorry.
While the Conservatives seem to be moving in the right direction on shale, they are very much dragging their feet. UKIP, however, are racing ahead, issuing a new energy policy that seems like something from an older, better era:
We believe that the market should play a key role in the selection of technologies in this (and other) industries — although we recognise that given the very long investment horizons of major infrastructure development, there may be a case for government guarantees. In this context we criticise the EU for creating serious market distortion by favouring some lowcarbon technologies (wind, solar) over others (e.g. nuclear). There are, however, some clear priorities: gas, nuclear, and coal.
While the Conservatives are trying to replace the free market in energy generation with something resembling the CEGB of the 1970s, UKIP seem quite happy to endorse economic liberalism.