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« The sound of the wind | Main | The Canonbie mystery »

A very slow motion car crash

Last week Dieter Helm gave evidence to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee as part of their inquiry into shale gas. This was powerful stuff from a very clear-thinking witness and some of his comments were devastating. Here are his thoughts on the impact of US shale on European coal prices:

The immediate price impact [of US shale] to drive down the price of coal in Europe. The coal burn has expanded very substantially in Europe, and since the coal burn has gone up a lot in Britain and the coal price has gone down, you might have expected that electricity prices would be falling in the UK rather than going up.

On the effect of government policies on energy intensive industry:

It is not so much that energy-intensive companies in Europe are leaving Europe; it is just that no investment is being made in energy-intensive activities across the whole of Europe.

On the potential for a worldwide shale gas revoluion is a complete illusion to think that in the medium term [shale gas] is a US phenomenon.

On the government betting the house on rising gas prices

I personally have no particular reason for believing that the gas price is going to go up in the medium term. There are quite good reasons for thinking that it is going to go down. It is abundant in supply, and I think one should be very sceptical about this Government and the last Government embarking on policies that require them to assume that the oil and gas prices are going to go up and then pursuing those policies and not being willing to contemplate the consequence of that not being the case.

And his overall assessment?

...we have a major energy crisis to get through between now and [2018]...[in] the [Energy] Bill at the moment [it] is almost as if the underlying fundamentals of what is happening in our energy market are happening on another planet...It is a very, very slow-motion car crash.

And if he were Secretary of State what would he do about it?

I would probably emigrate as quickly as possible;

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Reader Comments (170)


Nov 23, 2013 at 2:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterSherlock1

"I would probably emigrate as quickly as possible"

I think we all wish the Secretary of State and the rest of the sorry mob would emigrate ASAP...

Nov 23, 2013 at 2:11 PM | Unregistered Commenterdave ward

Somebody photoshop that car over the Scottish access road a thread back.

Nov 23, 2013 at 2:13 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

Nice anticyclone arriving over the British Isles (probably the first of many this winter). Keep your eye on the 'wind' figure on 'Gridwatch', folks - and just get a lovely warm feeling about how many BILLIONS it has cost (us) to produce this much electricity - when for a tenth of the cost we could have gas-fired power stations....

Never mind - Mr PotatoEd has given us his personal guarantee that the lights will stay on...

Nov 23, 2013 at 2:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterSherlock1

The problem is not low-information voters, but low-information politicians.

Nov 23, 2013 at 2:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterManniac

Its not low information politicians who are the problem but the NON-information politicians!



Nov 23, 2013 at 2:37 PM | Unregistered Commentermailman

"The coal burn has expanded very substantially in Europe, and since the coal burn has gone up a lot in Britain and the coal price has gone down."

Ouch indeed.

I know he is talking about coal burn for electricity consumption, but I have also noticed a substantial increase in local domestic coal burning in the last few years (East Midlands)... Unless, maybe, I am noticing it more because people are burning a lower quality coal that produces more smoke and sulfur dioxide.

I presume all the old regulations relating to smokeless zones etc are still on the books, but have been increasingly irrelevant as coal was gradually displaced. If this trend continues, and the government finds out, do readers think we might see some restrictions being enforced? (And how many houses still have fireplaces?)

Nov 23, 2013 at 2:40 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

It is not so much the old fireplaces but rather the wood burning stoves which are equally at home with coal as they are with wood.
Wood price has nearly doubled in this area so coal becomes a viable alternative.
Soooo predictable as the rush to fit wood burners became a stampede and log demand escalated.
Economics at work but obviously not taught in the E part of PPE.

Nov 23, 2013 at 2:57 PM | Unregistered Commenterroger

@ michael hart Nov 23, 2013 at 2:40 PM

"I presume all the old regulations relating to smokeless zones etc are still on the books ......"

Yes, Michael, the Clean Air Act still applies, and UK power stations etc may not produce 'dark smoke'.

That is why there's absolute certainty that the many images the Beeb uses to illustrate Harabin's & McGrath's environmental articles are either deliberately manipulated, or carefully selected, as backlit images of water vapour, for blatant propaganda purposes.

Nov 23, 2013 at 2:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

Shale gas myths and reality - part 1

Andrew, this is at least on topic, not sure what your readers may make of it though. In part two I'll discuss prices. Bottom line is that shale gas is expensive, between $4 and $8 / million but to produce, selling for <$3, many shale companies are losing money.

Nov 23, 2013 at 3:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterEuan Mearns


Your wish is my command:

Nov 23, 2013 at 3:04 PM | Unregistered Commentergraphicconception

Ah, but oil production is almost over - again. Will start to decline in about a decade! This is not a repeat from 1920, 1930, 1950...
"The new University of Maryland study, in contrast, conducts a review of the scientific literature on global oil production and argues that the bulk of independent, credible studies indicate that a “production peak for conventional oil [is] likely before 2030″, with a “significant risk” it could occur “before 2020.”"

Nov 23, 2013 at 3:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn A

Here's a key quote from Professor Dieter Helm: The problem is not the drilling; the problem is getting the permission to do the drilling and facing the kinds of difficulties that have confronted
particular drillers in particular sites. The reasons for this are pretty obvious. If you follow the
line of argument that I pursued earlier, which is that you need to assume that the oil and gas
prices are going to double and that gas is going to be a scarce fuel like oil in order to make
the renewables economic, if you come from the renewables side and you are collecting the
economic rents associated with wind and existing solar et cetera, this kind of technology is a
real threat to you. It might even turn out to be a much more efficient way of reducing
carbon emissions in the short term by going from oil to gas, but from the perspective of
being an advocate, a lobbyist or a rent seeker in some of the existing winners the
Government have picked, you have a vested interest in making sure that this stuff does not get off the ground. If in a small crowded island you play up the nightmare visions of the
water out of your tap catching fire, earthquakes shattering around you and huge machinery
coming on to your landscape, it is not hard to create a coalition of interests that make it
extremely difficult even to get past what you might call go, which is the initial drilling to find
out what is there."

Nov 23, 2013 at 3:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Maloney

The average Marcellus well costs 5 million US dollars.

The average EUR in the Marcellus is now between 6.5bcf and 10bcf.

At an average selling price pf 3.50 per 1000 cf, profits will be between 17 and 30 million dollars.

Nov 23, 2013 at 3:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterBruce

Interesting to compare Euan's views with the US Government's.
It appears they think that natural gas prices will rise gradually to $7.83 ber million by 2040, and stay below $4 until 2020 or thereabouts, well below crude oil prices and a fraction of what we are paying the great British landowners for their wind and solar power. This is completely incompatible with Euan's assertion that the cost of production is between $4 and $8.
One of them has to be wrong, if not both; if the US government is right, it is frosty Friday for our oil industry, and our balance of payments is shot to hell unless we get fracking.

Nov 23, 2013 at 3:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid S

"We are all losing our shirts today." Mr. Tillerson said in a talk before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. "We're making no money. It's all in the red."

There's an interesting discussion to be had. The Marcellus that Bruce refers to is one of the most prolific shale plays, I gather folks are making money there. The US wants to export shale gas to get rid of the surplus brought about by a drillling binge to push up prices in the US.

In Europe nat gas is selling at about $10 / million btu so you still make money at 4 to 8. Over production of expensive shale gas in the USA dumped the price creating the illusion it is cheap - which it is not. Its a complicated picture about what happened with drilling and fracking in US - I'll try to describe it in part 2.

Nov 23, 2013 at 3:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterEuan Mearns

@ David: Our balance of payments is already shot to Hell - I've been writing about this for years. Signs The Treasury are getting desperate. I absolutely agree that UK must get its energy house in order. There seems to be great enthusiasm for shale on BH, everyone has to remember we haven't actually drilled and found any reserves yet. We have an excellent report from the BGS with big numbers in it, that's all.

I predict before long we'll be hearing about shale with CCS - bonkers! All this simply serves to delay dealing with the issue, and the only solution I can see is nuclear - built by the government.

Incidentally, I have been looking for drill reports for UK shale drilling success - couldn't find any, so if anyone could point me towards them...

Nov 23, 2013 at 3:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterEuan Mearns

What Mearns and Entropic seem to ignore, perhaps wilfully, is that not one single penny of tax payers money is required to get shale gas out if the ground and on to your table.

Additionally if we instead concentrated on gas instead of windmills, mirrors and ground unicorn horn then the long suffering public themselves would have to pay hundreds of billions of pounds in increased power bills to cover all the green subsidies required to keep renewable power generation going.

Perhaps the greatest benefit is the shake gas can produce power when it's most needed, ie. when it's cold and dark...which is something renewables just cannot do!

But let's ignore that and continue to pretend shake can't work. Neh mind around 30,000 a year die between November and March in England alone due to cold related illnesses! Relying on renewable energy will only increase that number!


Nov 23, 2013 at 3:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

Fecking iphone keyboard and fat fingers!

Shake = Shale!

And the long suffering public WOULDNT have to pay hundreds of billions of pounds through their power bills to support The Great Green Con (tm)!!!!!


Nov 23, 2013 at 3:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

Euan Mearns, if you are right, people who have invested their own money in gas production will go broke. No matter what, some of them probably will anyway. Investing in energy production has always been a high risk, high rewards game. So what? It has delivered the Western world a standard of living unparalleled in history.

I can never understand why people like Euan are so worried about people voluntarily risking their own money, while being nonchalant about governments risking taxpayers' and consumers' money, which has been extracted from them by force, on "renewable" energy boondoggles.

Nov 23, 2013 at 3:58 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

Video - Player
The Economic Impact on UK Energy Policy of Shale Gas and OilWitnesses
Professor Dieter Helm, Oxford University

Professor Richard Davies, Durham Energy Institute; and Mr Howard Rogers, Oxford Institute for Energy Studies

Nov 23, 2013 at 3:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul in Sweden

@ Johanna

Excellent Point.

Was writing much the same, but less eloquently, as saw your posting.

Nov 23, 2013 at 4:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Schneider

- The politicians connected to BigGreen Hedgefunds/NGOs are saying
"see trouble ! ..that's why we should keep these non-Greenpeace guys
from speaking to the Science & Technology Committee or Climate Change Committee
.... now let's get another activist in like ...Euan Mearns"

Nov 23, 2013 at 4:02 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

I wouldn't say it is shot to hell at present, although it is pretty bad. There is no way we can get nuclear up and running fast enough to deal with this problem, and no reason why we need to, if even a fraction of the gas that the BGS believes is there can be extracted. Seriously, how likely do you think it is that the BGS is completely wrong?

The reason we have had little or no exploratory drilling is that, led by Ed Da Vey, public opinion had until recently swallowed whole the pack of lies that is Gasland, from earthquakes to flaming taps.

Nov 23, 2013 at 4:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid S

Loads of prospective rocks to drill offshore, a great deal of the sea bed is not young, barren basalt as previously thought:

Mad Max due to geology much less likely than Mad Max due to bureaucracy/ eco fascism.

Nov 23, 2013 at 4:08 PM | Unregistered Commenterarkleseizure

I just hope that the trial of the civil servants and ministers will start soon.

Nov 23, 2013 at 4:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlecM

Aw, Rob, consider this a virtual Christmas card. Don't laugh, I got the first one today. Sigh.

Nov 23, 2013 at 4:13 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

No wonder the Treasury is worried. I reckon the proposed Atlantic Array offshore wind farm, applied for by German company RWE, will cost about £3billion, most of which will be spent on German manufactured wind turbines (240 of them at about £10million each). The wind farm over its lifetime will generate electricity with a wholesale value of about £2.5billion. About £5billion in subsidy will be extracted from the UK electricity consumer to pay for the useless wind farm.

Yes, the bonkers Ed Davey should emigrate quickly, before the tumbril comes for him.

Nov 23, 2013 at 4:24 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

@ David S - I could make a claim that there is 100 billion barrels oil left in the N Sea, that would be a true statement, just that it is so dispersed that we can't find it or produce it. I'm all in favour of shale gas exploration in UK and am frustrated at the extreme slow pace. But its only after exploration success can anyone begin to contemplate this as a solution. There are about 1650 land rigs drilling in USA at present, 2 in the UK. In 5 years time, we can easily find that shale is not commercially viable in UK and then what?

As for BGS report, I need to have another read. It is possible for the numbers to be right and for the resource to be sub-economic.

Nov 23, 2013 at 4:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterEuan Mearns


"Incidentally, I have been looking for drill reports for UK shale drilling success - couldn't find any, so if anyone could point me towards them..."

The Kimmeridge Shale and the Wytch Farm oilfield.

It is said the Romans started manual fracking in this field but it has certainly been in production for some 300 years.

Until a few years ago the gas was moved by train from Furzebrook sidings on the Swanage railway.
(I won't quote links but a quick search will give you many).

Nov 23, 2013 at 5:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterNic

Dieter Helm's book "The Carbon Crunch" is well worth a read. He thinks global warming is potentially a big problem but current policies if anything makes matters orse.

Nov 23, 2013 at 5:24 PM | Unregistered Commentermikep

' ... one should be very sceptical about this Government and the last Government embarking on policies that require them to assume that the oil and gas prices are going to go up and then pursuing those policies and not being willing to contemplate the consequence of that not being the case.'

Indeed. The perils of betting the farm (or, in this case, the country) on red, when black may also come up.

Nov 23, 2013 at 5:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterBarbara

I have been struggling for some time to understand how and why it has become a matter of faith in government circles in Britain not just that CAGW is real but that it demands the most radical solutions, whatever their economic consequences.

Slice it how you like, the 'science' (Ha! Ha! and Ha! again) is patently not settled. Ditto, 'renewable solutions' are at best dubious, at worst not merely nonsensical but a kind of rogues' charter.

Yet we are constantly assured by the likes of Davey that we have no choice but to embrace these radical solutions. And in defense of this extraordinary abandonment of common sense, a series of laughably idiotic claims are made about how gas prices will rise to the point that 'renewable' energy will come to seem not merely desirable but cheaper.

Perhaps I delude myself. Perhaps I am simply not in touch with the warped realities of political life in the 21st century. But is it no longer the case in a modern political democracy that the first business of government is to defend the interests of the people it purports to govern?

What Davey and his cronies are apparently determined to impose on the exceedingly long-suffering people of Britain is a kind of absolute denial of precisely those virtues that created the country that they now seem determined to extirpate in the first place.

It is a kind of smug, self-congratulatory lunacy that should dismay us all.

Nov 23, 2013 at 5:45 PM | Unregistered Commenteragouts

Euan Mearns says above :-

I'm all in favour of shale gas exploration in UK and am frustrated at the extreme slow pace.

In his article he first linked to, however he says:-

Any government, genuinely concerned about long-term emissions scenarios would quite simply ban shale gas operations.

… and adds, in response to a commenter:-

If you are concerned about emissions the only way to tackle the problem is to leave FF in the ground.

I'm struggling to find consistency here.

Nov 23, 2013 at 5:51 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

You're not the only one, Foxgoose.

Looks like a cuckoo in the nest here.

Nov 23, 2013 at 5:57 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

Nov 23, 2013 at 6:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohnM

Euan: "Over production of expensive shale gas in the USA dumped the price"

Don't you mean "production of inexpensive shale gas lowered the price ... just like every other commodity."

Profit margins of 30 million on a 5 million investment at 3.50 per 1000 cu feet does not indicate that shale gas is expensive.

And that is just the Marcells. The Eagle Ford also gets oil from their wells.

"An EOG Resources (NYSE: EOG ) operated well in the Eagle Ford Shale of Texas has set
a new regional record for oil production. The well produced an average of 7,513 barrels of oil per day along with 6.8 million cubic feet of natural gas. It's estimated that even with a 75% decline rate from the well it will produce more than a million barrels of oil this year."

90 million dollars worth of oil from one well in one year.

Nov 23, 2013 at 6:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterBruce

@ agouts

"...... a series of laughably idiotic claims are made about how gas prices will rise to the point that 'renewable' energy will come to seem not merely desirable but cheaper."

Nothing idiotic about it, the government simple adds sufficient tariff, tax or other charge (suitably disguised, of course) to the base price and the idiot public won't even realise it. Let's face it, the petrol today is around £1.33 a lt. The petrol part of that, including processing and delivery, is about £0.52. And yet all you ever hear from politicians, the MSM and the moron in the pub is how the petrol companies are ripping us all off. No doubt they do but even if they are stealing 5p (10%) the government is stealing 81p (150%)

Nov 23, 2013 at 6:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterPeter C

@ Bruce, as pointed out earlier, the Marcellus is one of the more prolific shale plays and companies are making money there. Else where many companies have taken massive right downs on their shale assets - they are not allowed to book as reserves, resources that cannot be exploited at a profit. And I've been told from reliable source that many shale plays only work with zirp - i.e. ultra low interest rates. Anyone who thinks its cheap to drill a long horizontal well, conduct multiple fracks to produce in the main low flow rates is trying to fool themselves. But as pointed out up the thread with European gas prices @ $10 per million but, shale gas will work in UK - if they actually find some.

@ Foxgoose - I am not the government and I tend to be less concerned about emissions than most. I would like to see climate change act repealed ASAP.

Nov 23, 2013 at 6:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterEuan Mearns

Euan Mearns.

The folk here are convinced the the world is full of investors eager to lose money drilling shale gas wells all over the UK, so that they can have cheap shale gas. Their understanding of the US market is minimal, which is why they think it can happen here.

So far such investors have shown no signs of enthusiasm for the prospect.

All the hot air generated from UK shale gas so far has come from enthusiasts, and politicians promising cheap energy they cannot deliver. Reality will much less attractive and much more expensive.

Nov 23, 2013 at 7:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man


Eagle Ford is part of the problem.

They regard the gas as a bypoduct of the oil extraction and are happy to dump it on the market for whatever they can get.

This depresses the price below breakeven for the specialist shale gas producers.Their options are to keep pumping to pay the interest on their loans, or shut down until the price rises. Centrica did that with their Morecombe Bay gas field, mothballing it in 2011 until the gas price rises enough to make further extraction worthwhile.

Nov 23, 2013 at 7:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Suggest that you do a bit of research on Paraffin Young. He was a 19th century oil entrepreneur the bings from the West Lothian oil industry were a familiar sight up to the 70s. I think that he made quite a lot of money and employed a large number of people. Fortunately there are still people like James Young in the world and perhaps they will make a similar impact as he did, the might even endow something like Young Chair of Technical Chemistry if doomsayers and greens don't prevent the human race improving its lot.

It only takes one company to make money for shale gas to be a success others will eventually crack it too it's the way of free enterprise, or is that what is worrying you?

Nov 23, 2013 at 7:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Entropic man
The more people who dump byproducts like shale gas on the market the better it is for humanity, or is that what you are worried about?

Nov 23, 2013 at 7:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Just to put all this in context, the windmills save about a third of the fossil fuel used to produce their first 10% od demand. Then they save nothing because they disrupt steam turbines and the grid.

STOR is needed in the UK to keep the lights on for >20% demand. Assuming 40% name-plate capacity output of STOR + windmills, the diesel generators use about 30% more fossil fuel than no windmills and CCGTs. However, because diesel has twice as much carbon as methane, that jumps up to 60%. They would make 13% more CO2 than coal fired power.

Nov 23, 2013 at 7:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlecM

Nov 23, 2013 at 7:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Your problem is your evident lack of knowledge of the US gas market. I could really insult you but your a waste of space.

Gas, petrol is down to near $2, gas shale along with 'conventional gas' is so abundant that the price has dropped through the bottom and , yes, here you are correct, investment has been 'slowed' because the price is TOOOOOO low. [Manners. BH]

Nov 23, 2013 at 7:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

GWPF reports via Die Zeit that the Germans are suggesting that renewable energy companies pay for the back-up electricity required when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine. Makes perfect sense.

Nov 23, 2013 at 7:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterG. Watkins


"@ David: Our balance of payments is already shot to Hell - I've been writing about this for years. " Please explain why the balance of trade, which is what I think you mean, actually matters? An adverse balance of trade will be offset by a positive balance on the capital account. So what?

"Incidentally, I have been looking for drill reports for UK shale drilling success - couldn't find any, so if anyone could point me towards them..." Have you heard about the test drilling done by Cuadrilla in Blackpool? There were 2 tiny earth tremors, about equivalent to a bus going down the road, but the whole state and Greenie apparatus came into place with military precision to halt proceedings. Without culling the DECC and the Greenie storm-troopers (and how inextricably tangled those 2 groups are, oddly enough), shale gas exploration will not happen in the UK.

You are coming across as either very naive, Euan, or as a troll like Chandra or Entropic Man, quoting the CAGW playlist.

Nov 23, 2013 at 8:29 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenes

The only way out for you good people,is to Boot your present Gov't out.Everyone I talk to in the UK says if we get rid of Cameroon,we will be left with Milliband,but if don't do anything,it will continue.You will all have to work very hard to get rid of the Li/Lab/Dem.If enough of you let your Gov't Ministers Know that you have had enough of their Bull...t they will promise you everything,but then do nothing.
So,Vote UKIP!
We here in Australia worked really hard to boot our old Gov't out and our new ones seem to be doing what we require of them.We told the UN we would not be signing up for 'Socialism masquerading as environmentalism' and would not be sending anyone from the Gov't to Wasaw,except for a few observers with no real powers.
These problems all started with the CAGW Lie. Well,so far it has been shown to be just that.A Big Fat Lie,spread by the Green-Nazis.
Vote UKIP.

Nov 23, 2013 at 8:39 PM | Unregistered Commenterclive

"Nice anticyclone arriving over the British Isles (probably the first of many this winter). Keep your eye on the 'wind' figure on 'Gridwatch', folks - and just get a lovely warm feeling about how many BILLIONS it has cost (us) to produce this much electricity - when for a tenth of the cost we could have gas-fired power stations...."

The Grid shows 1.59GW (3.82% uf current usage) just now or around 15% of installed capacity in UK. 1.96GW from France and 1GW from Holland. So these two nations provide almost double the wind contribution. Happy times.

Nov 23, 2013 at 9:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Peter

@ SandyS, of course I am familiar with the West Lothian oil shales and Paraffin Young and I presume you know the difference between an oil shale and shale oil?

I'm not at home right now, so this is from memory. I believe Estonia is one country with a significant oil shale industry today where they simply dig the shale up and burn it - like very low grade coal. Jordan has oil shale resources and are importing Estonian expertise to help exploit their resource. These are two very poor, energy poor countries, that are desperate. You want to go that route then good luck to you!

The sophisticated thing to do with oil shale is to try and convert it to liquid fuel - i.e. oil. But this requires adding more energy than you will likely get out. Multi nationals have spent $100 millions trying to crack this problem and then they walk away - when they hit thermodynamics. You need to go and think about it.

Nov 23, 2013 at 9:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterEuan Mearns

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