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« The green way | Main | A cartoon week - Josh 237 »

Stern the crows, what a performance

Just when you think it's a bit of a slow news day, the global warming bigwigs come up with something really quite startlingly foolish to provide us all with a bit of entertainment.

Heading up tonight's comedy routine is the noble lord, Lord Stern of Brentfordwood, who expounds on the subject of shale gas in the Independent.

Lord S is worried that soggy old Britain isn't soggy enough for fracking:

He is particularly concerned about whether some areas of the UK have enough water for such a water-intensive process, whether the country has enough space for such a space-consuming industry and whether fracking could pollute the water supply.

This is a picture of the river Uck in Sussex, one of the dryer parts of the country and not far from Balcombe:

It has a mean flow of 1.119 m3/s = 1119 l/s. Your average modern fracking well uses about 20 million litres of water (although much of this volume will be recycled). 20 million litres represents 17873 seconds or five hours' flow. Do you know what? I don't think lack of water is actually an issue at all.  You know what else I think? I think Stern read this article in the Guardian and just applied the same scare story to the UK without thinking it through. Because if you analyse the UK situation for even a couple of minutes you realise that water shortage just isn't an issue.

As for his claim that shale is a "space-consuming" industry, readers at BH already know that it has an astonishingly small footprint - far, far smaller than that of any of the renewables technologies that Stern favours. I think we can say with some certainty that he is talking out of his coronet on this subject too.

What else has the great man got for us? Well the evidence for climate change is apparently "stronger than ever". However, since everyone agrees that the climate changes, this is not really a very exciting thing to say. I wonder what Lord S makes of the things that people are actually disagreeing about, like estimates of climate sensitivity?

The article finishes of with a critique of some of the things David Cameron has said about shale (which I don't think comes from Stern himself - presumably this is the Indy's work). Embarrassingly the authors end up completely contradicting themselves. Having said that price reductions can't happen here because the US experience is not repeatable, the US being an isolated market, they then go on to say that any UK shale will also be transported overseas in liquefied form, a market they say is expanding like topsy. This, they imply means that UK shale will have even less impact on UK prices. Unfortunately they don't seem to realise that an expanded LNG market also means that we in the UK get access to all that cheap gas in North America. So whichever way you look, the market pressure is downwards.

This is an astonishing eructation of disinformation from an astonishing peer of the realm and an astonishing newspaper. Truly disreputable stuff.

[Updated, because I'd said  3-5m litres, but it should have been 3-5m gallons. I've gone with 20 m litres.]

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Reader Comments (59)

Actually, that might be one for Josh.

Sep 4, 2013 at 12:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterNial

Water usage is less fracking than watering a golf course for a week. Texas, a very dry state, has no water shortages through fracking. (private swimming pools perhaps but not fracking.).

Sep 4, 2013 at 12:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

And while you're at it, don't forget that when Katrina made landfall on New Orleans she was down to a Cat 3 and that most of the damage was done after she'd passed when the storm surges overwhelmed the [not properly maintained] levees.
I am as sick as anybody of trying to explain to people about the historically low level of storm activity which is (as I understand it) more likely rather than less as a result of global warming because the temperature gradient is less.
"But the scientists say ..." Somebody somewhere learnt his craft at the feet of little Josef (Goebbels) and learnt it well!

Sep 4, 2013 at 1:29 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson


I'm not an engineering type so I don't have the figures at my fingertips - but could it be the case that in terms of water usage per amount of energy produced the fracking of gas wells would actually compare favourably with wind farms? One well head would produce gas sufficient to generate reliably X MWh of electricity for, let's say, 20 years; the same performance in terms of electrical generation might require over 100 large wind turbines, each with a vast foundation of up to 1000 tons of concrete. Given that cement manufacture requires large amounts of water, perhaps one of the many knowledgeable commentators here could run the figures; I have a feeling that for the amount of useful energy actually produced, wind farms will turn out to be proflgate users of water compared to fracked gas wells.

As I said, not an engineering type, so I'm quite prepared to be slapped down...!

Sep 4, 2013 at 1:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaul R

Barnhart, Texas's water problems are more likely a combination of drought and over-irrigation. Contrary to Hollywood images of sagebrush and long-horn cattle, this region of Texas is heavily farmed, with water-hungry cotton and corn being the major crops.

There's a bit more info here:

Sep 4, 2013 at 6:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterCarrick

Isn't this the clown who believes that $1 in 2100 is worth the same (or very nearly) as $1 at the date of his (in)famous report?
Now if I could only persuade my bank manager ............. (I'll settle for 2013 for the latter!)

Sep 4, 2013 at 6:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterThinking Skeptik

You have to remember that Stern is not a scientist - he's an economist.

Sep 5, 2013 at 9:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterDizzy Ringo

Paul R; there is another aspect to the water issue which someone raised on another thread. The water produced by burning gas from shale far outweighs the amount of water used to frack the wells.
Fracking a well uses, say, 4m gallons of water of which maybe half is recovered, leaving 2m in the ground. That is 20m lbs of water. Burning natural gas produces roughly 0.1 lbs of water per cu ft. So replacing 20m lbs of water would require combustion of 200m cu ft of nat gas. I have read that shale wells typically start at around 5m cu ft per day but decline rapidly. If we guess that production averages 4m cu ft per day for a while, it will take 50 days to replace the water left in the ground. Thereafter the water is a net benefit.
Of course this wet-finger guesswork ignores the fact that the combustion water is lost into the atmosphere. However this may not be the case for much longer as there is major research under way to use membranes to recover water from the exhaust of gas power plants.

Sep 5, 2013 at 9:58 PM | Registered Commentermikeh

GaryM (Sep 4, 2013 at 4:50 AM):

The comments are absolute pearls, cast down before the swine of the MSM and politicos!

Sep 6, 2013 at 9:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

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