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King's credibility

In an article in the Guardian last year, Fiona Harvey described Sir David King's concerns over shale gas development. The great man was apparently not impressed.

Sir David King warns against fracking

Former UK scientific adviser says gas from unconventional sources could have huge environmental consequences

That was the headline, and the impression that he was against shale development was repeated right at the start of the article:

Sir David King, former chief scientific adviser to the government, has warned of the "enormous environmental consequences" of attempting to fulfil the UK's gas needs by fracking...

And lest there remain any doubt, we were told once again a few paragraphs later:

"It will not be a game-changer here as it has been in the US," he told the Guardian in his first interview since his new appointment. "You will not be able to do that and there would be enormous environmental consequences."

After the article appeared, however, King tweeted that he had called for proper regulation and had not issued a warning against fracking.

In his evidence to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee yesterday, Sir David was repeatedly asked about the interview, but told Lord McFall that he did not say the words ascribed to him:

...I did not say it...they are not direct quotes...I am happy to be able to say that I did not say that...this is completely out of line with everything I had been saying and had already been saying to the media before that interview. But I think that wahat was picked up and expanded and turned into something else were my comments about public acceptance...

Near the start of the session he told Lord McGregor:

...that is not in inverted commas and if it was I would say I never said anything of the kind. What I was talking about is the high density population of Britain and the difficulty of seeing planning permission take place on the scale that could even come close to matching the scale in the United States.

Given that the key remark appears no less than three times in Harvey's article, it would be pretty surprising if it turned out that she had invented it. In fairness though, King had given a more mixed message on shale in an earlier interview, explaining that some of the fears over shale were unfounded, but expressing concern over others. Some time before that he had told Nature of how bad the economics of shale were, which just goes to show what he knows.

This worrying impression about the inconsistencies in King's story were reinforced when he was pressed on his suggestion that high population density is a major barrier to shale developments in the UK. Lord Lawson pointed out that shale development had taken place in areas of the US of high population density without any problems at all. King's reply was interesting:

In think it would be say it's caused no problems whatever. There is quite an outcry among certain parts of the population in the United States and in one state there is quite a strong move to ban fracking. It has caused an outcry when it has moved into high population areas.

Lawson pressed him, pointing out that there were always people agitating for a ban, but King said that the two countries were not comparable.

The whole conversation seemed to conflate two questions - whether people objected to fracking and whether fracking in areas of high population density causes "enormous environmental consequences" as King apparently suggested in his Guardian interview. How could it be that Harvey had transmuted public concern over shale developments in densely populated areas into "enormous environmental consequences"? It really is very hard to discern who is telling the truth here.

And my doubts about the whole affair only increased later in the session, when King was asked which state it was that was considering a ban. Unable to answer, King offered to write and tell the committee at a later date. Fortunately, I have saved him the trouble of Googling the answer himself and I can tell him that the state in question is Massachusetts, where there are few shale deposits of any great magnitude anyway.

Overall, you just don't get the impression of somebody who plays with a straight bat, do you?


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Reader Comments (41)

There is a place for him in the England cricket team then...

Jan 8, 2014 at 8:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterIvor Ward

He should travel to the Antarctic where he could become the King of Fools.
It might be the right opening for his talents.
I am finding it more and more difficult to accept that these people have any credibility left, yet they seem to live a charmed and unchallenged life of luxury at the expense of the taxpayer.
The French had it right.
Now, where could we site the guillotine...?

Jan 8, 2014 at 8:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Carter

The only bat he has is above the neckline.

Jan 8, 2014 at 8:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterMorph

For once, I genuinely believe there is nothing to see here. Nothing new, certainly. Sir David King has been told to be anti-fracking. He is so in a vague and uninformed way and Fiona Harvey has probably done a not very good job reporting it. It scarcely matters to either of them. Neither would see it as an error or problem. The message is : Fracking = Bad. That came over, did it not?

Why inform yourself fully when there is no need to....and furthermore inconvenient facts often spoil the narrative. The media are compliant...your audience is even more ignorant on the subject than you are....

No wonder the elite despise the people. Alas, I fear that this kind of crap is endemic in our entire political system.

Jan 8, 2014 at 9:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Savage

"Overall, you just don't get the impression of somebody who plays with a straight bat, do you?"

Who does play with a straight bat on the Green/CAGW side? Beddington, Slingo, Yeo, Deben, Greenpeace, FOE etc.?

Jan 8, 2014 at 9:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

Meanwhile EU Climate guru Alice Stollmeyer is tweeting today that shale gas is one of their top five priorities.

Whether the priority is to assist or sabotage isn't exactly clear though.

Jan 8, 2014 at 9:19 AM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

I find myself wondering that if he is adamant he didn't say such a thing then where is the immediate follow up press release somewhere correcting the misinterpretation he states occurred?

I'm assuming he did read the interview following publication....

Jan 8, 2014 at 9:29 AM | Unregistered Commenterjones

He who pays the piper calls the tune.

Jan 8, 2014 at 9:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterCarl T

I wonder if it was a major mistake to build the London Underground in an area of high population density? Surely it would have been a sensible precaution to build all those tunnels in a rural area.

Jan 8, 2014 at 9:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

Jack Savage summarises my feelings well. For how long can the elite keep themselves isolated from facts? High level politicians in my country (Sweden) keep on saying things (on climate and immigration) which show that they have main stream media as their only source of information (+ the Commission in Brussels). Polls have shown that some 80 % of the journalists in our public service vote Left Party (= the former Communist Party) and the Environmental Party. Independent blogs now have a very large following but "they who decide" keep themseves studiously clean from disturbing facts.

There is a new fenomenon in that a few young journalists dare to criticize their colleagues for factual faults. But they are either ignored or (in a few cases) visciously attaced.

Jan 8, 2014 at 9:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterGösta Oscarsson

Interesting that you say Massachussets was the state which was considering a ban on fracking, because as the session was closing he told the committee it was Colorado.

[Thanks David. I'd skipped the very end, as it was getting pretty dull by then. See update to main post though]

Jan 8, 2014 at 9:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Ashton

In September the UK Foreign secretary appointed Sir David King, former Chief Scientist to Tony Blair, as "Special Representative on Climate Change".

In a statement released at the weekend, (September 2013) Hague said Sir David will play an important role in negotiations ahead of a global emissions reduction deal scheduled for 2015.

“As well as a long-held commitment to raising awareness of climate change, he brings a deep and specific knowledge of climate and energy issues and a wealth of broader experience to the role, which he will begin later this year,” he said.

In 2005, King increased global warming by around 3 degrees C:

Fourier's the one who sits there thinking, "What determines the surface temperature of the earth that we live on?
Why is the average temperature about 18 degrees centigrade?"

And he considers, "It must be because energy comes in from the sun. The earth would keep heating up if that was all, but it's going out through heat radiation as the earth gets warm. And we get a net balance, and so the temperature sits at an average of 18 degrees centigrade."

Jan 8, 2014 at 10:05 AM | Registered Commenterdennisa

King, out of his depth, like most of them, whether they be gormless shills, politicians or 'scientists on the payroll', is well practiced in the art of conjuring the green miasma. A fog of lies, deceits and mumbled half truths based on hearsay, scare stories and input provided and mouthed by green advocates, Greenpeace et al. Prevaricating and making it up as he meanders along, there is no clear idea in his head - particularly on matters pertaining to the exploration and of the exploitation thereof in resource rich shale gas plays which underlie many areas of Britain.

Has King forgotten our history, that, much of the midlands and northern Britain, the Central lowlands in Scotland and in the S. Wales industrial landscape, was altered and shaped by King Coal?

Jan 8, 2014 at 10:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

King was a competent researcher in a narrow field who took enormous scientific risk without knowing it when he was hired to advise Blair. The reports to government about the risk of CAGW so Blair et. al. could pretend to save the planet were basically the same as MI6's faked WMD report to allow Blair to declare along with Bush, War on Iraq.

So, what we have now is classic fumbling by a guy who knows he was and is out of his depth whilst fighting for a position in the governmental hierarchy. His failure of scientific objectivity is, frankly, embarrassing. It is why i say, categorically, that no professional scientist or engineer can support the IPCC 'consensus' and, additionally, those like King who run with the hare and the hounds over fraccing are contemptible. If you don't know the objective facts, better to stay quiet - leave the dissembling to the politicians.

Jan 8, 2014 at 10:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterMydogsgotnonose

King is another has-been, promoted on the "Peter Principle" to the level of his incompetance.
Unfortunately his position is safe as long as he toes the party line.

Jan 8, 2014 at 11:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterBitter&Twisted

Who on earth picks these chief scientific advisors?

Jan 8, 2014 at 11:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Stroud

"We Greens want an energy policy that serves the common good, not just the interests of fossil fuel companies."

Yeah right.

Paraphrasing, we greens want an energy policy which serves the interest of the green lobby and keeps us in our highly paid sinecures and provides lots of dosh for foreign jollies [climate conferences] driving our 4x4s and powering our laptops so we can continue haranguing the public to waste more billions on useless bird mincers so that eventually we all you lot will die of cold.

Brain dead Same old tosh playing on a loop - greens and 'expert in hydraulic fracturing' lady, now contributing at DT.

Well actually, it is greeny granny Jenny Jones.

Despite what Government Ministers claim, the experts at Deutsche Bank, Chatham House, and Ofgem all predict that shale gas extraction will not bring down fuel bills. So fracking won’t help the 1.5 million children growing up in cold homes in the UK. Add to this the fact that 60 to 80 per cent of known fossil-fuel reserves must remain in the ground if we are to have any chance of avoiding dangerous climate change, and you might have a glimmer of the start of some vague qualms?

Got that?

and Stuff British industry too.

Jan 8, 2014 at 11:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

This article suggests Dallas is trying to ban fracking too (hold your nose).

Jan 8, 2014 at 12:06 PM | Registered CommenterSimonW

King is also 74, getting on a bit......

Jan 8, 2014 at 12:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterMydogsgotnonose

Athelstan (Jan 8, 2014 at 11:55 AM): it is good to see the commenters at the DT are giving the lady her just desserts – few seem to have been deceived one jot by her dodgy "facts" and empty rhetoric.

(You don’t suppose they are all in the pay of Big Oil, do you?)

Jan 8, 2014 at 12:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

What amused me was that one Noble Lord stated that as the population of US was only 7 times that of UK whereas the area of the US was ~40 times (I can't remember exact figure he gave) that of UK fracking could not have the same impact on UK. King responded by saying that the surface area of UK was less than one field in US (I think he was referring to the North Dakota field). No mention from either King or Mackay about depth of our deposits.

Jan 8, 2014 at 12:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Ashton

Dave King should stick to stand up. We might all get a few more laughs then.

Or singing "Memories are made of this"

Jan 8, 2014 at 12:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterColin Porter

This is old ground anyway. The reports are in from the competent 3rd party authorities saying go-ahead-with-checks and Ed Davey, when pressed by Peter Lilley at the last commons select commitee, said he is 100% behind shale gas exploitation since gas is hugely required under even the most optimistic renewable energy scenario. The only question left was who is charged with the task of putting rockets under the arses of the local planning authorities & councillors. As it is, even the less controversial (you'd think) coal bed methane extraction at Airth has full support from the Scottish Office, Scottish Parliament, Scottish Environment Agency (SEPA) and even the local MP - it is only the doltish faux-green local councillors who are blocking it.

Jan 8, 2014 at 12:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

New York (state) issued a "moratorium" on fracking in the state for I believe a couple of years. There is now a fight on to extend the moratorium into a permanent ban.

This would have been a better example since at least NY has a large shale deposit to potentially frack.


Jan 8, 2014 at 12:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames

It's hard to accept, but the entire British political classes are liars.

Jan 8, 2014 at 12:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterAC1

The state banning fracking with some consequences is New York. Western New York is withering away while neighboring Pennsylvania harvests a bounty of natural gas. It is all political but it looks like the feckless gov may cave lest his states population flees.

Jan 8, 2014 at 12:38 PM | Unregistered Commenterbobmacinnes

"(You don’t suppose they are all in the pay of Big Oil, do you?)"

Well, I thought we all were - aren't we??

The cheques must be 'in the post'.

Jan 8, 2014 at 12:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

On the subject of reactions in the US to regulation of fracking vs. prohibiting fracking, the reaction of the State of California (which is of course one of the most environmentally conscious US States) is highly instructive of the direction being taken.

The New York Times reported on December 13 regarding increased "comprehensive" regulations along with continued development efforts.

California drillers eager to use hydraulic fracturing to tap the nation’s largest oil shale formation will face comprehensive regulation for the first time next year under rules issued this week.

The rules take effect on Jan. 1, though they will be replaced a year later by permanent regulations that are still being developed but are expected to be similar. In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that established the outlines for the regulations.

The new rules require drillers to alert neighboring landowners at least 30 days before using hydraulic fracturing techniques, known as fracking, and to test their water wells upon request. The drillers must do other groundwater monitoring and also disclose many of the chemicals used. The rules cover the use of acids, which are sometimes used to dissolve rock to access oil.

The rules cover many phases of the drilling process, analysts say, though they fall short of what many environmental groups want.

“There’s definitely a tension in California between environmental groups who would like to see the practice halt, at least until there’s a lot more research, and folks who would like to see it continue basically unregulated,” said Emily Murray, a Los Angeles-based partner at the law firm Allen Matkins, whose clients hold a range of views on fracking.

California’s approach to fracking, she added, is “certainly short of banning the practice, but it’s a pretty thorough look.”

Jan 8, 2014 at 12:50 PM | Unregistered Commentermkantor

Hmm...cos I'm a cynical old sort I wonder if King has any interests elsewhere?

Jan 8, 2014 at 12:58 PM | Unregistered Commenterjones

Straight bat ? Or straight hockey stick ?
Hockey sticks don't seem very straight these days ,
...a strange twist to a flat hiatus at the top.

Jan 8, 2014 at 1:01 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

King's credibility


Inspired by the title of your post I was moved to compose the above piece in the same vein.

There may be enough material there for a similar piece using the word 'laughter'.

Jan 8, 2014 at 1:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterJake Haye

Either the rules of geology and physics in the UK are different from those that operate in the rest of the world, or UK engineers are more incompetent than those anywhere else in the world, or the UK is being advised by the some of the most - to be diplomatic- poorly informed advisers anywhere in the world.

Jan 8, 2014 at 1:54 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

Here you can see the depth of stupidity in the UK government. VOTE UKIP all you brits. Save the rest of us and vote UKIP.

Jan 8, 2014 at 3:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

"enormous environmental consequences" could just as easily mean many more fish a-leaping, a new abundance of Natterjack toads and even more sunlit uplands. So obviously King is absolutely right and everybody here has simply mistaken his words.

My God. This trolling lark is just so easy.

Jan 8, 2014 at 3:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Reed

It is actually one of the main planks of greenpeace energy policy that we should situate energy production closer to the people. Whether it is a good idea or not is another matter. In any event we are in rather more danger from the gas pipes in the house already.

Jan 8, 2014 at 3:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Jan 8, 2014 at 12:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

"(You don’t suppose they are all in the pay of Big Oil, do you?)"
Well, I thought we all were - aren't we??
The cheques must be 'in the post'.
Perhaps now that Royal Mail has been privatised they'll start arriving.

Jan 8, 2014 at 4:07 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

From 'Chad' (local paper in Notts):

A report by the British Geological Survey shows there have been 18 earthquakes in Ollerton over the past four weeks.
But if anyone felt the earth move its [sic] unlikely the tremors were to blame as the most powerful recorded had a magnitude of just 1.7 on the Richter scale.
Brian Baptie, a seismologist at the Edinburgh's [sic] British Geological Survey, said... "This is an area where we have seen a lot of earthquake activity in the past and it has been linked to the Thoresby mine..."

If these undetectably small earth tremors had been the result of fracking, no doubt it would have been King and his chums who would have been making the earth move (though not for me, I have to say).

Jan 8, 2014 at 4:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterArthur Peacock

"(You don’t suppose they are all in the pay of Big Oil, do you?)"

Well, I thought we all were - aren't we??

Yes, you are.
Everyone in the UK is in the pay of Big Oil because UK oil & gas revenues and related taxes are essential streams funding government spending .

Jan 8, 2014 at 5:29 PM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown

On the subject of fracking, there's this contribution from the Telegraph's most recent greenie blogger:

Jan 8, 2014 at 6:00 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveS

• an hour ago

I don't think she has enough excitement in her life, so I'm sending her a copy of my novel, 'Fifty Grades of Shale'.

Jan 8, 2014 at 7:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Reed

Another viewpoint on fracking:

Virtually no one in the political, journalistic, or academic elites saw fracking coming as a major American strategic weapon, until facts on the ground began making a difference. But the Saudis, the Russians, and every other oil oligarchy in the world now understand that their power is fading. The only thing that can save them is a political movement in the United States, headed by the environmentalist groups, that could cripple this strategic weapon. That central fact must be understood in evaluating the funding and activities of environmentalists.

Jan 8, 2014 at 9:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterArthur Peacock

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