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« GCMs and public policy | Main | Before the deluge »

Dixon's cunning plan

I spent yesterday evening at the Edinburgh Book Festival at a debate about the need for fracking featuring Richard Dixon, the head of Friends of the Earth Scotland and Zoe Shipton, a geologist from the University of Strathclyde. As always with these things one came away frustrated with the sheer brassneck of the environmentalist contingent.

We learned, for example, that Lord Stern had said that the shale gas industry was founded on "baseless economics". Now while lesser mortals might have thought that this would mean that the industry was doomed to failure, we also learned that it was going to poison us all, with reports of cancer causing chemicals and endocrine disrupters from fracking. This seemed to me to be a case of having one's cake and eating it. It actually got quite interesting a bit later, when Dixon was asked about the terrifying studies he had mentioned earlier, and he seemed to step back rather, saying that the only peer reviewed study he had mentioned was to do with an association between low birthweight and fracking. Unfortunately, my research today suggests that he was thinking of an entirely non-peer reviewed paper presented at an economics conference. So that's the book festival audience misled by an environmentalist. Again. (By strange coincidence, he also raised the "300,000 deaths from climate change" canard - the one the Met Office has repeatedly said is nonsense).

Prof Shipton was pretty good, a tendency to emote about climate change apart. She was engaging, amusing, and once she got into her stride very clear with the facts. She deflated the normal "OMG, fracking involves chemicals" question from the audience without batting an eyelid, for example. Likewise, she gave everybody a giggle when asked why we didn't avoid this awful fracking by doing geothermal energy on a grand scale, pointing out that geothermal power as available in Scotland also involves fracking. (As an aside, this presumably means that Friends of the Earth oppose its use too).

However, Prof Shipton's efforts fell down rather once the conversation moved onto the future energy supply, which is perhaps forgiveable since it's not really her field. This did, however, leave the field clear for Richard Dixon.

Which was a pity really, because his efforts on energy supply were risible. According to FoE's top man, in the next few decades Scotland will have:

  • renewables plus
  • 2 nuclear power stations
  • 1 coal fired power station
  • 1 gas fired power station
  • lots of cables connecting us to the English grid

Howeve, once he is running the country, Dixon intends to get rid of the nuclear and the fossil fuel plants, leaving us just with renewables and connections to the English grid.

Perceptive readers will notice a bit of a flaw here, namely an almost complete lack of any dispatchable power. Scotland has 1.5GW of hydro power, about 12% of the total demand.  I don't know the figures, but I fancy this will be woefully inadequate to cope with a grid dominated by wind turbines. That leaves us with the connections to the English (and possibly other grids too). The problem here is that Friends of the Earth don't want England or anyone else to have any power stations powered by fossil fuels either. So the question remains, where is the dispatchable power coming from?

But as always, the difficult questions remain unasked, let alone answered.

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Reader Comments (42)

More eco-looms trying to take us back to the Medieval times. Yes we were better off then, plenty of cold, famine and disease but at least we didn't have nasty chemicals.

These zealots do not care how many they empoverish or kill, they are saving the planet. Green equivalent of the Islamic State!
Convert or die misbeliever!

Aug 23, 2014 at 10:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

Environs feel completely relaxed about lying because even if they're caught out, they can claim to be doing it for a good cause. Heads they win, tails we lose.

Aug 23, 2014 at 10:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

Presumably, Prof Zoe Shipton, as contributor to the Royal Society report on shale fracking risk, and consequentially bringing her BBC radio 4 recognition as an expert scientist, the curtsy genuflection to 'climate change' is mandatory, with a click of the heels and a salute.

Aug 23, 2014 at 10:51 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Why should anyone, except its investors, worry about the shale gas industry being founded on "baseless economics".

Their investments are voluntary, unlike that of all UK power consumers whose subsidies to renewables is 100% involuntary.

Aug 23, 2014 at 10:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

In 40 years petroleum industry experience I've never seen a single well approved by management without positive success case economics justification.

Aug 23, 2014 at 11:33 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

I thought Your Grace might be interested in this:

Top Halliburton executive sips fracking fluid with colleagues in industry show stunt
by Yadullah Hussain

...Halliburton executives took it upon themselves to drink some of their latest fracking fluid to show just how harmless it is.

“It was absolutely the first time I drank fracking fluid — you can be sure of that,” said Michael Binnion, President of QOGA and CEO of Questerre Energy Corp. a couple of days after Monday’s event, noting that 20 to 25 executives drank the brew. “I feel fine. There was quite a build-up, but it was a bit of a let-down as it was less viscous than I thought it would be, but more viscous than water. And very stale-tasting.”

Aug 23, 2014 at 11:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterDiogenes

Joe Public

I am inclined to agree with Lord Stern on the economics of shale gas.

An independent Scotland would already be on shaky financial ground, even without pumping scarce capital down unproductive holes.

Aug 23, 2014 at 11:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man


What proportion of those wells failed?

Aug 23, 2014 at 11:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Entropic Man

Approximately 80%

Aug 23, 2014 at 11:54 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Pharos, the success rate is considerably better than that now. Success rate on North Sea exploration wells is approx 1 in 3 but most wells are not exploration - they are development, appraisal or workover. And the success rate on those is close to 90% successful. As the saying goes, you drill for two things : hydrocarbons; and information. In that sense, few wells are a total waste of money these days.

And the obstructionists don't even want anyone to drill for information, preferring ignorance.

Aug 24, 2014 at 12:17 AM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown

"An independent Scotland would already be on shaky financial ground, even without pumping scarce capital down unproductive holes."

Not sure I understand why private investment in shale gas extraction would have any negative impact on the Scottish government's finances whatsoever. Please elaborate.

Aug 24, 2014 at 1:08 AM | Unregistered CommenterBloke in Central Illinois

I always wonder why such people as Richard Dixon (who is obviously intelligent and well-educated) turn their backs on common sense and become propagandists and liars for WWF, FoE and other similar disreputable NGOs. What is it thet triggers off this hatred for society and humanity? Anybody know a Loo who could explain it?

Aug 24, 2014 at 6:41 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

I get the feeling everyone in the EU is handing their neighbor an empty bucket expecting to get a full bucket in return. I would advise them all to seek the actual source of the full bucket. I expect they will learn it comes from Putin's NewSSR and their newest member state, the Ukraine.

Aug 24, 2014 at 7:09 AM | Unregistered Commenterdp

Aug 24, 2014 at 6:41 AM | Phillip Bratby

I assume it is a genuine strong belief in 'the cause'. Even if I had strong opinions I'd always be questioning the premises they are built on. I assume that comes at least partially from my natural curiosity and scientific background. I don't think I would ever knowingly lie.

Aug 24, 2014 at 7:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterRob Burton

Philip, I think the answer to your question lies in the redefinition of the word "charity" in recent decades.

Aug 24, 2014 at 8:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrent Hargreaves

The good doc Dixon has long-been part of the widespread gov-media-ngo-media-gov incest that pervades (especially) within Scottish circles. There's barely a Beeb article gets an airing here without its' requisite onerous quotation (and three). Note too, he's a non-elected (ie. gov appointed) board member of SEPA. A true careerist, he's lapping up the accordialed [sic] gravy train from one limelight to another.

Aug 24, 2014 at 8:56 AM | Unregistered Commenterdc

I am inclined to agree with Lord Stern on the economics of shale gas.

An independent Scotland would already be on shaky financial ground, even without pumping scarce capital down unproductive holes.
Aug 23, 2014 at 11:38 PM | Unregistered Commenter Entropic man

Scotland's finances are no worse than the UK's, which most people seem to have forgotten now has a national debt of £1.7 trillion, and probably about £5 trillion if you count pensions. This is despite the not insignificant revenues from 40 years of North Sea oil, which we were of course led to believe would only last 10 years - google the McCrone report and it's cover up by the Westminster government. The shale industry is irrelevant, as it would be funded by private capital. But shale is small beer if the rumours about what BP have found in the west Shetland basin are true.

Aug 24, 2014 at 8:57 AM | Registered Commenterlapogus

I think this is part of your answer, Aug 24, 2014 at 6:41 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby.

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
― Upton Sinclair, I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked

Aug 24, 2014 at 8:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterIvor Ward

lapogus I hope it's true, but that rumour sounds a bit like something a Scottish Nationalist might 'leak' just before an important referendum. Maybe even a Scottish Nationalist who outwardly professes a love of "renewables" but knows the electors would rather have money from oil.

Aug 24, 2014 at 9:47 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

We must be living at the best time ever for humanity. We have a benign climate, more and more people are living productive happy lives buoyed up by increasing access to good health, material comforts and sufficient food and drink.

There must be some learned study which tells us why we want to worry so much and to try to undo our achievements.

Aug 24, 2014 at 9:58 AM | Unregistered Commentertonyb

tonyb - perhaps it is an atavistic response to our history. As you point out, until recently almost everyone on the planet lived a very precarious existence, and various explanations (religious, political, metaphysical) were proposed. The people who came up with explanations that convinced the populace, and possible ways of ameliorating the worst, became powerful.

Of course, there are still real threats to our existence, both individually and at a group level. These have been colonised by the promoters of the precautionary principle, the nanny State and the usual bunch of moral entrepreneurs. Ironically, they are the greatest opponents of material progress, as everything they seek makes us individually and collectively poorer.

There are also political/social threats, but I'm guessing that those are not the sorts of topics that the Bish wants to have starting flame wars on this site. :)

Aug 24, 2014 at 10:52 AM | Registered Commenterjohanna

We have a benign climate, more and more people are living productive happy lives buoyed up by increasing access to good health, material comforts and sufficient food and drink.
Aye, it'll a' end in tears, ye ken!
Though the Scots are not unique. It's a sort of Act of Propitiation of the Gods or a defence mechanism against the ill-luck which will certainly be on the way because, well, it always is, innit.

Aug 24, 2014 at 11:06 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

The clue to all this is the dog that didn't bark, namely the fossil fuel industry. Why don't they use their stupendous resources to argue against these loonies ? It's because their long term advantage comes from raising the base cost of energy which is exactly what renewables do.

Aug 24, 2014 at 11:21 AM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

There is also this

The biggest lobbying group at Copenhagen (486) promoting global warming was the International Emissions Trading Association which was created to promote carbon trading.

Its members include :-

BP, Conoco Philips, Shell, E.ON (coal power stations owner), EDF (one of the largest participants in the global coal market), Gazprom, Goldman Sachs, Barclays, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley..

Aug 24, 2014 at 11:27 AM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

e.m., your conspiracy theories are not adding any value here. Companies hedge their bets. Well, stop the presses. If what you believed was true, world domination would have happened centuries ago.

Reality is more complicated.

100 years ago you would have been bleating about Jewish bankers.

Aug 24, 2014 at 12:52 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

Enviros have never been held to account for their hypocrisy, self-dealing and moral hazard behaviors. They still get their toxic mix of public credibility, tax payer money and corporate greenmail no matter how many false claims they make. So why would their spokespeople engage on any topic, especially one as tried true and safe as fracking, in honest manner?
The gall of Lord Stern to pretend that someone else's economics are based on false analysis is just one example of this.
Until enviros are help to reasonable standards of honesty, accuracy and reason, this green nightmare will continue.

Aug 24, 2014 at 1:09 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

It's not a conspiracy theory, you silly sausage.

The oil companies ran a massive campaign against global warming in the 1990s, but changed sides when Enron created carbon trading. It had a name ' The Global Change Coalition'. That's why the environmentalists constantly refer to a fossil fuel campaign against AGW. It disbanded in 2000.

This is an old fashioned thing called a 'book' that tells you all about it.

Nature, Knowledge and Negation

Aug 24, 2014 at 1:33 PM | Unregistered Commenteresmiff

Sorry, it was the Global Climate Coalition. It's history is here.

Benjamin D. Santer, a climate change researcher, wrote: "The Global Climate Coalition - a less than disinterested party - has made serious allegations regarding the scientific integrity of the Lead Authors of Chapter 8, and of the IPCC process itself.

Aug 24, 2014 at 2:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterE. Smiff

Sport, people like you live in a self-contained bubble of reality. When I worked for Ministers, we used to get letters from folks like you with various colours, lots of underlining and multiple exclamation marks. Why, they had uncovered the big conspiracy that had, until now, eluded the best brains on the planet!

There's a new series of Dr Who just being launched. Get into it. Enjoy.

P.S. I think that Peter Capaldi is much too fine an actor to be wasted on Dr Who.

Aug 24, 2014 at 2:36 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna


Ah, yes.

As I write, for the whole of the UK, wind is providing less than 1% of (low, summer weekend) electricity demand...

Aug 24, 2014 at 4:15 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

Bloke in central Illinois

There is a limited amount of private capital available. If it is dissipated on unprofitable enterprises such as shale gas it is no longer available for investment elsewhere.

Perhaps the classic Scottish example is the failed Darian exhibition which absorbed all the private capital in the country with no return. The result was an effectively bankrupt country, The price of an English bailout was the Act of Union.

Aug 24, 2014 at 6:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic man

Entropic chap, you have not got the faintest notion of how economics works, but you and every third world tin pot dictator would have got on like a house on fire.

Venezuela mon amour ...

Aug 24, 2014 at 6:42 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna

Entropic, Darken was an exclusively Scottish investment. It may surprise you to know that anyone can invest in Scottish resources, and I would expect a theoretically independent Scotland to be very keen on foreign investment

Aug 24, 2014 at 6:44 PM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown

Darien, of course. Auto correct on a phone!
Look, if you're against "fossil fuels", as very few but the greens call hydrocarbon energy sourcess, fair enough. Just say so. But don't give us all this nonsense about being concerned for investors.

Aug 24, 2014 at 6:56 PM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown

Geezer in Central Illinois,

Indeed we have been down this well trodden path with EM many MANY times before.

The great thing about fracking is that not one single penny of tax payer money is needed to subsidise it like you do with renewables (BECAUSE with billions of pounds of tax payer subsidy the renewable sector would not exist).

As EM says, think of all the things the tens or even hundreds of billions of pounds of tax payer money diverted to prop up the renewable sector...think how many teachers that money could have paid for. How many doctors. How many policemen. How many fire fighters.

Further more, as those employed in the fracking industry actually pay their taxes (ie. they aren't just returning tax payers money as in the renewables sector) think of all the lost opportunities from that lost tax revenue.

And of course the elephant in the many have been killed off by rising energy costs during cold winters thanks to price rises due to renewables having to get their subsidies from your pocket.


Aug 24, 2014 at 8:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

Regards the reference to Stern I'd suggest that any economic prognostications from academics or anyone not involved in the industry be ignored. .

Individuals in the academic environment seldom, if ever, and likely never will, have access to current financial data. The data they do have access to will typically be 10 or so years old and often culled from third party surveyed data that is so homogenized it is virtually useless.

Current actual financials are held close to the chest, even to the extent of a need to know basis within large energy companies. Their financial groups will go to great pains to comply with external financial reporting requirements without giving away competitive information.

Aug 24, 2014 at 9:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Singleton

kellydown -

On success rates-

Good to hear its currently as high as 1 in 3 on North Sea exploratory wells. In a rigorous definition of a successful exploration well, it represents the discovery well leading to a commercially viable development. But there is a huge grey area of technical success, ie flows hydrocarbons at surface on test, or even just proves hydrocarbons on logs, but maybe the magnitude of reserves proven, or the flow rates, marginal or non-commercial. Commercial viability can of course change with for instance increased oil/gas price and/or enhanced nearby export facilities/capacity, or even ownership of adjacent acreage.

In the early days of the North Sea, companies tended to wind up with an acreage spread including consortium interests, either as operator of non operator, in blocks which they soon discovered, as competitor drilling and well trading ensued, to be of wildly differing geological prospectivity, and in many cases, license obligation wells had to be drilled on no hope 'ram pasture'. Even in more recent times, choice blocks were linked to obligation frontier acreage in a similar push to force wells down.

But it is one of the delights of the industry that teaches humility in the face of nature, that time and again the dead cert well disappoints, and the dog that nobody, even the geologist and geophysicist working it up likes, comes in. I remember teasing one such geophysicist who didnt really like the prospect he'd toiled over for months, which depended on high risk stratigraphic subcrop and downthrown fault seal, saying 'It'll probably be the best discovery in your entire career'. It actually came in as a barnburner.

Aug 24, 2014 at 10:43 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

"There is a limited amount of private capital available. If it is dissipated on unprofitable enterprises such as shale gas it is no longer available for investment elsewhere."

You do realize that capital is mobile, right? That is, if I want to invest 100 million pounds in Scottish gas extraction and the government won't let me because Lord Stern and Entropic Man say it's a money loser, I am not obligated to invest that money somewhere else in Scotland.

Aug 25, 2014 at 12:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterBloke in Central Illinois

I always wonder why such people as Richard Dixon (who is obviously intelligent and well-educated) turn their backs on common sense and become propagandists and liars for WWF, FoE and other similar disreputable NGOs. What is it thet triggers off this hatred for society and humanity? Anybody know a Loo who could explain it?

Aug 24, 2014 at 6:41 AM | Phillip Bratby

Try this. Take your time :-)

and this

Aug 25, 2014 at 4:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterJeremy Poynton

The Bloke has nailed it. Here's the thing. If you tax high income earners too much, they will move. This happened with rock stars and other successful people from Britain in the late 60s/early 70s. The result was that the UK got zero. The Kinks said: "Taxman's taken all I own, left me in my stately home ...". The Beatles wrote a song called "Taxman." Gerard Depardieu, the icon of French showbiz, has relocated.

Similarly, if you make investment unattractive - quelle surprise - it goes elsewhere. If you offer investers gold plated subsidies - they will flock around.

It is a mystery why people like the entropic dude still exist. But, as I said above, Viva Venezuela!

Just remember to bring your own toilet paper.

Aug 25, 2014 at 8:56 AM | Registered Commenterjohanna

I was at this meeting.

The Book Fair method of collecting several questions before putting them to the 'experts' allowed Dixon to dodge answering several questions that related to the high cost of 'renewables' [my guess making offshore wind/marine electricity will be at least three times the cost of electricity from gas].

Dixon also wanted us to heat our homes with electricity. Even at today's rates; 5p/unit for gas and 15p/unit for electricity, a change from gas to electricity for home heating would put my annual heating bill up from £1,000 to £3,000.

Aug 26, 2014 at 3:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterW Bowie

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