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« For whom the bell Tols - Josh 311 | Main | Green thugs on the rampage »

On choosing experts

Anthony Reuben, BBC News's statistics expert (allegedly) has an article up wondering whether shale gas extraction is economic at the current low gas prices. It's an interesting question, but rather academic because until some more exploration has been done we simply have no idea what the cost is going to be.

Nevertheless, Reuben has rounded up some views on the matter.

From Greenpeace.

And a professor of carbon capture and storage.

And a company that advises businesses on cutting their energy bills.

You have to laugh, don't you?

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Reader Comments (40)

If you didn't laugh you'd cry.

Jan 30, 2015 at 8:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandys

I see the economic case for fracking in the same light as pig farming: it's an industry with low entry costs, short entry times, easy to suspend/shutdown and at times highly profitable. So a mature shale gas industry can be expected to oscillate in production intensity in rough synchronisation with energy prices, just as the pig industry does in response to pork prices.

But at the moment it seems rather easy to block progress. Since the populations local to fracking sites receive no compensation for whatever imagined disruption/effect on health, they'll protest. It's a no brainer - talk, to them is cheap, so they'll spout the latest health scare available without even thinking. In the New York State ban they've even linked fracking to increased crime rates! And in that environment, we'll honour savants such as Paul Mobbs with credibility for their 'rigorous' analysis of the industry.

Jan 30, 2015 at 9:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterCapell

"You have to laugh, don't you?"

Somehow I stopped finding these clowns funny years and years ago. The blatant propaganda is disgusting.

Jan 30, 2015 at 9:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterMark Stoval

Be fair. He does include a reference to Egan's comment to the DT that a depressed oil price is good news on infrastructure costs. But I take the point.
We really must start building a proper indexed dossier on-line which shows the extent to which articles like this simply fail to provide the public with any useful information.
I mean, what was Reuben's rationale for producing this in the first place?

Jan 30, 2015 at 9:26 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Bias on matters of climate change is ingrained throughout the Corporation up to and including the BBC Trust. This seems to be a deliberate policy since they no longer bother to pretend that their position is impartial.

Jan 30, 2015 at 9:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

What's up with the low price of oil, anyway? Is it going to last?

Jan 30, 2015 at 9:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrute

I saw the same logic from Roger Harrabin the other day, I think it's the new tactic in the face of the MPs' refusal to ban frakking. "With all this low cost gas available from abroad frakking will be uneconomic. There are of course, and as usual with greens, a couple of non-sequiturs in there. First of all the primary driver for the drop in price has been the explosion in natural gas production in the USA, secondly if they can produce gas that cheaply then the "factory door" price must be exceptionally low, so why would any advance economy assume that they couldn't get the same factory door price or lower without exploration. Thirdly buying stuff you don't need to buy from foreign countries diminishes your wealth. Why would we want to do that.

It's simply a devise, admittedly desperate, to stop frakking.

Finally, of course, using natural gas instead of coal and oil will reduce CO2 emissions, if you think that' an important thing to do. In the USA natural gas, on it's own, reduced CO2 emissions by 10% between 2005 and 2013 according to the US Energy Information Administration.

As an aside, I was wondering how the Tyndall Centre would get around this inconvenient fact with their presentation to the EAC last week, and had a twitter conversation with Kevin Anderson and Robert Broderick about it. The insisted that shale gas had not reduced US emissions and introduced a hitherto unknown metric for measuring the emissions of a particular state, this metric was the "overall production of fossil fuels", by which tactic they were able to deceive the EAC that emissions had risen in the US. (Although I don't doubt that they were pushing on an open door there). They, zealots as they are, could see nothing wrong with this deception on the basis that once out of the ground the CO2 would be used somewhere. Except of course if the fossil fuels in question were natural gas and were exported to other countries and reduced their CO2 emissions by replacing coal. But they couldn't see that either.

Jan 30, 2015 at 9:48 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Not sure what his educational background is but if it is anything like the Green Parrot (Harrabin) it will not be up to much.

He is not without controversy with his statistics - “An appalling piece of journalism” was one quote from this article -
"Anthony Reuben, BBC journalist serving Israel"

But can one expect anything else from the BBC these days?

Jan 30, 2015 at 9:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

I noticed the following comment that might shine some light on his qualifications (or lack of):

"I'm sure Anthony Reuben is doing a first class job and richly deserves his promotion. But I can't help noticing that according to his LinkedIn profile he has no formal qualification in Statistics (he has a degree in PPE from Oxford), has spent his entire career as a journalist and there is no indication that he is a even a Fellow of the RSS let alone a holder of our CStat qualification. "

Jan 30, 2015 at 9:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

Who cares as long as no public money is sucked up? It's as valid as worrying about dot com companies being viable or not. Surely onshore drilling has to be cheaper than drilling offshore and would carry much the same risks as those in the US if the bureaucracy was similar. Alas, clearly it is the overlong planning process, politically-motivated & pointless moratoria, endlessly repetitious environmental reports etc. that prevent progress, not the oil price! Many of the current oil & gas platforms were built with an oil price of around $30 dollars anyway.

The media should be more worried about the viability of offshore windmills where public money IS involved - and likely squandered.

Jan 30, 2015 at 10:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

I wonder who the professor of CCS was and what he actually knows about it especially when MIT Carbon Capture & Storage research shows it is not working as the greens think it should.

Jan 30, 2015 at 10:09 AM | Unregistered Commenterivan

What concern is it of the BBC or any other outside organisation whether shale gas is economically viable? All renewables are unviable, but the BBC never mentions that.

Jan 30, 2015 at 10:10 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

DANGER, don't scrutinize green maths and logic too much as you'll make them really angry.
- And never test logic by plugging in the arguments the other way around.
For WIND POWER they say :
1. Safety - Well wind is a new technology so we don't know if it's DANGEROUS so we'll go ahead & build some, bribe the RSPB and intimidate, so it will be up to brave individuals to go to court and prove harm.
2. Economy - Well wind is a new technology so we need to nuture it with subsidies.
3. Mix : We do already have lots of power stations, but yes, we need everything, a mix.
4. Democracy : You don't like wind, but we Greens really believe in it, so yes we shouldn't put it everywhere, but it is fair to us Greens to have it some places.

OK let's mirror test those values for fairness by plugging in FRACKING and see what they say :
1. Safety - Well Fracking is a new technology so apply the PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE, we don't know if it's SAFE so we should NOT go ahead.
2. Economy - Well Fracking is a new technology so we don't know if it will be profitable so we shouldn't bother.
3. Mix : We do already have lots of power stations, but No, we DON'T need everything, we might find some new green tech in future.
4. Democracy : You non-greens like fracking, but we Greens really DON'T believe in it, so NO we shouldn't put it it ANYWHERE, what non-greens say doesn't count.

Please keep Green Contradictory Logic away from our tax money !

Jan 30, 2015 at 10:10 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Hopefully the longer this farce continues the more the average punter (who generally is not totally devoid of common sense) will start to realise that the opposition to fracking is obviously not quite what it seems. Home-produced gas has to be cheaper than imported gas surely (not always the case, as we know); for sure it has to better for us to use gas that has been produced here than imported for balance of payments reasons and security, etc.,etc, and gas is cleaner than coal when it comes to producing electricity so what is the real reason these tossers are vandalising MPs' offices and disabling police cars and beating huntsmen with iron bars (and I know there isn't much connection between these three things but then, as we know, human thought processes are not always logical, are they?!)
It seems that Radio 5 Live is experiencing a bit of a backlash this morning if stewgreen's comment on the "Green thugs ..." thread is anything to go by with people ringing in and saying, "get fracking".
Maybe, just maybe .... ?

Jan 30, 2015 at 10:18 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Read the Controversial BBC article, it's not that bad :
"Cuadrilla wants to conduct exploratory drilling because it does not know how much shale gas there is in the area or how easy it would be to extract." SO WHO CARES WHAT THE PRICE IS ?
- "it is unlikely to be commercially extracting any gas from the ground until the end of the decade, by which time prices could have changed considerably."
- What " is being tested at the moment - it is the whole planning process."
- "lower oil and gas prices are actually quite good news for him at the moment, because they reduce the price of services and raw materials"
- "Cuadrilla's funding for the exploratory boreholes was already covered by a £160m deal with Centrica in 2013.
So it seems that today's price is not entirely relevant ....
The real concern for the companies would be if the delays to the process mean that the money runs out before the exploration is finished"

** Sounds to me like he has been told to write in the BBC-Eco warrior style and been given the Greenpeace contact ..but actually he can't bring himself to lie

Jan 30, 2015 at 10:31 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

There are plenty of frac experts in Scotland but do they ask them? No, let's go to Greenpeace for a comment. Just remind me: how many wells have Greenpeace drilled again?

The main qualification required to be "anti-fracking" is that you have never heard of it before encountering the "anti-" propaganda.

Jan 30, 2015 at 10:32 AM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown

BBC's Question Time discussed this last night, with lots of hand-wringing from the audience and the panel, including Peter Hain and some dope from Plaid. Germaine Greer, was, astonishingly though reluctantly, onside for fracking.

As others have observed, the financial viability is at Cuadrilla's risk, so that's a non-issue. What IS needed is test-drilling, to establish if it's possible to extract shale gas safely and in viable quantities. Risk v reward and all that. But the Green Blob know this full well, hence their attempts to shut down even a trial drill. They are terrified the process will be proven to be safe enough to proceed nationally due to its inevitable impact on 'renewables'.

Given what's at stake regarding energy security, jobs, balance of trade etc, I firmly believe these Green shills are acting against the national interest.

Jan 30, 2015 at 10:41 AM | Unregistered Commentercheshirered

"a professor of carbon capture and storage"

It can't be easy, being a professor of something that doesn't work.

BTW, why does BBC News need its own stats person? Tim Harford does a pretty good job elsewhere, but perhaps he's too knowledgeable (and resistant to BBC re-education).

Jan 30, 2015 at 10:43 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Throw this into the mix

Jan 30, 2015 at 10:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterAnother Ian

jamesp: Tim Harford is employed by the FT as economics leader writer and his 'More or Less' programmes are far too good to be produced by an employee of the BBC.

Jan 30, 2015 at 10:47 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

cheshirered: "The dope from Plaid" is a former BBC Wales journalist.

Jan 30, 2015 at 10:51 AM | Registered Commenterdennisa

Why does it matter?

If those putting capital at risk to extract it think it is proftiable they will do it. If it turns out they were wrong, they will make a loss, or less profit.

Can we not just rule a line under all these "we should stop fracking because it won't be profitable" straw men?

Jan 30, 2015 at 10:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko


On CCS it seems they always think about the most expensive process and then dismiss it as expensive. In fact the wet scrubbers already used for SO2 capture can be used for CO2 capture as well. As everyone should know, CO2 dissolves readily in rainwater so a mister on the flue gas, creating carbonic acid that then falls onto a chalk bed and is sequestered there should work fine:

SO2 sequestration in gypsum.SO2 + CaCO3 + 1/2O2 + 2H2O = CaSO4.2H2O + CO2

Simultaneous CO2 conversion to calcium bicarbonate in solution:
CO2(gas) + H2O(liquid) + CaCO3(solid) -> Ca(HCO3)2(aqueous) +(CO2(aqueous) + CO3 ^2-)

See "CO2 mitigation via capture and chemical conversion in seawater" and "Enhanced Carbonate Dissolution as a Means of Capturing and Sequestering Carbon Dioxide" both by Greg Rau. They are on the web somewhere. Of course seawater isn't required - just as it isn't required for SO2 capture: They just deal with the slurry and sell it as a building material. Like gypsum, calcium bicarbonate is also useful stuff but you could just drop it in the sea and claim to be reducing seawater acidity - hence why seawater is preferable as the input for the CO2 sequestration.

Alas, unlike SO2 reduction which was always treated as an engineering problem, CO2 reduction carries around a lot of ideological baggage with it, relating to the greens desire for us to change our wicked consumptive lifestyle and addiction to economic growth. It has never been properly treated as the rather simple engineering problem that it is! As I have previously noted, if CCS was ever found to be viable then the greens would oppose it for reasons that have nothing to do with CO2 reduction.

Jan 30, 2015 at 10:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Let's do the same analysis on wind power. There is a good one up at WUWT right now.
The chutzpah of the green mafia is amazing, only matched by the sycophant ignorance of the media.

Jan 30, 2015 at 11:06 AM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

cheshirered: "The dope from Plaid" is a former BBC Wales journalist.

Indeed. And last night he dismissed fracking on the basis that New York State has banned fracking, and that was good enough for him. Pity he didn't look at some of the supporting documentation behind the NY ban. One of the reported studies observes a correlation (but of course, no attempt at investigating a causal link) between road accidents and fracking. And if he'd looked longer than 5 minutes he'd have come across Paul Mobbs yet again - remember he was the watermelon pointed out by Gosden in the Telegraph article on the EAC just last week:
"The EAC also cites evidence from Paul Mobbs, a self-described “freelance campaigner, activist, environmental consultant, author, lecturer and engineer” and former “electrohippie”, who runs a “dysorganisation” called the ‘Free Range Activism Website"
And that (and similar drivel) is the scientific substance that convinced the Governor of NY to impose the ban.

Surely we expect better from our MPs (or Assembly Members)? Perhaps not. As far as he's concerned he's with the talk-is-cheap brigade.

Peter Hain (the man who blocked nuclear energy expansion in Blair's first government) was also on the Question Time panel and he promised, with a gleam in his eyes, lots more windmills if Labour is re-elected. Be warned!

Jan 30, 2015 at 12:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterCapell

No, we should not laugh.

Laughing would be naïve and dangerous: these people are serious, and they are winning, as can be seen from recent actions in parliament (both the UK parliament and the Wee Pretendy parliament).

We must keep up the good fight.

Jan 30, 2015 at 12:15 PM | Unregistered Commenterandrew duffin

James G @ 10.59: I don't think Physical Chemistry is your strong point. SO2 has *65 the solubility of CO2 at 15C - 130g/kg against 2G/Kg. An average sulphur coal produces CO2/ SO2 about 250/1. Your misters will require *16250 the water to remove about 60% (the performance of sulphur scrubbers according to the EPA). At this point I stopped calculating. If it was that easy the invested $b's in CCS would not have been scrubbed out.

Jan 30, 2015 at 12:29 PM | Unregistered Commenterdiogenese2

One part of the article is just plain wrong - "John Hall from Alpha Energy Group says: "the shale gas market took off in the US on the back of rising oil prices" as the price rose from around $60 a barrel in 2007 and started heading towards $140."

The gas market in the US is a market in it's own right - the Henry Hub price for US gas was at it's highest in 2005 at $13.4 per million btu and declined in price to average about $4 per mbtu over the past few years, while the oil price was about $115 per barrel. The decline in the gas price was driven by the success of finding shale gas.

Jan 30, 2015 at 1:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobert Thomson

Reuben is an Oxford PPE - not a course known for its rigour in statistics or economics. The key message of his article is in the final paragraph - a call to keep protesting and delaying:

The real concern for the companies would be if the delays to the process mean that the money runs out before the exploration is finished.

I have previously had a run-in with Reuben over the BBC's misinterpretation of short term migration statistics, where he remained wilfully obtuse in refusing to recognise the difference between changes in stocks and changes in flow rates in this article- the data in fact support precisely the opposite conclusion.

It is very noticeable that the article talks in terms of oil prices, and avoids discussion of gas prices altogether (at least with any numbers attached). The present UK NBP price is around $7/MMBtu. That is a level that in the US was only breached briefly during last winter's coldest weather, and below which gas prices have remained since 2008 - when the US shale industry was in its infancy.

You might have thought that as a statistician he could have referred to the real statistics that show how US production has grown despite the prices being lower that in the UK. He might have noted how in the Marcellus shale (in many ways similar to Bowland) overall production has been growing very sharply, and new techniques are resulting in sharply higher initial well production rates, despite prices that are now at a discount to benchmark Henry Hub. He might also have looked at how UK gas prices have performed over the past 20 years, and noted how much lower they were when we were producing our own gas rather than having to bid for imported LNG on world markets.

Jan 30, 2015 at 1:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

"Maybe, just maybe .... ?"

I hope so Mike, but i'm not convinced, nor am I convinced that the fracking community sell themselves very well. Could be wrong, but my sense is that most people don't realise that the actual "fracking" takes place is around 1-5 hrs (nearer to 1) and then after that the fracking well is a v. quiet hum as it pumps the oil/gas. The big environmental issue is the vehicles visiting the site to remove the oil/gas. The actual drilling takes place about a mile below the surface so it's almost impossible for it to contaminate aquifers once drilling is completed.

In other words it's just bollocks.

I'll leave you with this. Although the Sierra Club was founded in 1898, all the environmentalist groups, Greenpeace, WWF and FoE were formed post 1960. To put it another way before 1960 the world wasn't wealthy enough to support parasitic human activities worrying about banana trees and slugs, but the increased wealth from industrialisation and cheap energy allowed large numbers of people to spend their entire lives worrying about trees and cockroaches. In other words the environmentalists are the children of mass industrialisation and cheap energy. And they hate their parents.

Jan 30, 2015 at 1:26 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

I guess I messed up my Marcellus shale link. Bowland shale has the edge of being much thicker, thus allowing more shale to be exploited from the same wells.

Incidentally, I recently happened on this promotional video that explains some of the downhole technology (it is strong on explanation, sometimes quite technical, but the animated graphics give an excellent insight to what the tools are doing) now employed in developing fracked horizontal wells. A celebration of the ingenuity of engineers - the sort of thing the BBC once might have pushed via Raymond Baxter's Tomorrow's World.

Jan 30, 2015 at 1:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

The irony is that "fraccing" is becoming uneconomic, due to the crash in oil and gas prices which has been caused by overproduction, thanks largely to... "fraccing".

Jan 30, 2015 at 1:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterJimmy Haigh


These days the BBC has a strong reputation for being pro-Arab and anti-Israeli, as suppression of the Balen Report demonstrates. Just one of the things that makes for a hollow laugh when the BBC tries to point at government departments for inadequate responses to FOI requests. Reuben's piece on the data was doubtless permitted on grounds of increasing the perception of balance: there is also a small clue to his ancestry in his name. It caused consternation among those used to the pro-Arab Jeremy Bowen as the mouthpiece of BBC received opinion.

Jan 30, 2015 at 2:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

Jimmy Haigh, that's only true of a few areas. Like almost everything else, technology and best practices for tight shale oil & gas extraction improve and generally get cheaper the more you do of it. All this political banning and delaying and "more studies needed" rubbish is driving the UK backwards. One can only assume the leading activists prefer that.

You can't blame the general public so much. They are flooded with misinformation and it's a scandal that the controversial broadcaster known as the BBC, controversially funded by a compulsory levy, colludes with activists in this.

Jan 30, 2015 at 2:52 PM | Unregistered Commenterkellydown

The BBC aspire to educate the world, yet they cannot educate themselves.

And f it suited their purpose, the BBC would argue that supermarkets and grocery supplies are uneconomic. They would quickly find an expert (probably from Greenpeace et al) to supply them with all the authority they thought fit.

Jan 30, 2015 at 3:30 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

The Green Economist's argument in favour of unreliable renewables, was that oil would keep getting more expensive, and that efficiencies in unreliability would get better as we invested more.

The Green Economist's argument against reliable frakking is that oil is now too cheap, and therefore err...umm..

Green Economists can't predict their own lunch time, but expect everybody else to subsidise it.

Jan 30, 2015 at 4:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie


With an election coming up the BBC needs to be very careful to make sure it doesn't misinterpret politically sensitive statistics and polls. Whether Reuben is the man to ensure that is a more open question.

Jan 30, 2015 at 5:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

@ michael hart:
"The BBC aspire to educate the world, yet they cannot educate themselves."

They do not seem willing to be bothered to inform themselves at all, frankly.

Jan 30, 2015 at 5:57 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

It is irrelevant whether the models say it is cost effective or not. Private capital is willing to invest to determine this. If it is not then it will fade into history like the UK coal industry.

As long as no government money is used to skew the market, let the market determine whether it is viable.

Unlike renewables.

Feb 1, 2015 at 10:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterClovis Marcus

Sorry Gekko,

Missed your comment upthread which said about the same thing as me.

Great minds.

Feb 1, 2015 at 10:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterClovis Marcus

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