Early problems for Government's dash for gas
Having just fired the starting pistol for a new dash for gas, Government plans have taken a number of blows.
First, there's the Total gas rig leak in the North Sea. Clearly this isn't the Government's fault, but it highlights one of the risks associated with our reliance on fossil fuels - a risk that was all too clearly shown by the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
The problem isn't just the potential damage to the local environment. The climate-change impact of huge quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times as powerful as carbon dioxide, could also be significant.
The Government can't say it wasn't warned. Last December it published a review of oil and gas safety in the UK, commissioned following Deepwater Horizon. As my colleague Paul Steedman wrote at the time, this commended much of the UK regulatory regime, but also pointed out some big concerns, including:
- Question marks over the ability to implement disaster control plans.
- Lessons haven't been learned from similar technology failures here.
- If something does go wrong it's not clear who would pay for it and whether they could afford it.
More oil and gas drilling makes further such incidents more likely - and more drilling is what we're going to get.
The Government has recently offered a further 2,800 blocks of UK waters in the North Sea, the English Channel, the Irish Sea and the Atlantic between the Outer Hebrides and Rockall for oil and gas exploration. But the dangers posed are probably nothing compared to what could happen if drilling proceeds in the Arctic, as oil firms hope.
The second stumbling block hasn't had the same publicity, but it's probably even more important in the long-run.
Responding to Government plans - revealed last week - for more gas-fired power stations, its independent advisers, the Committee for Climate Change (CCC), sounded the alarm warning: "the approach set out ... could be compatible with power sector decarbonisation required to meet carbon budgets, but also carries the risk that there will be too much gas-fired generation instead of low carbon investment".
The CCC is concerned that having built the gas power stations, companies will want to use them to provide baseload electricity, rather than provide back-up when renewable energy doesn't meet demand levels. This would blow apart our chances of meeting the CCC's target to effectively decarbonise the power sector by 2030.
Then there's the extra cost to hard-pressed families and businesses to consider too. If we continue to rely on gas we're also likely to see future hikes in household energy bills. The price of gas has increased 90% in real terms since 2000 - and could rise further still.
And who will pay for the clean-up of the gas-rig leak - will the costs be pushed onto UK households?
The bottom line is that it's high time we shifted to clean and safe British energy from the wind, sun and sea. Cutting our reliance on fossil fuels would help us avoid dangerous oil and gas leaks, and turn us away from a high-carbon dead-end street.
Subscribe to this blog by email using Google's subscription service.