Priti Patel is MP for Witham, and an elected Member of the Conservative Party Board, the 1922 Committee’s Executive and the Public Administration Select Committee
The recent anti-fracking protests in Balcombe have shown how parts of the green lobby and its eco-extremist followers have lost all interest in reason. Their dogmatic obsession with opposing efforts to take advantage of new fuel sources, threatening behaviour and acts of civil disobedience not only costs taxpayers money in policing costs and property damages, but it also exposes their naivety and the green lobby’s inability to make credible arguments.
If the green lobby genuinely believed in tackling climate change they would be more open minded to the benefits of extracting shale gas in the UK. This country needs to consume huge amounts of fuel each year to power our businesses and homes. Our demand for energy cannot be satisfied by new wind turbines, solar panels and other green technologies alone. Britain’s nuclear power stations, which currently generate 19% of our electricity, are all also scheduled to closedown by 2035, which will affect supply if suitable. We therefore need to be open about the need to secure energy in the long term from a range of sources – including shale gas, oil, coal, nuclear and renewables. But we cannot allow ourselves to take the risk of putting all our eggs into the renewables basket with the significant costs that would entail, as the green lobby demands.
Despite billions of pounds being spent on subsidising renewable energy from taxpayers and household energy bills rising to support this sector, renewables accounted for just 11.3% of the UK’s electricity generation in 2012. As a result, demand is driving up imports of fossil fuels from abroad. In 2012, 43% of fossil fuels used in the UK were imported, including, 47% of gas, 87% of coal and 37% of oil.
This means that foreign regimes and companies, including those with lower environmental and human rights standards, are profiteering from our demand for energy. Under these circumstances, it is far better for us to produce and generate as much of the fuel we use as possible domestically rather than rely on imports. Although some environmental groups, such as Dorking Transition, have shown that they can take a more moderate and pragmatic approach to shale gas opportunities, it is shocking to see so many groups taking a hostile approach.
Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the Co-operative are among those supporting the anti-shale gas campaign. But in opposing the development of a sensible natural gas strategy, which could revolutionise Britain’s energy landscape, they are abandoning logic in favour of sensationalism at the expense of actually defending the environment. The environmental cause is not helped by actions that would leave the UK more dependent on imports of fossil fuels.
Instead of pursuing their narrow-minded vendetta, the green lobby should consider the opportunities that shale gas presents. In the United States shale gas industry now supports a million jobs, it has encouraged manufacturing companies to invest roughly £60 billion, and it has generated over £30 billion in tax revenue last year.
Notwithstanding the economic rewards and the degree to which the USA has become more energy self-sufficient, in a recent speech about climate change, President Obama spoke with enthusiasm about the environmental benefits of extracting natural gas:
“Sometimes there are disputes about natural gas, but let me say this: We should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer because, in the medium term at least, it not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions.”
President Obama then added:
“The bottom line is natural gas is creating jobs. It's lowering many families' heat and power bills. And it's the transition fuel that can power our economy with less carbon pollution even as our businesses work to develop and then deploy more of the technology required for the even cleaner energy economy of the future.”
With the USA embracing the shale gas revolution it is right that the UK Government is eager to begin exploring for shale gas in Britain.
It is estimated by the British Geological Survey – the world’s longest-operating national geological survey and the UK’s premier centre for earth science expertise – that there is 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas in the north of England alone. This is enough to supply Britain significant amounts of gas to reduce imports and provide new tax revenues to the Exchequer.
In addition to improving our energy security and fiscal position, shale gas extraction represents sustained economic growth and the availability of tens of thousands of new jobs for geologists, engineers, construction workers, business analysts and many others. If Britain can achieve the same degree of success as the USA, domestic gas prices could also fall by as much as 60%, which could help keep household energy bills down.
Despite these potential benefits, in Balcombe we have also seen the energy agenda being dictating by a group of left wing ‘professional protestors’ whose organising tactics are akin to the flying pickets of the past.
Having planned to protest at the West Burton power station, these groups, including UKUncut and Occupy, diverted their attention to ‘swoop’ on Balcombe to set up a ‘Reclaim the Power’ camp. As many would expect at a left wing green protest, there was criminal behaviour involving illegal trespassing, possession of illicit substances, as well as dozens of arrests, including individuals who allegedly assaulted a police officer. We also had the pathetic publicity stunt of the attention hungry Green MP Caroline Lucas getting herself arrested.
Just as we’ve seen with the anti-cuts demonstrations, these protests have little to do with the issues they purport to care about but instead attract extremists who wish to cause havoc and see Britain pushed back to the economic Dark Ages. The Government must not back down in the face of these protests and instead press ahead with developing an energy policy that enables shale gas to be part of our energy mix.