Lincolnshire is set to receive £30m investment from French-based oil and gas firm Total SA to investigate the county’s shale gas potential. Hydraulic fracking, or fracking, is banned in France, so the UK, where it is not, is ripe for exploitation. Our publisher and Lincoln city resident Simon Leadbetter looks at why this is such a bad idea and the company behind it.
Hydraulic fracturing is a method of extracting gas locked in shale (a fine-grained sedimentary rock composed of mud, clay and other minerals), deep beneath the earth. A well is drilled vertically then horizontally at depth where explosive charges are detonated under the ground to create holes in the shale. A toxic cocktail of chemicals, sand and water is then forced into the well under incredible pressure to literally fracture the rock, releasing the gas back to the surface, where it is captured and trucked or piped off to supply gas-fired power stations.
According to the US Energy Information Administration, there are 48 shale gas basins in 38 countries globally. The UK is one and has significant reserves of this type of gas.
The coalition government is pursuing the exploitation of shale gas to tackle the coming energy supply crisis, declining North Sea oil and gas supplies and revenue, and the political headwinds from unprecedented energy price rises. This support includes significant tax breaks for companies developing the wells and, as of Monday, financial incentives in the form of 100% business rate income retention for local councils that support it.
Shale gas has been a massive economic boon to the sparsely populated US, and created windfalls for individuals who own the resources beneath their land. The UK is nearly 20 times more densely populated than the US and our citizens do not own the resources under their land, the government does. The opportunity for fracking developers to offer generous financial incentives to households does not exist in the UK, hence the ‘incentive’ to our locally elected officials.
The Obama administration has argued that shale gas exploitation will cut US carbon emissions. Indeed, in 2012 they fell to a 20-year low. However, the Council of Scientific Society Presidents wrote to the president in 2010 to say that long-term-effect greenhouse gases from shale may be greater than previously appreciated. When compared to conventional gas, shale gas emits large amounts of methane – a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Gas is less carbon intensive than coal or oil, but significantly more carbon intensive than renewables. Unlike renewable energy, which feeds directly into the domestic grid, gas is sold on the wholesale markets globally, so there is no immediate domestic energy bill benefit from its exploitation. Shale gas wells have also shown rapid decline in production, but their development opens up the option for carbon-intensive shale oil.
Ed Davey, the energy secretary, and Cuadrilla, a major fracking developer, both admit that extracting shale gas will generate no reduction in energy prices. Lord Stern, the author of a wide-ranging 2006 review into the economic implications of climate change, described any such suggestion as “baseless economics”.
Unlike renewables, where local planning laws apply, communities, households and individuals have no say over fracking development. The government and companies developing this resource assure us that this is all perfectly safe and beneficial.
But our government and leading politicians have an unhealthy relationship with the oil and gas industry. A government that is cutting local authority funding and incentivising the acceptance of fracking to offset those cuts cannot be said to be impartial.
The Conservative party has received several hundred thousand pounds from energy, oil and gas companies since 2010. A prime example of the link is Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchen and Harpenden and member of the energy and climate change committee. Lilley has a lucrative directorship with Tethys Petroleum, currently developing a natural gas field in one party state Kazakhstan. Clearly he has no conflict of interest in being one of only three MPs to vote against the Climate Change Act in 2008.
So this is the greenest government ever, whose claims we are supposed to believe about shale gas. In short, we shouldn’t.
Who is the company behind this latest shale gas development, and should we welcome it to our county with open arms?
Total SA is one of six supermajor oil companies in the world (the others are BP, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Shell and ConocoPhillips). Based in Paris, France, the company has revenues of €182 billion (£151.7 billion) and profits of just under €11 billion (£9.2 billion). It employs 97,000 people and is the 12th largest company in the world by revenue and 48th by market capitalisation.
In the long litany of alleged controversies surrounding Total, here are a few examples. It has been accused of bribing officials in Malta; breaching EU restrictions on investing in the military dictatorship of Myanmar; corruption in Italy; breaking sanctions to bribe Iraqi officials under Saddam Hussein and importing oil from Iran; bribery in Iran; and breaching international law in Western Sahara. It is also linked to killings and forced labour, again in Myanmar.
Environmentally, Total caused a 400km oil spill from La Rochelle to Brittany in 1998, ran a chemical plant in Toulouse that exploded in 2001 (this led to 29 deaths, including one school pupil, 2,500 people seriously wounded, 8,000 light casualties and two-thirds of the city’s windows shattered) and owned the tanker Erika which broke in two in 1999, causing a major environmental disaster. In each case, it fought to avoid any sanction and fines, but ultimately lost.
So this is the ethical and environmentally-friendly company whose claims we are supposed to believe about the harmless nature of shale gas extraction. In short, we’d be fools if we believed anything they said.
Fracking will certainly bring inward investment, hundreds of jobs and substantial tax revenue. But at what cost? It will certainly bring significantly increased air pollution, water contamination, heavy road traffic and earth tremors or quakes. Sufferers of asthma, road users, water drinkers and those living in older properties should not welcome this development. Anyone concerned about our unhealthy addiction to dirty fossil fuels should similarly reject further unnecessary and uneconomic exploitation of this resource.
My advice to all voters in Lincolnshire would be to vote for those parties that oppose the development of fracking. Lincoln and North East Lincolnshire elect councillors and the East Midlands returns five MEPs in May.
Write to your sitting MP and local councillor and say no to this harmful and reckless development. They work for you, not Total.
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.
Economy3 weeks ago
Report: Green, Ethical and Socially Responsible Finance
Energy1 week ago
5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable
Sustainability4 weeks ago
Worldwide Cities Leading the Way in Sustainability
Economy6 days ago
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035