MYTH #1: “Fracking will provide energy security for the UK.”
FACT: The UK is part of an integrated European energy market, which means all the gas produced in the UK is traded on the open market and sold to the highest bidder. The Government cannot therefore ‘reserve gas for the UK’, or control the price.
In fact, the UK currently exports nearly 30% of the gas it produces. If the government was really worried about energy security, why would they let this happen? The simple reason is that they can’t stop private companies selling gas to whoever they want – that’s how the free market works. If they can earn more money by selling gas abroad, they will. So, even if we did start producing large quantities of fracked gas, there is no guarantee that it would be used in the UK and may just as easily be sold abroad anyway.
Also, despite what politicians would have you believe, we do not rely on Russia for our gas supply. (How often have you heard politicians say things like “If we don’t start fracking, Putin will turn off the gas supply and the lights will go out.”?). According to the 2014 Government DUKES report – the latest figures available at the time of writing – 97% of our imported gas comes from Norway (57.4%), Qatar (24.4%) and Holland (15.1%) – but very little comes from Russia. And Russia is so reliant on its petrochemical industry that if they stopped exporting gas and oil, their economy would collapse very rapidly.
Please see p114 of the 2015 DUKES report for the exact figures for imports and exports. This report also contains lots of interesting information about gas production in general, if you’re into that sort of thing. Here are a couple of interesting sections from the headlines on p93:
- Imports fell by 11 per cent in 2014 versus 2013; exports increased by 17 per cent.
- Net imports were 18 per cent lower in 2014 compared to 2013 (Table 4.1).
- These decreases were primarily due to a reduction in demand for natural gas within the UK during 2014.
You can also check these figures on the fracking industry’s trade association UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG) website, which is a much easier read than the DUKES report!
But hasn’t fracking reduced gas prices in the USA?
Yes, it has. However, this is because until very recently, the USA had a closed energy market and gas exports was severely restricted under US law. In December 2015, the US voted to allow oil and gas exports again, as they now have so much gas that they don’t know what to do with it. It’s also worth noting that to produce this reduction in price, over 1.1 million fracking wells have been sunk in the USA (more about this in Myth 2).
Another reason why fracking cannot help the UK improve its energy security in the short or medium term is because of the time scale involved. Even if the industry moved ahead as fast as it wanted to, we wouldn’t see significant production until the mid-2020s, by which time we need to be moving rapidly towards a decarbonised energy system based on renewables to meet our climate change commitments.
Also very much related to Myth 1 is its twin, Myth 2: