Britain is sitting on a gas goldmine that would flash bills and the Putin monopoly

THE price of gas has gone through the roof thanks to Vladimir Putin, who has Europe’s energy market by the throat.

Britain is on track to spend a staggering £2 billion on imported liquefied natural gas from Russia this year as war rages in Ukraine.

A worker holds a segment of Bowland Shale from which shale gas can be extracted


A worker holds a segment of Bowland Shale from which shale gas can be extractedPhoto credit: Getty
Beneath Lancashire and Yorkshire lies one of the world's finest natural gas reservoirs - known as the Bowland Shale


Beneath Lancashire and Yorkshire lies one of the world’s finest natural gas reservoirs – known as the Bowland Shale

Household bills are set to skyrocket even more than they already have – and could reach £3,000 a year.

That’s what happens when you depend on imported foreign energy.

And what makes it even crazier is that we don’t have to do that. We have supplies here.

Beneath Lancashire and Yorkshire lies one of the world’s finest natural gas reservoirs, known as the Bowland Shale.

At current prices, just 10 per cent of this gas is worth several trillions of pounds and could supply Britain with gas for five decades.

And we’ll need gas for decades, whatever happens: to power wind farms, heat homes, and make vital chemicals for industry.

Last year I asked a Texas gas expert who has drilled the Bowland Shale how it compares to American shale gas reserves.

“It’s a lot better than what we have in the US,” he replied, “better than the Haynesville in Louisiana or the Marcellus in Pennsylvania, thicker and richer in gasoline.”

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The technology to get the gas out is proven, safe and constantly being improved. So why don’t we tap into this treasure?

Because wealthy, noble Southerners went north to protest, and the government caved in.

The technology is usually referred to as “fracking” but that is misleading. Hydraulic fracking has been taking place in oil and gas wells for decades, including in the UK.

What has changed over the past decade is that it has been combined with horizontal drilling and has become cleaner and more effective.

The latest technology promises to develop shale gas without fracking.

In 1997, Nick Steinsberger of Mitchell Energy almost accidentally attempted to crack shale rock a mile underground using water instead of gel and discovered a recipe for getting gas to flow from the gas’s source rocks, the shale rocks.

The anti-frackers like to call this recipe “toxic chemicals” and imply that it could poison aquifers (areas of rock underground that absorb and hold water), but that’s nonsense.

The water is mixed with sand and a small amount of soap and bleach, the kind you keep under your kitchen sink.

It’s pumped about a mile deep, well below the aquifers and into rocks that are, by definition, full of methane, ethane and petroleum, so already ‘toxic’.

The result of Steinsberger’s breakthrough was that within a few years America became the world’s largest gas producer Russia.

It went from importing to exporting gas and giving itself some of the lowest gas prices in the world – now less than a quarter of ours.

When I first visited the Marcellus Shale site in 2011 to understand what was going on there, experts here said this shale boom was flash in the pan, wouldn’t last long and couldn’t cope with low gas prices.

The government has collapsed

You were wrong.

A few years later I was back in Colorado watching Liberty Oil & Gas produce gas from new sources profitably and much more quietly at low prices.

The property was right next to a housing estate. “Aren’t local residents concerned about vibration and noise?” I asked.

I was told that they put up monitors and asked to be informed when fracking would start and then called back a few days later to say “why didn’t you start when you announced it?”

“But we,” replied the gas company, “didn’t you find anything?”

That American shale gas exploration is in the middle of nowhere is a myth: Steinsberger started it in the suburbs of Fort Worth, Texas.

Almost everything Friends of the Earth and its eco-Luvvie folks say about shale gas is a myth.

It does not cause water to catch fire, poison aquifers, spill contaminated sewage, increase radioactivity, or cause “earthquakes.”

Small tremors happen in any kind of underground work, but in the UK shale gas companies like Cuadrilla were told to stop if they caused a tremor of 0.5 on the Richter scale, which is equivalent to someone sitting hard in a chair , and much weaker than what coal mining or geothermal energy – or even road and rail transport – constantly do.

Why the double standards?

Those who protest against shale gas are often fans of wind farms.

But these pour more concrete (a carbon-intensive material), use more steel (ditto), spoil more prospects, require more subsidies, and most importantly, take up a lot more land.

A single shale pad with 40 drill holes spreading in all directions covers a few acres.

To produce that much energy, a wind farm would have to be 1,500 times bigger – and on a windless day it’s useless.

Britain imports shale gas from America, but – unlike oil – transport adds massively to gas costs and carbon footprint.

The government has wrongly imposed a moratorium on shale gas, ordered the closure of wells and repeated its dogmatic objections to developing Britain’s shale treasure at a time when war in Europe is heightening the need for energy security.

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Cuadrilla's Preston New Road shale gas site


Cuadrilla’s Preston New Road shale gas sitePhoto credit: Getty
Matt Ridley says:


Matt Ridley says: “We’re going to need gas for decades, whatever happens: to power wind farms, heat homes and make vital chemicals for industry.” Britain is sitting on a gas goldmine that would flash bills and the Putin monopoly


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