Hydraulic fracking in the United States. Britain's response to shale gas would resemble Nigeria, not the US
According to the Daily Telegraph, the chief executive of Centrica, the company that owns British Gas, Mr Sam Laidlaw, said at Davos that hopes were misplaced that development of shale gas deposits in Britain would be a miracle solution to the country's declining North Sea oil production, and "a game-changer" for the British economy. This was in marked contrast to the United States, where the recovery of shale gas has lowered energy costs to US manufacturers and turned the country into a net exporter of energy.
Mr Laidlaw cited several reasons for his pessimism; for example the environmentalist opposition to shale gas extraction, the density of the population in the gas-bearing area, the lack of infrastructure to distribute the gas and the absence of political will to overcome difficulties, political and other.
However, it seems to me that Mr Laidlaw misses the point about shale gas and why it will not be, for Britain, what he calls in his horrible cliché "a game-changer". It would not be a "game-changer" even if it were developed to the full; rather it would be a game-preserver. It would hold back change rather than promote it.
Why is this? Surely cheap energy and vast tax revenues would transform our prospects?
For Britain to hope that the exploitation of a natural resource would rescue its ailing economy seems to me like a man who purchases lottery tickets in the hope that they will secure his old age. Britain is not Kuwait, where a valuable natural resource is so abundant by comparison with the size of the population that all it would have to do to be prosperous is to pay someone else to do the work, sit back and relax as the revenues rolled in. This is an impossible dream — or nightmare.
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