‘We’re screaming out’ Expert pinpoints key way UK can take back control of energy supply

Ashworth discusses fracking and renewable energy

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Mark Maslin, professor of geography at UCL and author of ‘How to Save the Planet: The Facts’, told the “more sensible” option than fracking was “having renewable energy within your country, allowing you to manage your own energy resources”. This was something experts had been “screaming at the Government” for 15 years, he said.

A worldwide natural gas shortage last year and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have driven prices of fossil fuels higher in recent months.

This has in turn put pressure on the cost of living, as energy bills soar.

Some politicians on the right have suggested the UK could bring back fracking for shale gas, which it temporarily paused in November 2019 after the activity was linked to seismic activity.

Steve Baker, a former Brexit minister, said those who “allowed our shale gas to remain in the ground” should “hang their heads in shame” following Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

Rupert Lowe, a former MEP for the Brexit Party, said: “Johnson should immediately lift the ban on fracking.

“It will have to happen sooner or later, so just get on with it now.”

But, according to Professor Maslin, restarting fracking is not as simple as it might at first seem. He explained that to do so would require a great deal of time and manpower.

Greg Hands, an energy minister, suggested shale gas “could be part of our future energy mix, but we need to be led by the science and have the support of local communities”.

As such, “shale gas is not the solution to near-term issues”.

New methods of extracting shale gas, supposed to be more eco-friendly than fracking, have been mooted as possible alternatives.

But, Professor Maslin said these plans are “pie in the sky” as “they sound good on paper, but they haven’t been done at scale”.

He suggested it might take between five and 10 years to have new methods of accessing shale gas operable.

Professor Maslin said: “If you talk to any industrialist, or any engineer, [they will tell you that] getting things absolutely the way you want, it takes a lot of time.”

Perhaps the largest issue of using fracking as a short-term solution is that, according to Professor Maslin, the activity would not be able to yield enough energy to plug the gap.

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He said: “The problem with fracking is, it seems to be a simple way of filling that gap due to expensive gas. But actually, it’s a really small amount.

“If you actually start looking at the figures, the amount of money you can produce from fracking is incredibly small compared with the amount we use.”

Professor Maslin said that, for many, “the fracking debate is just the fossil fuel industry, and particular politicians, wanting to delay the move away from fossil fuels”.

He noted how the Government had now passed the Climate Change Act, which enshrines into law that the UK must have net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and that a climate change committee sets out five-yearly targets the Government must meet.

In order for the Government to keep its net zero commitments and have security of the country’s energy, Professor Maslin said those like him had been “screaming at the Government” for years that the country needed its own domestic “renewable energy revolution”.

He said money the Government had “wasted” on Covid spending alone could boost the renewable energy sector in Britain, “which will generate more and more jobs”.

Professor Maslin said the Government did not even have to commit funding to renewable projects, but have the “right incentives” or tax breaks.

Harnessing renewable power already in the country to plug the current energy gap just required some “desperately important thinking”.

Professor Maslin added: “Energy security is about having renewable energy within your country, allowing you to manage your own energy resources, made sure it is at a price that you want people to pay – and therefore you aren’t beholden to Russian gas, Saudi oil, and other countries.”

He added: “Going net zero will save [the Government] money, make people healthier [….] and, of course, generate more wealth.”

When asked to comment, a spokesperson for the Department for Business, Industry and Industrial Strategy said: “Over the past 12 years, the UK has increased renewable capacity connected to the grid by 500 per cent – more than any other government in British history – as a result of £90 billion investment.

“To ensure greater clean energy independence for Britain, we will shortly set out an energy security strategy which will further supercharge our renewable energy and nuclear capacity, while supporting our North Sea oil and gas industry.

“Ultimately, the more cheap, clean power we generate at home, the less exposed we’ll be to expensive fossil fuel prices set by global markets.”

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