Why bury bad news when you can frack it?

Conflating resources with reserves is the oldest elision in the energy huckster’s lexicon.

But what’s a poor government to do after having to announce yet another round of spending cuts because (whisper it) growth is over.

So yesterday the British Geological Survey (a sub-branch of gov.uk’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) stepped up with news that shale gas resources in the north of England could be twice as big as previously estimated.

It worked like a charm. It always does. Throwing a big number at the UK’s mainstream media is like chucking a crate of sweets at a primary school class. Cor! One thousand three hundred trillion cubic feet of shale gas!

The sole purpose of the exercise was to generate big headlines like the Guardian’s Britain’s shale gas deposits ‘could supply country for 25 years’. Yes siree! It’s all good news, consumers. Go back to sleepwalking.

But it’s a very odd story even by the today’s standards of run-of-the-mill government lying and manipulation. Professor Mike Stephenson, head of energy at the BGS, had to deny that the BGS had been leant on by gov.uk to come up with a large number.

Reporting the story also seems to have pushed the BBC’s news-poodle tendencies to the limit. Its story was at pains to highlight the difference between resources and reserves. It also pointed out that:

The report for the government comes as energy regulator Ofgem warned that the risks of power blackouts has increased because excess capacity in the power industry has fallen in the UK.

The watchdog has twice warned in recent months that the amount of spare power is shrinking, partly due to some gas generators being taken out of service.

Hmmm. Dunno about your maths but to me “25 years’ gas supply” + “gas generators taken out of service” = WTF?

This story is fundamentally part of the huge turn that industrial civilisation is making. The turn away from almost endless energy from plentiful, cheap fossil sources.

Fracking well being drilled

In terms of our civilisation’s needs, fracking is a desperate measure. The US ‘shale revolution’ is already beginning to roll over because they can’t afford to punch new wells fast enough to keep output growing and new investment rolling in. They’re closing in on the  point where the Ponzi pops.

Ugly veinous pinchushion

Even if the vales and dales of northern England end up thickly spotted with frack pads and service roads like an ugly, veinous pincushion (which they will in order to extract meaningful amounts of gas), fracking’s impact on the UK’s economic trajectory will be useful but far less dramatic than the government’s spinners would like us to believe.

Mass aviation? Forget it, counsels Solar Impulse pilot

As the Solar Impulse electric plane nears the end of its fraught, £73 million trans-America flight, project leader Bertand Piccard has some wise words for starry-eyed techno optimists:

“What we are doing with the Solar Impulse is not for the goal of making a revolution in air transport,” said Piccard. “But the Solar Impulse does have a goal of having a revolution in the mindset of the people.”

(The Guardian)

Solar Impulse at night

Solar Impulse proving flight. © Solar Impulse | Jean Revillard

Yes, the revolutionary realisation that, without the cheap liquid fuels of the past 100 years, most future options for long distance travel will be slow and expensive. And some, like mass aviation, will be impossible.  Enjoy it while it lasts.

No good choices for Britain

What happens when an owner no longer sees much reason to maintain a special relationship with one of his pets?

Immanuel Wallerstein of the Fernand Braudel Center at Binghamton University, NY, writes in his latest commentary:

“Britain’s Search for a Post-Hegemonic Identity”

Ever since 1945, Great Britain has been trying, with considerable difficulty, to adjust to the role of erstwhile hegemonic power. One has to appreciate how difficult this is, both psychologically and politically. It seems today as if the dilemmas of its political strategy have finally imploded, and it is faced with choices that are all bad.

Do read the whole piece.

No FT. (No) comment

Today’s Financial Times email news alert led with a below-par piece of reporting on a bit of desk research by the US Department of Energy.

FT Shale Oil Clipping

No mention either in the headline or first half of the article of the enormous caveats surrounding shale oil’s potential flow rates and profitability. Readers duly shredded the piece in comments but it will be surprising if the FT follows up with more nuanced coverage.

Along with the laughable ‘impending US energy independence’ canard, which regularly pops up as a fact in BBC business news, shale is the great white hope of the ever-more-investment-starved oil and gas businesses, not to mention Wall Street firms servicing pensions funds who desperately need ponzi-level returns to stay afloat.

Investors should read the comments and weep, but it’s a safe bet most of them just read the headline and smiled. Job done FT.