Shale Gas exploration is a key issue in my constituency. Exploration licenses have been granted to five different operators in Thirsk & Malton, covering the vast majority of my patch. I receive dozens of letters and emails about it every week and care passionately that, if fracking goes ahead, it is to the great advantage, not disadvantage of my constituents.
The environmental reasons for moving from coal to gas are compelling. Global CO2 emissions declined in 2015, principally due to reduced coal usage in China and the US. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the US Environmental Protection Agency both credit the majority of the US reduction to shale.
The WHO recently declared that air quality was a state of emergency in many countries; it costs the EU a staggering £1trillion and approximately 600,000 premature deaths. Diesel cars and coal-fired power stations must become things of the past.
Geopolitically, domestically produced shale can help us develop a more effective foreign policy. Despite growing turmoil in the Middle East, energy prices are falling. The markets have realised that the West has its own energy solution. 10% of the predicted UK reserves would meet our gas needs for forty years.
Reports by the IoD and EY indicate that shale could provide 64,000 jobs and £33bn of domestic investment; domestic being the operative word. In my constituency we have many world class engineering businesses and a first-class training organisation called DTA who specialise in training top engineers. These businesses can be the shale innovators of the future, taking the industry forward, making it cleaner and more efficient. For example, it’s possible to convert methane to hydrogen, a carbon-free fossil fuel.
Some would argue that a new fossil fuel is a backward step and that it is preventing the energy industry from innovating, particularly stifling a move to renewables. I disagree. Yes, renewables should be part of the future, but subsidies will only hold back their efficacy.
Think of the technology sector. Deep Blue is the machine best known for defeating world chess champion Garry Kasparov in 1997. A modern smartphone is 30 times more powerful than Deep Blue; all developed without government intervention or subsidy. Shouldn’t government simply set the parameters for CO2 emissions and air quality and then let industry deliver the solutions? Hasn’t this got to be a better solution than paying homeowners unsustainable amounts of money to put a solar panel on their roof?
Of course, we can only contemplate exploration if it is compatible with rural daily life. Last Autumn, I paid a visit at my own expense to Pennsylvania to speak to local people, the US regulators, academics, protestors and operators about the impacts on the economy, communities and the environment. I did not see significant, widespread industrialization but did see a healthy supply chain who were clearly benefitting from this new industry. However, we do need to learn from early regulatory failures and carefully plan for the cumulative impacts of the industry. We need a single regulator to make sure that there is a clear line of accountability, independent monitoring and, crucially, a rolling five-year local plan to co-ordinate activities.
This is an opportunity we can’t afford to ignore. We can all benefit from a clean, low cost, low carbon, home-grown energy source that will support domestic businesses, create local well-paid jobs and make our economy and nation strong for generations to come.
Kevin Hollinrake is the Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton