The primary causes of energy bill increases since 2004 is the upsurge in the international price of gas. Yet today, as the Energy Secretary somewhat cautiously announces he will allow Cuadrilla Resources to restart shale gas fracking in Lancashire (suspended in May 2011 after two earthquakes), the Committee on Climate Change reports that pursuing the Chancellor’s dash for gas will push up the cost of consumers’ energy bills compared to the development of renewables.
Gas price rises on global markets account for two-thirds (62%) of the increase in the typical household energy bill since 2004 - the red bar in the table - according to the Committee on Climate Change. To a lesser extent, bills have also risen to pay for investment in new pipe and cable networks. Support for energy efficiency improvement added £50 to average bills. Last of all, renewables of all sorts added £35 (10%) a year to average bills.
The government’s independent advisers on climate change policy also point out that long-term increases in the wholesale price of gas and carbon taxes on fossil fuels would add £120 to household bills in the 2020s, compared with the low carbon power strategy recommended by the Committee on Climate Change.
Blasting ahead with gas
The Energy Secretary’s Written Statement today is a cautious “Yes, but” to frackers. It sets out an approach to each of the main issues presented by shale gas fracking - the deep extraction of natural gas from rock through high pressure injections of water and chemicals, supported by detonations. These are some of the cautions involved:
- New controls on seismic risks, in addition to existing regulatory controls.
- Consent to new fracking proposals for shale gas, where all other necessary planning and other permissions and consents are in place. “As this is a developing area of knowledge, I stress that we will be moving forward with appropriate caution. The controls are not at this stage to be regarded as definitive, but as appropriate precautionary measures for our present state of knowledge.”
- Operators will make monitoring data promptly available to the public.
- Waste water from the operations in Lancashire contained low levels of radioactivity. A radiological assessment is required in support of any application for a permit for the disposal of radioactive waste.
- Cuadrilla’s response to the occurrence of the tremors “demonstrated weaknesses in its management of environmental risks.” A board member will have specific responsibility for health and safety measures.
- DECC has also commissioned a study into the possible impacts of shale gas extraction on greenhouse gas emissions.
Friends of the Earth executive director Andy Atkins warned that, “Communities up and down the country will be disturbed by this reckless decision, which threatens to contaminate our air and water and undermine national climate targets.”