Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Net Zero Watch: Boris Johnson sets up energy crisis task force


In this newsletter:

1) Now Boris maps his way OUT of Net Zero agenda: PM sets up oil and gas taskforce to plot a way out of the energy crisis 
Mail on Sunday, 13 March 2022
2) If Boris lifts the fracking ban UK could be pumping shale gas this year
Mail on Sunday, 13 March 2022

3) Cuadrilla calls for fracking support now before wells are capped with concrete
The Sunday Telegraph, 13 March 2022

4) Energy crisis: PM handed 'cake and eat it' plan to cut Russian ties and slash home bills
Sunday Express, 13 March 2022

5) North Sea oil revival gains support
The Sunday Times, 13 March 2022

6) UK households face £38bn hit from rising energy bills
Financial Times, 12 March 2022

7) Benny Peiser: More renewables will make energy crisis even worse
GB News, 13 March 2022

8) Liam Halligan: Fracking deserves a second chance after the mess we've made of energy security
The Sunday Telegraph, 13 March 2022

9) Did Putin plot with eco-warriors to halt Britain's fracking and keep us all hooked on his gas? 
Mail on Sunday, 13 March 2022

10) Europe ramps up coal burning with natural gas out of favor
Bloomberg, 11 March 2022

Full details:

1) Now Boris maps his way OUT of Net Zero agenda: PM sets up oil and gas taskforce to plot a way out of the energy crisis 
Mail on Sunday, 13 March 2022

Boris Johnson will set up an energy task force to bolster the UK's oil, gas and nuclear supplies as he plots a way out of the energy crisis.

Two senior industry experts at its head will report directly to the Prime Minister and advise on a 'transition period' focusing on fossil fuels – as the Government signals its clearest move yet away from the Net Zero target.

Sources said the task force has the twin aim of boosting the UK's energy self-sufficiency in the wake of the war in Ukraine and keeping household energy bills down.

Government insiders have privately admitted the Government's focus on decarbonising the economy by 2050 has to be dropped in the short term.

It comes as the Prime Minister stressed the need for Europe to rid itself of its dependency on Russian oil and gas, and Ministers grapple with spiralling heating costs.

'We don't want to be at the mercy of brutal dictators like Putin,' said a source familiar with the plan.

One insider said: 'Net Zero is dead.' Another said a clear directive against the 'green agenda' and away from Net Zero has been set by political strategist Sir Lynton Crosby, who has been advising the Prime Minister.

Last night, a senior Downing Street source insisted the Net Zero 2050 target has not been scrapped and was still the ultimate goal. But they admitted that in the short term the focus will shift back to fossil fuels to ease the pain for British households.

This will include oil and gas from the North Sea and Canada, while fracking is also now on the table.

The source insisted, though, that 'in the long term the goal is still the same' on renewable energy and Net Zero.

The new task force is also expected to produce actionable plans for boosting the UK's use of solar and wind power and nuclear energy – developing 'more reliable home-grown British energy'.

However, the source added the pursuit of Net Zero would be out of 'practical necessity, not lofty green commitments'.

The task force will be 'very action-focused', sources said, with its two experts empowered to 'cut through' Civil Service red tape and bring together the Treasury, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Department and planning departments. Two candidates – one academic and another involved in energy finance – are in discussions for the positions.

The roles have been modelled in part on Kate Bingham, who was brought in to chair the UK vaccine task force in 2020.

Downing Street Chief of Staff Steve Barclay will chair a Cabinet sub-committee focusing on revamping energy policy.

Last week, The Mail on Sunday revealed that Nigel Farage was launching a campaign for a referendum on the 2050 target.

It comes as MPs and peers have urged the Government to open the door to commercial fracking to exploit the UK's shale gas reserves and help reduce its dependence on foreign gas. The calls have been backed by Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Nearly 40 members of the Tory Net Zero Security Group have written to the Prime Minister to urge him to stop the UK's two shale gas wells being concreted over this week.

Civil servants have been accused by Government insiders of being 'too risk-averse' and 'institutional' in their approach to fracking.

Critics say uncertainty over fracking generating enough energy is outweighed by its environmental risks.

The Prime Minister will launch his energy strategy as part of a push to refocus on the domestic agenda. Mr Johnson has told aides: 'We cannot let war become the new Covid.'

He is said to regard the UK's increased flow of weapons to eastern European countries to see off the Kremlin threat as a chance to boost jobs – especially in Red Wall seats.

2) Fracking firm: If Boris lifts the ban we could be pumping shale gas this year
Mail on Sunday, 13 March 2022

Extracting natural gas from shale rocks could begin within a year if the Government lifts its controversial ban, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

Energy exploration firm IGas has said it could prepare a planning application within weeks for a location in Nottinghamshire which could heat up to 125,000 homes.

It added that, with Government help to speed up the process, it could begin a 'commercial pilot' in as little as nine months after approval was received – producing gas that would be useable in homes.

A ban on pumping natural gas out of shale rocks, known as fracking, has been in place since 2019 after an outcry over earthquakes in Lancashire linked to a pioneering site run by the Cuadrilla company.

The ban effectively shut down Britain's fracking industry and Cuadrilla's wells are due to be sealed permanently in weeks.

But with Britain facing an energy crisis, Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week reopened the door to shale oil extraction.

Following Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, spikes in oil and gas prices have triggered a debate on how the UK can become less reliant on energy from overseas.

A clutch of political figures have called for a fresh look at fracking – which involves pumping sand, water and chemicals into rocks at high pressure to release trapped gas or oil – and advocates of the industry made the case for shale gas at a presentation in the House of Commons last week.

The Mail on Sunday understands that Tory former Transport Minister Chris Grayling and Conservative MP Miriam Cates were among those in attendance at the event.

The presentation by trade body UK Onshore Oil and Gas, seen by the MoS, claims fracking in Britain could create 64,000 jobs and trigger £33billion of investment. Failure to develop UK shale gas will see £260billion of capital sent overseas, it claims.

IGas had been developing a shale site at Springs Road in Misson, Nottinghamshire, before the 2019 moratorium.

Planning permission for the site ran out in 2020 and an application to extend it was refused. IGas plans to formally close the site at the end of the year. It is estimated that if the site was fully developed, it could create ten wells producing between 60billion and 80billion cubic feet of shale gas in total.

IGas development director Ross Glover said a planning application could be submitted as early as next month if the moratorium were lifted.

He added: 'There is a significant need for gas and we believe we can help, and much quicker than we originally thought. But we need a streamlined regulatory system which will enable us to get this going.'

Charles McAllister, policy manager of UK Onshore Oil and Gas, said: 'A lifting of the moratorium would not be enough. The Government would need to make sure the planning and permit regimes do not inhibit development.' The industry has argued that the impact on the environment is not as significant as some fear and that extraction techniques have improved.

But a softening attitude towards fracking would probably cause a public backlash and anti-fracking campaigners have threatened to stage protests if the moratorium is lifted.

IGas shares shot up 62 per cent last week – in part due to hopes the fracking ban may be overturned. IGas is worth a modest £36million. Energy giants such as BP and Shell have shunned British shale.

The renewed focus on fracking comes as Cuadrilla prepares to seal its two wells in Lancashire this week. The Government's Oil and Gas Authority has set a legal deadline of June 30 to seal the wells with concrete, which is estimated to take two to three months. Cuadrilla is urging the Government to withdraw the instruction.

Life peer Lord Lilley, who attended the Westminster event, called for the Government to move quickly to allow fracking in Britain. He told the MoS: 'Just do it.'

He said Britain is 'the only country in Western Europe sitting on massive gas reserves' while at the same time proposing to cement over the top of fresh wells.

'People say Putin's gone mad, but over there they must be thinking we have caught the same infection,' he added.

3) Cuadrilla calls for fracking support now before wells are capped with concrete
The Sunday Telegraph, 13 March 2022

Almost 40 Conservative MPs and peers issued an eleventh-hour plea to Boris Johnson last week to reverse his plans

Boris Johnson and Kwasi Kwarteng have been accused of failing to match their "rhetoric" with "action" on a possible relaxation of the fracking ban.

Cuadrilla, the energy firm due to seal two of the country's only viable shale gas wells this week, said the Business Department had failed to take any action to lift the deadline by which it has been told that the wells must be plugged with concrete.

Francis Egan, the company's chief executive officer, said officials "must be instructed to stop dragging their heels and frustrating the Government’s wishes" in order to stop the wells being plugged within days, despite being "eminently useful".

His intervention comes after Mr Kwarteng told the Commons that "it did not necessarily make any sense to concrete over the wells" at the Preston New Road site in Lancashire.

It was separately reported that the Prime Minister wants his ministers to look again at whether fracking, which has been under a "moratorium" for more than two years, can help diversify the country’s energy supply.

Last week, almost 40 Conservative MPs and peers issued an eleventh-hour plea to Mr Johnson to reverse the plans, insisting that Britain must embark on a "national mission" to secure its energy independence.

Despite Mr Kwarteng's remarks in the Commons, a deadline enforced by the Oil and Gas Authority requires the wells to be plugged by June 30.

Cuadrilla says it needs to start the process this week to meet that deadline, due to the scale and complexity of the task.

Cuadrilla is understood to be free to apply for an extension to the deadline, but the company wants to take Mr Kwarteng up on his suggestion that it can avoid concreting the wells altogether, rather than simply delay the move.

Mr Egan said: "Unfortunately the Government is failing to match its rhetoric with action. Since Wednesday BEIS and the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) have been repeatedly contacted by and on behalf of Cuadrilla to discuss how to give practical effect to the Prime Minister and Secretary of State’s statements.

"The only clear and unambiguous response from these verbal and written contacts has been verbal confirmation from the OGA that June 30 remains the legal deadline to plug both wells with cement. The OGA verbally advised it would be in no position to reverse that until it received a clear instruction from the Business Department."

4) Energy crisis: PM handed 'cake and eat it' plan to cut Russian ties and slash home bills
Sunday Express, 13 March 2022

BORIS JOHNSON has been handed a plan to escape the energy crisis by focusing on Britain's own domestic resources, which an expert has claimed could help scupper the UK's remaining ties with Vladimir Putin.

The West is scrambling to slash its energy ties with Russia as it persists with its brutal invasion of Ukraine. The UK has now committed to phasing out oil imports by the end of the year. And the EU's plot to slash Putin's oil and gas was detailed in its new energy strategy was published yesterday. But worryingly, Russia warned it could "mirror" the EU's threat by completely cutting off all its gas, 40 percent of which account for the EU's total gas imports.

While Britain only relies on Russia for around five percent of its gas imports, lower European supplies can send prices skyrocketing globally.

Some analysts have also suggested Britain may import up to £2billion worth of liquified natural gas (LNG) from Russia this year.

More price rises are particularly worrying as energy bills have already been soaring for millions of households in Britain, with the price cap (maximum tariff) set to soar by 50 percent to £2,000 in April.

And there are fears this could rise again to a staggering £3,000 in October.

But Mr Johnson has been handed a plan to help soften the blow.

Brandon Weichert, geopolitical analyst and author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower, told "People have to understand that prices in energy markets fluctuate because of volatility.

"If there is a relatively predictable, stable flow of oil and natural gas getting safely to consumers globally then prices remain stable (and relatively low).

"If supplies are disrupted, either through policy actions (like sanctions) or other disruptions, then usually prices start to spike.

"By taking Russian energy off the market with nothing to replace it, you are effectively ensuring that everyone will suffer through high – and increasing – prices at the pump."

"Yet, if countries seeking to deny the world access to affordable Russian fossil fuel sources had plans at the ready to expedite the exploration and development of oil and natural gas within their territory, then over time the price of energy would become more palatable to consumers.

"The West could effectively have its cake and it eat it – cutting off Russian energy without suffering too badly at the pump."

And it appears that Britain may do just that.

Mr Johnson has been urged to access Britain's natural reserves by 34 members of his own party who called for the 2019 ban on fracking to be lifted.

The MPs are being led by Craig Mackinlay and Steve Baker, the chairman and deputy chairman of the Conservative Net Zero Scrutiny Group.

Lee Anderson, MP for Ashfield, said: “At a time of increasing insecurity over fuel supplies, we should be using the huge shale gas resources right under our feet."

But after coming under fire, Mr Johnson agreed to take a look at using more domestic energy resources as part of an "energy supply strategy".

Mr Wiechert said: "If Mr Johnson followed through on his calls to develop British natural gas and oil within British territory, this action could have seriously positive impacts on helping to alleviate the obscenely high cost of energy in the world markets today.

"The move would also absolutely slash the need for Russian energy as British sources would be more than sufficient for meeting Britain's demand."

5) North Sea oil revival gains support
The Sunday Times, 13 March 2022

Leading oil economists have said that approving new North Sea developments will “significantly reduce” the need for gas imports and increase the UK’s energy independence.

First minister Nicola Sturgeon and her government coalition partner, Greens leader Patrick Harvie, have rejected calls to support increased production in the North Sea as disruption caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has driven gas prices to unprecedented levels and pushed oil to a 14-year high.

Boris Johnson believes new fossil fuel development is needed to help reduce energy bills. The prime minister is due to announce a new strategy for national energy independence this week including a push for increased developments in North Sea oil and gas, new nuclear power, and extra renewable energy.

There are a number of gas field developments awaiting approval in the central and southern North Sea.

But speaking last week, Sturgeon said it “would take months if not years” to raise North Sea production.

She said: “We shouldn’t go after solutions that might sound superficially attractive but don’t stand scrutiny around the practicalities and the realities.”

However, Alex Kemp, professor of petroleum economics at Aberdeen University, and one of the world’s most respected oil economists, said: “Any increase in our domestic output is worthwhile.”

Kemp said: “The fields awaiting approval would reduce imports significantly if they are given the go-ahead. They wouldn’t eliminate the need for imports entirely, but they would significantly enhance our energy security.”

He added “The delay in giving these fields the go- ahead is due to the prolonged process for approval, due to environmental considerations, which include concerns about emissions from oil and gas production.”

Mike Fulwood, senior research fellow with the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, said there were six developments in the pipeline, which if approved, could reduce gas imports by up to 15 per cent a year.

The UK already imports more than half its gas from countries including Norway, Qatar and Russia.

Last week the UK government said it was “exploring options” to end Russian gas imports, which account for about 4 per cent of supply. It will also phase out the import of Russian oil, which accounts for 8 per cent of domestic use, this year.

Kemp said: “Developing these fields would also create much-needed jobs in the sector and employment in its supply chain in the northeast, and these people are having a hard time at the moment,” adding that increased North Sea output would also add considerably to UK tax revenues.”

Critics argue that new oil and gas licences for the North Sea are incompatible with the UK’s international climate commitments.

Amid soaring wholesale energy prices and increased household bills, the Labour Party has called for a windfall tax on large oil and gas firms.

However, the industry insists such a move will harm future investment in the North Sea, one of the most expensive basins to drill in.

6) UK households face £38bn hit from rising energy bills
Financial Times, 12 March 2022

UK households face a £38bn hit to their budgets from an expected doubling in electricity and gas bills following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to new analysis highlighting the intensifying cost of living crunch.

The big increase in the cost of heating and lighting homes in 2022-23 will be the equivalent of a 6p rise in the basic rate of income tax, said Aurora Energy Research, a consultancy.

The majority of the UK’s 28.5mn households are due to see their annual energy bills exceed £3,000 from October after the surge in wholesale electricity and gas prices, according to economists at Investec and Goldman Sachs.

The anticipated hit to household budgets will heap pressure on chancellor Rishi Sunak to impose a windfall tax on British energy producers that profit when they can sell gas and oil extracted from North Sea fields at much higher prices.

Rising wholesale prices for gas and electricity last year prompted Ofgem, the regulator, to raise the energy price cap from £1,277 for those households with average gas and electricity usage to £1,971 from April.

The 54 per cent increase in the cap, which applies to the majority of families, resulted in Sunak promising a £200 loan to households to be issued in October and then repaid over the subsequent four years, plus a £150 rebate on council tax bills for those in property bands A to D.

Rising wholesale gas and electricity prices since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are “baking in” a higher cap for the coming winter, said Dan Monzani, UK managing director at Aurora Energy Research.

Economists at Investec and Goldman have estimated that Ofgem will need to impose another 50 per cent plus increase in the cap from October, pushing average household energy bills over £3,000.

Monzani estimated that for the households connected to the power grid, such an increase in the cap would push the likely cost of aggregate electricity and gas consumption to £74bn in 2022-23, some £38bn more than in 2021-22.

“That’s the equivalent of 6p on the basic rate of income tax, but with the money never getting to the Treasury,” said Monzani. “It’s a hugely substantial impact, especially on lower-income households.”

That has raised expectations that Sunak will use the spring statement on March 23 to set out further measures to alleviate the pressure on household energy bills.

Downing Street has sought options from the business department, which recommended doubling the £200 loan and delaying the point when households start repaying the money.

However, government officials played down the idea that Sunak would make an announcement on energy bills this month given that the next change in the regulatory price cap will not be announced until August, and not take effect until October.

Officials said energy prices have been fluctuating wildly in recent weeks, making it impossible to predict where they will be by the summer.

One confirmed the Treasury was looking at ways to provide more help for households but said: “It’s not a live discussion with any expectation of an imminent announcement.”

Sunak has rejected calls for a windfall tax on oil and gas producers because of concerns it could reduce investment in the North Sea.

The Labour party on Thursday reiterated its case for a windfall tax to help mitigate rising bills for struggling families.

Ed Miliband, shadow energy secretary, said the case for the one-off levy had been strengthened in recent days. “Oil and gas companies were already set to make record profits and now these will be even higher than originally thought,” he added.

7) Benny Peiser: More renewables will make energy crisis even worse
GB News, 13 March 2022


'The idea that we increase the percentage of renewables to replace gas is really naive.'
Director of Net Zero Watch, Dr Benny Peiser, gives his views on whether there should be a review of the UK's ban on fracking amid the current energy crisis.
Click here to watch

8) Liam Halligan: Fracking deserves a second chance after the mess we've made of energy security
The Sunday Telegraph, 13 March 2022

Lifting the moratorium could better protect Britain from spiralling prices

Boris Johnson has described Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a “moment of great clarity”. The Prime Minister, like the rest of our political class, is now all too aware of the dangers of western Europe relying too heavily on Russian oil and gas.

As petrol and diesel prices spiral, with utility bills set to spike even more, the UK’s long-term energy security – typically a subject for academics and other specialists – has raced to the top of the domestic political agenda.

“We need alternative sources of energy that are cheaper and less vulnerable to the whims of a dictator,” a government source tells me. Could those alternatives now include shale gas extracted using a controversial technique called fracking.

Fracking involves pumping water and chemicals into tight underground rock formations under huge pressure. Environmentalists claim that causes serious earth tremors and threatens local water supplies. Fracking enthusiasts counter that the long-standing drilling method, widely used across the US, has been “smeared” by well-funded campaigners.

Keen to burnish his Government’s green credentials, Johnson placed a moratorium on fracking in November 2019 – which remains in place. Yet the impact of this Russia-Ukraine conflict on energy prices, and a new sense of energy insecurity, means that ban could soon be lifted.

While western armed forces aren’t fighting alongside Ukraine, the UK, US and the European Union have imposed stiff restrictions on Russian trade and finance. That’s sparked a full-on economic conflict between Russia and the West, causing turmoil on global energy markets.

Russia provides around 40pc of the natural gas used across western Europe while pumping 10pc of the world’s entire oil supply. Whether we like it or not, the Kremlin controls an energy superpower.

Oil prices have almost doubled from $70 a barrel in December, hitting $138 last week. Gas has spiralled even more, with European wholesale prices recently at €335 a megawatt hour, up from €16 a year ago – a staggering 21-fold rise.

The price of most commodities has rising steadily since mid-2021, as production slowdowns during the pandemic met a demand bounce-back as global lockdowns were lifted. But this invasion has sent markets into orbit.

Britain’s still significant North Sea output makes us less vulnerable than EU nations like Germany. But we still buy energy on global markets, so spiralling prices affect UK firms and households just as hard.

Already, petrol has climbed from an average of 147p a litre in January to 165p now. Diesel has soared even more, with prices exceeding 200p a litre in some areas. Spiking wholesale gas obviously means paying more for heating and electricity too.

Since last October, the average household fuel bill has been capped at £1,277 per year. That increases to £1,970 next month – almost £700 more – after Ofgem raised the price cap back in February. But war-related turbulence means average bills could exceed £3,000 a year from this autumn, when the price cap is reviewed again.

In a bid to hit Moscow’s finances, US politicians have banned energy imports from Russia, with Britain and the EU to some extent following suit. That could send oil “above $300 a barrel”, warned the Kremlin, more than double even today’s elevated prices.

Russia is also now threatening to close the 1,200km Nord Stream pipeline which, since 2011, has pumped gas to Germany. Even during the Cold War, the Soviets didn’t block gas exports to the West.

This East-West economic war extends way beyond energy – not least to food. Russia is a major producer of wheat and others crops, millions of tons of which are shipped via the Black Sea, which is now mired in conflict. Many leading sea-freight lines now anyway refuse to handle Russian goods.

That’s causing food prices to spiral, turning attention to UK domestic production. But with fuel and fertiliser prices also soaring, farmers costs are rapidly rising too, making homegrown food more expensive.

Fertiliser is often made from a combination of gas and potash – a mineral produced in vast quantities by Russia and its ally Belarus, now also under export embargo. Fertiliser prices in the UK, about £200 a tonne a year ago, are now hurtling towards £1,000 as farmers panic buy and both gas and potash prices surge.

“We’re suffering serious agricultural inflation,” says the National Farmers Union, which is why shoppers are now suffering price rises at the supermarket and corner shop too. Yes, Britain can grow more food and we produce almost half of our own fertiliser. But this East-West economic war means farmers’ costs are skyrocketing, not least the cost of fertiliser and fuel.

It is against this backdrop that ministers are contemplating the UK’s food and energy security. The Government is due to unveil a new energy strategy in the coming days that could include a change of heart on fracking.

Shale wells have been developed in various locations across Britain – including two Lancashire sites run by the energy company Cuadrilla that have laid dormant since the 2019 moratorium.

Cuadrilla claims just 10pc of the volume from these well could meet UK gas needs for half a century. And now about 40 Tory MPs and peers have written to the Prime Minister urging him to rethink.

This Russia-Ukraine conflict is clearly is a “moment of great clarity” – showcasing the astonishing mess successive governments have made of energy security, prioritising environmental virtue signalling above reality at every turn. North Sea oil and gas and British nuclear energy are both set to make a huge comeback. But will shale gas now also become part of the UK’s energy mix, as it does in the US?

The Cuadrilla wells were due to be filled with concrete on government orders in near future. When asked about this in the Commons last week, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng confirmed that would not be happening any time soon.

“In conversation with my Right Honourable friend the Prime Minister, we were clear it didn’t necessarily make any sense to concrete over the wells,” Kwarteng told MPs.

It seems Johnson has yet to decide if UK fracking is back – a debate that could yet go either way.

9) Did Putin plot with eco-warriors to halt Britain's fracking and keep us all hooked on his gas? 
Mail on Sunday, 13 March 2022

GUY WALTERS examines NATO and US claims that Russia has paid environmental groups to lobby against fracking

Of all the environmental campaigns mounted in this country, few have been more fervent, vociferous – and indeed effective – than the protests against fracking.

Over the past decade, groups such as Frack Off have successfully swung public opinion against what was once considered the answer to Britain's energy needs.

In North America, where fracking – properly known as hydraulic fracturing, and by which water is pumped into beds of shale at high pressure to release gas – has been widely adopted, the process has helped to not only reduce energy prices, but is also reckoned to have given the US and Canada energy security for about a century.

Whereas here, in November 2019, the British Government announced a moratorium on fracking, stating it would 'take a presumption against issuing any further Hydraulic Fracturing Consents' in England. Similar suspensions were also announced in Scotland and Wales.

Although the moratorium in England was brought about largely in reaction to seismic activity recorded during fracking at a site at Preston New Road near Blackpool, the Government was also responding to public opinion. In a survey carried out in autumn 2021, only 17 per cent of the public supported fracking, while 45 per cent were against it.

Those who oppose fracking do so mostly on environmental grounds, and claim that the process can not only pollute the water supply but also bring about dangerous earthquakes. Anti-fracking groups also advocate that Britain should not be burning gas and concentrate on developing renewable sources of energy.

While many such groups are doubtless sincere in their views, how many of their members have considered who really benefits from their opposition to fracking? And how many activists, no matter how well-intentioned, have considered where some of the funding for their groups may ultimately come from?

Troublingly enough, the answer to both questions is none other than Vladimir Putin.

There is no doubt that if fracking were widely adopted throughout the UK and continental Europe, it would severely dent the demand for gas from Russia, and thereby lose Putin the billions he requires to prop up his regime and to prosecute his evil wars.

Although it is unclear exactly how much extractable shale gas we have in Britain, some estimates put it as high as 330 billion cubic metres, with potential fields right around the country, but particularly in Lancashire and Yorkshire. One recent study estimated that it could meet some 20 per cent of the UK's energy consumption from now until 2050.

It's for this reason that this week a group of 40 Conservative parliamentarians – led by MPs Craig Mackinlay and Steve Baker, the chairman and deputy chairman of the Conservative Net Zero Scrutiny Group – have written to the Prime Minister demanding that the moratorium on fracking be reversed.

In the letter, they wrote: 'We urge you to pause and conduct a review. At a time of such geopolitical strife, we cannot refrain from actions that would improve the position of the UK and its allies.'

They have been joined by Nigel Farage, the former Ukip leader, who launched a new campaign for a referendum on Net Zero in last week's Mail on Sunday.

Also supporting a move back to fracking is the Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, who sees the process as a way of ensuring Britain is independent of using Russian energy sources.

The timing could not be more acute, as this Tuesday – March 15 – the energy firm Cuadrilla has to concrete over its fracking wells in Lancashire on the orders of the Oil and Gas Authority.

The one man who will, of course, be delighted to see all that concrete being poured will be Vladimir Putin.

For the Russian President and his oligarchs, the ending of fracking in the UK and elsewhere will represent the cessation of a campaign secretly waged by the Russians to demonise fracking in the eyes of Western public opinion.

Before this can be dismissed as a paranoid conspiracy theory, one only has to take the words of none other than the former secretary-general of Nato, Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

He said in a speech in London in June 2014: 'I have met allies who can report that Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called non-governmental organisations – environmental organisations working against shale gas – to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas.'

Although Mr Rasmussen would not be drawn on any specific allegations, his words should be taken very seriously indeed as they reveal that Russia has corrupted the entire public debate around fracking to suit its own ends.

There are countless examples throughout Europe of anti-fracking organisations springing up almost overnight, and being well-organised and highly militant.

In Bulgaria, a country highly reliant on Russian energy, anti-fracking movements and well-financed television campaigns erupted immediately after a shale gas exploration deal was signed with Chevron in 2011. A year later, the Bulgarian government banned fracking.

Something similar happened in the small town of Pungesti in Romania, which was the site of another Chevron exploration deal. The local mayor felt that he had helped his town to strike it rich, but instead he found himself being run out of town by a mob that had seemingly appeared from nowhere.

'I was really shocked,' the mayor recalled. 'We never had protesters here and suddenly they were everywhere.'

Such stories abound throughout eastern Europe. 'All of a sudden, in societies that never did grassroots organisation very well, you saw all these NGOs [non-governmental organisations], well-funded, popping up, and causing well-organised protests,' Mihaela Carstei, an energy and environment analyst at the Atlantic Council told the US publication Foreign Policy.

Does this help explain how many outlandish, and false, claims have taken root: that fracking means tap water will catch fire, for example, or that the water emerging from the process is dangerously radioactive? Putin himself has put his shoulder to the wheel, openly stating that fracking 'poses a huge environmental problem'.

Places that have allowed it, he claimed, 'no longer have water coming out of their taps but a blackish slime'. His mouthpiece, Russia Today (recently banned by the UK Government), has made similar claims, and made regular attacks on shale oil, with one presenter, Max Keiser, commenting that frackers are 'the moral equivalent of paedophiles'.

According to a former US Director of National Intelligence, RT's stance reflects economic self-interest and a fear of 'the impact of fracking and US national gas production on the global energy market and the potential challenges to [Russian gas giant] Gazprom's profitability'.

In Britain, we have seen a similar eruption of anti-fracking groups, although they are less militant. The website of Frack Off features hundreds of such groups from all around the British Isles, each with a Facebook page and often a dedicated website.

Unsurprisingly, the finances of all these anti-fracking groups are opaque, and as they are not registered charities, they are not obliged to reveal the sources of their donations.

Even if a group such as Frack Off were to be completely transparent about the source of its funds, it is likely that even the organisation's members would be in the dark as to where all the funding ultimately came from.

You have to look to the US for evidence of how these Russian operations work, and how – in all likelihood – the Russians have mounted their fracking disinformation campaigns in Britain and the rest of Europe.

As with so many murky and clandestine operations, it all starts with an offshore company. In this instance, the company was called Klein Limited, and it was based in Bermuda. The role of Klein Limited was ostensibly to give money to charitable causes.

In 2011 and 2012, it gave a total of $23 million to the Sea Change Foundation, which in turn made donations to various anti-fracking and environmental lobbying groups in the US, including the Sierra Club Foundation and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

With funds from the mysterious Klein, the Sierra Club launched its 'Beyond Natural Gas' campaign in 2013, which vigorously and publicly campaigned against fracking.

What greatly disturbed American lawmakers was the source of Klein's millions. 'None of this foreign corporation's funding is disclosed in any way,' the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee noted in 2016.

'This is clearly a deceitful way to hide the source of millions of dollars that are active in our system, attempting to effect political change.'

There can be very little doubt that the ultimate source has to be Russia. In 2017, the US Congress Committee on Science, Space and Technology wrote: 'Although the source of Klein's capital has not been documented… deep connections to the Russian government and energy sector strongly suggest it is the source of Klein's capital.'

It is now time for Britain's anti-fracking and other environmental lobbying groups to be transparent about the sources of their income. The words of the former secretary-general of Nato and those of American lawmakers simply can no longer be ignored.

Frack Free Lancashire, the UK's biggest protest group, denied receiving Russian money and accused pro-fracking groups of 'ghoulish opportunism'.

'We are aware that Anders Fogh Rasmussen made wild accusations about Russian funding back in 2014,' said a spokesman. 'When asked for evidence of this, he declined to give details. Nato's press office could not distance themselves fast enough.'

10) Europe ramps up coal burning with natural gas out of favor
Bloomberg, 11 March 2022

European utilities are getting increasingly reliant on coal for power as the region tries to reduce its dependence on Russian natural gas.

Even with prices for the dirtiest fossil fuel surging with most other commodities, it’s still much cheaper for power plants to burn coal than gas to make electricity. Last week, plants on the continent burned 51% more of the sedimentary rock than a year earlier, according to data from Fraunhofer ISE. At the same time, gas demand from power stations declined.

The shift may be here to stay, even if it’s bad for the climate. As Europe plans to curb the use of Russian gas by two-thirds this year, companies will inevitably rely more on coal, although the region will also seek to boost supplies from other gas producers.

“High gas prices across Europe are driving down the economic competitiveness of gas relative to coal,” said Kesavarthiniy Savarimuthu, an analyst at BloombergNEF. That’s making utilities switch from gas to coal, particularly in Germany, which is already the largest consumer in Europe outside of Russia.

Russia is Europe’s biggest supplier of coal too, accounting for about a third of the total in 2020. And with the country increasingly isolated, traders are scrambling to pick up the fuel from other producers, including Colombia, South Africa, Australia, Indonesia and the U.S.

In the past week, shipments of coal from Russia were still sent to the U.K., Germany and Latvia, as European sanctions don’t yet block imports of key energy sources. A shipment of 30,000 tons of coal left Murmansk in northwest Russia on March 3 destined for Belfast, according to shipping data provider Marcura data compiled by Bloomberg.

The record price volatility is likely to keep going for some time. Coal prices for next month was little changed at $360 a ton on Friday. However, they are down 16% this week after more than doubling in the previous period.

The London-based Net Zero Watch is a campaign group set up to highlight and discuss the serious implications of expensive and poorly considered climate change policies. The Net Zero Watch newsletter is prepared by Director Dr Benny Peiser - for more information, please visit the website at

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