UK Greens’ tragedy: a partial solution to warming

Posted on November 9, 2012


The world is on the cusp of dramatic reductions in greenhouse gases if China replaces coal power with shale gas. But Greens are fighting the technology to do that.

A natural gas appraisal well of Sinopec is seen behind a treatment pond of drilling waste in Langzhong county, Sichuan province, in this 2011 file photo. China, which has by far the world’s largest shale deposits, has just started to exploit them, which would be a huge gain for cutting carbon emissions.

Oscar Wilde said In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.

The sudden emergence, global prevalence and future permanence of natural gas resources, sets the stage for a tragedy being played out by the green movement in the United Kingdom today.

Measured by a reduction in CO2 emissions, the green movement finds itself on the edge of a success so complete that it not only meets, but exceeds their wildest dreams. But the Green movement also finds itself torn: This is a great success, a huge win for the planet. But the problem lies in it not being their success.

We don’t have a climate problem as such, but we do have a Chinese Coal problem. China emitted 9000 megatons of CO2 in 2011. It will increase as China becomes the largest economy on earth anywhere from 2016 onwards. 80% of that is from coal generation.The US emitted 7000 megatons. The UK emitted 510.

Both the US, UK and OECD have moderating to declining emissions as efficiency gains take hold and economies flatline.

This chart is based on US Energy Administation figures for CO2 emissions from coal in 2010, the most recent available broken down by source. It shows two things:

The World has a huge climate change problem caused by China burning coal

Anything the UK, or EU, does to cut their overall emissions, is only gesture politics. Meaningless gesture.

The majority of EU emissions comes from Germany and Poland, both with significant shale gas potential.

The UK has coal emissions of only 114 megatons out of 14,231 megatons. China has 6,946. What is the point of converting 114 megatons to renewables, when even a 10% replacement of China’s coal with gas would save, at a conservative 50%, 350 megatons

What this means is that instead of concentrating on an 80% decarbonisation target, the UK can via a replacement of coal in generation, increased efficiency and increased natural gas vehicle use easily cut 200 megatons for almost no cost. So the cost of renewables, which may be several hundred billion pounds, is to reduce an extra 200 megatons over the gas heavy route. Again: hundreds of billions to save 200 megatons.

But if we replace all China coal with natural gas, the planet saves, conservatively, 2500 megatonnes via a conversion from China coal to natural gas. Much, but not all of that will come from shale. China has multiple import sources, domestic conventional, coal bed methane and LNG, but also has shale gas reserves even larger than the US. Next week’s IEA Energy Outlook will predict that by 2035 China’s unconventional production will be greater than North America’s. That may not happen. But who would feel safe betting that China won’t?

UK greens will be as quick to deny China shale gas as they are to dismiss UK shale gas. In turn, UK antis still hope that even US shale is a chimera that will disappear as quickly as it appeared – despite all evidence to the contrary.

Green movements, although possessing their heart’s desire, are suffering through what psychologists would describe as “cognitive dissonance”.

Within the syndrome are the usual cycles of ignorance, denial, anger and acceptance that anyone passes through when confronted by new information.

The problem with the green movement is that they have very strongly held attachments to their solutions to problems. A key solution surrounds renewables: they were perceived not only as low carbon but as energy secure by definition of local provenance. Confronted with new realities, with changing facts, they continue to deny reality is actually changing. We’ll hear this in the UK over the next month. We’ll get told that UK shale resources, despite what geologists say, aren’t actually there. We’ll get any number of people obsessing about how UK shale will be too difficult, physically, socially or financially.

Natural gas is not perfect, but it is not perfectly evil either. We are on the cusp of an energy transformation similar to that of oil over coal a hundred years ago and coal over wood before that. But we have UK energy actors in the new troika of Nuclear, Renewables and CCS proving the Upton Sinclair Theorem.

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

Some UK greens have gotten so deeply invested in discussing problems that they become blind to solutions. They also become emotionally attached to solutions in an almost quasi religous standpoint. When alternate paths appear, as they do in science, but far more slowly in value systems, we get anger and denial. No matter. The facts have changed, as we will see in just over a month. Until then, and after then too, UK greens will obsess not about the solution gas provides the planet, but about the damage it does to themselves. Shale gas has true believers too. But they at least, are grounded in science and reality.

Greens are now forming an alliance with what used to be the original enemy of nuclear and also CCS, which Greenpeace was mounting chimneys to oppose only three years ago: The leaders of Britain’s nuclear, wind and tidal industries today put aside years of mutual suspicion and antipathy with an unprecedented joint appeal to ministers not to abandon their commitment to combat climate change.

With the Government badly split over green energy, the heads of organisations representing more than 1,000 nuclear and renewables companies have written to David Cameron, George Osborne and Ed Davey calling on them to agree a legally binding decarbonisation target for electricity generation.

And the FOE and Co-op accuse the gas industry of being only in it for the money!


Gas finds give impetus to China sea claim

The South China Sea could hold far greater reserves of crude oil and natural gas than previously thought, newly revealed estimates from China’s biggest offshore oil and gas company show, making the area a crucial future energy source for the world’s biggest energy user.

On the sidelines of the 18th Communist party congress in Beijing on Friday, Wang Yilin, head of Cnooc, China’s state-controlled energy group, disclosed the company’s South China Sea resource estimates for the first time, saying the area could hold 17bn tonnes of oil and 498tn cubic feet of natural gas.

Although only a fraction of those resources would be economically feasible to extract, analysts calculate that the levels of reserves could one day double China’s current proven reserves of oil and gas.

In recent months Beijing has clashed with Vietnam and the Philippines over maritime boundaries in the South China Sea. Hanoi issued a formal complaint in June when Cnooc put up for auction several oil and gas blocks that Vietnam believed were in its territory.

China has also clashed with Japan over the Senkaku, or Diaoyu, islands in the East China Sea, a dispute that sparked violent anti-Japanese riots in China and hurt business ties between the two countries.

The tensions over rival territorial claims have raised fears among China’s neighbours and the US that Beijing will become more militarily aggressive as its economy grows. Although disputes over sea territory have focused on sovereignty, there are big economic implications for which countries control which parts of the sea. The South China Sea is a strategic area for Chinese shipping lanes – a third of the world’s shipping traffic passes through it – and is used as a commercial fishing ground.

On Thursday, Hu Jintao, China’s president, urged the next generation of leaders to turn the country into a “maritime power” and protect China’s maritime sovereignty, signalling that the country will build its power on the seas.

Mr Wang said the president’s comments “showed the way” for Cnooc’s offshore development. He acknowledged the South China Sea was a “relatively sensitive area”, and said Cnooc wanted to “lay aside disputes and develop it jointly” with international companies.

The head of the China State Shipbuilding Corporation, one of the world’s largest shipbuilders, also highlighted the commercial importance of China’s sea claims on Friday, and called for the country to build its fleet of surveillance and fishing patrol ships.

“In the area of safeguarding our maritime rights, the capabilities of our equipment are seriously inadequate,” said Hu Wenming, chairman of the shipbuilding group. “Right now the gap between our maritime equipment and that of the surrounding nations is very big,” he said, on the sidelines of the party congress.

Exploration in the deepwater South China Sea has been relatively limited because of the territorial disputes, but Cnooc is investing heavily to build up its ability to develop oil and gas in the challenging waters. It commissioned its first domestically built deepwater drilling rig, the Cnooc 981 CK, this year.

Mr Wang also announced Cnooc had made a “big” gas discovery in the Yinggehai basin, which lies off the west coast of Hainan island.

“It’s a basin that’s right on the border between Vietnam and China. If they’re making big gas discoveries there, it’s going to make things interesting [politically],” said Neil Beveridge, oil analyst at Bernstein.

Cnooc’s figures for South China Sea reserves are higher than earlier forecasts from the US Geological Survey, and within the range of previous estimates from China’s Ministry of Land and Resources. Energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie says there are currently 2.5bn barrels of oil equivalent of proven oil and gas reserves in the South China Sea, a tiny fraction of the potential unproven resources estimated by Cnooc.

For decades, Chinese naval strategy focused on protecting the country’s coasts and being prepared for a potential conflict over Taiwan, the independently ruled island that Beijing claims as part of its territory.

Since the early 1990s, the navy has been modernising to acquire the capability eventually to enforce other territorial claims as well. But it was only in 2004 that Mr Hu laid out “new historical missions” for the People’s Liberation Army. He listed safeguarding of China’s “expanding national interests” as one objective. Since then, government and military officials have argued more frequently that China’s integration in the global economy means it has more far-reaching national interests, which in turn require bigger military capabilities.