“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
I have been frequently reminded of this quote, attributed to the great American humourist Mark Twain, as I have watched, listened to and read many reports and commentary pieces on the UK’s recent decision on becoming net-zero by 2050.
It’s well documented that this ground breaking and world-leading legislation follows recommendations from the Committee on Climate Change report, published in May.
A defining moment of leadership and ambition and one that naturally signals the end of all UK fossil fuels by 2050, if not well beforehand. Indeed, by 2050 all of our energy will, by law, be supplied by renewable sources. Of course there will be costs and a certain amount of inconvenience incurred in the switch, but in the grand scheme of things this is not only affordable but, more importantly, absolutely essential if we are to address the climate emergency.
Sound familiar? That’s because this narrative is by and large how media reports and commentators have interpreted events. The only problem, as Mark Twain so succinctly put it, is that “it just ain’t so”.
Like much compelling fiction the narrative is largely grounded in fact. We are indeed committing, in law, to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. We will undoubtedly as a consequence substantially, and hopefully swiftly, expand the amount of energy supplied from renewable sources. We can, we are confident, manage both the cost and the complexity associated with this major change. So far so good.
What the Climate Change Committee report does not say, nor the legislation require, is the end of fossil fuel usage in the UK before, at, or indeed after 2050. In fact the detailed analysis set out in the report makes clear that if we are to maximise our chances of meeting the net zero greenhouse gas emissions target, we will, in 2050, still be using approximately 70 per cent of the natural gas that we are using in the UK today.
How can that be so? Everyone knows that natural gas, whilst significantly less polluting than coal or oil, is still a fossil fuel. Surely that means that we can’t and won’t go on using it? The Committee on Climate Change recommends that in fact we can and we will continue using gas, BUT only if, by 2050, we use it exclusively (i) in conjunction with carbon capture and storage for electricity and (ii) as a feedstock for the manufacture of hydrogen which will replace the gas almost all of use in heating our homes and offices.
Natural gas is recognised by the experts to be an important part of the solution without which there is no credible pathway to net-zero emissions by 2050.
This is not however a “get out of jail free” card for UK gas explorers or producers. Cuadrilla for one recognises that we need to be a part of the solution and not as some may perceive us as part of the problem. We recognise that carbon capture and storage and hydrogen production are critical if the UK is to meet its net-zero emissions target. To that end we are engaging with a number of existing initiatives so that that UK shale gas rather than imported gas can and will be a vital source of emission free UK energy by 2050.
We don’t pretend that we have all of the answers but we are becoming fully engaged in conversations around the hydrogen economy and new technology that will get us there. In addition, from our home in Lancashire where the industrial revolution famously began it’s clear there is an opportunity to deliver a hydrogen revolution which puts the region at the heart of the nation’s net zero ambitions.
We’re in touch with key groups to develop the hydrogen economy including the North West Hydrogen Alliance, infrastructure engineering specialists and academic institutions.
We’re engaging with energy policy groups, Local Councils and Local Enterprise Partnerships to support development of policy and industrial and energy strategy that is consistent with net-zero whilst maximising economic benefit, particularly for Lancashire.
We’re looking carefully at the option of using shale gas for hydrogen production as we progress development economic and commercial assessments for our exploration site in Preston New Road.
We’ll be prioritising Lancashire projects including powering local hydrogen buses or trains in the region.
And, in a bid to take thinking further and faster, we’ll be working with others to find productive uses for CO2, with the potential to re-use it as a fracking fluid, as well as assessing options for utilising depleted shale reservoirs for CO2 storage.
The potential for Cuadrilla’s product – rich, natural shale gas – to be at the heart of these developments is hugely exciting for the company.
The North of England can become both a major gas producer and a major hydrogen hub. Talent and business will be attracted to the area which will provide the wind, nuclear power, shale gas and hydrogen energy underpinning economic growth for the country as a whole. The economy will be boosted, jobs created, business attracted, carbon reduced. If anyone tells you we will reach net zero any other way remember: “It just ain’t so.”