Peter Lilley and Shale Gas: Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story

This blog is a response to a series of personal accusations made by Peter Lilley in his piece Britain can’t afford to surrender to the greens on shale gas; published in the Spectator, May 2013.

Rather than using the opportunity to air some important issues for and against the development of shale gas in the UK, Peter Lilley chose instead to simply add another ill-informed rant to what is already a polarised and, on occasions, juvenile debate.

Lilley’s arrogant bluster only serves to further confuse the issues.  I especially take exception to his attributing views to me that I do not hold. The level of repeated dishonesty is sufficiently blatant as to raise serious questions about his motives for the piece or at least enquire whether he may have some personal financial interest in shale gas development?

Lilley’s reference to me as the “Ayatollah of the green movement” could, in isolation, be just good-humoured banter. But instead he decides to attribute to me (through ‘my movement’) a range of views that I do not hold and indeed have publicly stated are not, in my opinion, show stopping issues for shale gas.

  1. “there isn’t much there”
    In terms of estimates of how much shale gas may be available, I have only ever echoed estimates of geological experts (principally from the British Geological Survey).
  2. “and what may be there will be impossible to extract technically”
    I have repeatedly made the point that I do not envisage shale gas extraction to be technically any more challenging than the extraction of many other fossil fuels.
  3.  It “will be impossible to extract … economically”
    I have repeatedly stated that I do not think the economics will be a major constraint on fossil fuel development – including of shale gas.
  4. It “will be impossible to extract … socially”
    I have only noted that as the UK is a much more densely populated nation than the US, shale gas extraction will likely raise additional social issues.
  5. “even if we find enough shale gas to meet UK needs it would not bring down the gas price here as it has in the US”
    Certainly the reduction of gas prices in the US is related to a range of factors, including co-production from tight oil wells. However, I again have erred much more on the cautious end of gas price estimates – there is so much uncertainty that we simply do not know what the price would be. The USA is not a particularly good model for the UK; not only are the ‘plays’ of different depths (as Lilley notes), but so is the ductility of the rock and social environment in which the extraction would take place. As Lilley argues, what is not contestable is the connection of the UK to European gas markets, and the role it would have in setting prices.
  6. “fracking will harm the water table”
     I have repeatedly noted that given the freedom and wherewithal to the develop the necessary legislation, monitoring and policing of shale gas extraction, I am confident that the UK’s Environment Agency would maintain impacts within ‘acceptable’ levels.
  7. “fracking will … trigger earthquakes”
    I typically refuse to comment on this issue, referring questioners to the British Geological Survey (BGS) assessments.
  8. “denigrate anyone who queries the ‘scientific consensus’ on climate change —  [but] reject out of hand the evidence of our official scientific and geological bodies when it refutes their position.”
    Lilley is categorically wrong on both of these. I openly welcome substantiated queries on the importance or otherwise of climate change and I have never rejected evidence from BGS or other official bodies that Lilley refers to.
  9. “Ignoring facts, greens have preferred to pay heed to the propaganda film Gaslands, which shows tapwater bursting into flame.”
    Though I have seen the film I have never recommended it to others and have not paid any heed to it in my work.
  10. “They want no shale gas … ‘from a climate-change perspective, this stuff simply has to stay in the ground’.”
    Lilley (deliberately?) missed out the pivotal context to this statement. I repeat similar conclusions regularly, but only within the context of the UK’s international commitments on 2°C. The maths on this are clear. Shale gas, or any additional fossil fuel development, cannot fit within the emissions budgets accompanying the UK’s international commitments on 2°C. It may however, have a small and short-lived role within the UK’s legally binding carbon budgets. The UK’s international commitments on climate change are inconsistent with (and much more demanding than) its domestic legal obligations under the 2008 Climate Change Act.

Peter Lilley’s dogmatic distrust of anything ‘green’ does not however explain his assertion that When the PM received a briefing on shale, Cuadrilla was excluded. The select committee instead had to listen to an array of bodies from the Committee on Climate Change to the WWF — none best known for their geological expertise.” Not only did I give evidence at the select committee hearing referred to by Lilley, but I did so after having sat and listened to the reasonable and informed evidence of Francis Egan, Chief Executive of Cuadrilla (a colleague from my days with Marathon Oil) and Graham Tiley a senior geologist from Shell. Given Peter Lilley was present on the committee that day, it is difficult to see how he could have missed the hour of evidence from both the shale gas industry and an experienced geologist. This is all the more incredible s as the evidence session was filmed and a subsequent report, including written submissions from Cuadrilla and Shell, published by Peter Lilley’s own committee.

So in just one short essay and in relation solely to the comments he effectively attributes to me (as “Ayatollah of the green movement”) Peter Lilley manages eight lies and two half-truths. Moreover, he appears to have a muddled recollection of the parliamentary evidence sessions he attends and is unfamiliar with his own publications. On this basis alone it is concerning that someone so evidently dishonest or ill informed serves both on a select committee and has an appointment on the Conservative Party’s new policy board.

I will be contacting Peter Lilley to seek an explanation for the absence of integrity in his analysis.


For a summary of my position on shale gas and the UK’s commitments on climate change, see: The UK unveils Office of unconventional gas & oil – another nail in the climate change coffin?

For further reading on shale gas from Tyndall, see:
– Tyndall submission to the Energy and Climate Change committee.
– Shale gas:an updated assessment of the environmental & climate change impacts (chapter 3 for the climate change focus).
– Has US shale gas reduced CO2 emissions?