Monday 26 August 2013

Shale: Another Nail in Osborne's Coffin

Balcombe Blame Rests Here
Or rather, the coffin of his reputation as a strategist.

Oh yes, it's been dead awhile, stone dead.  But by my reckoning, his screw-up on shale is almost up there with the fatal boundary-change abortion.

In both cases, Master George the master-strategist seems to have identified clearly enough the paramount significance of a particular issue.  But instead of following through, of giving it the undivided attention and planning and execution it merits (being An Issue Of Paramount Significance, yeah ?), he farts in its general direction and assumes that plaudits are in order for his spotting, and farting at, the obvious.  But a real strategist understands that strategic insight is empty without genuine, unremitting, practical application to the task of figuring out everything that follows, in grinding, boring detail - and actual implementation of the needful.  Whatever it takes.  With no loose ends.  Because, hey, it's of Paramount Significance.

We know how the boundary changes ended: so what happened with shale ?  When the initial Cuadrilla discovery was announced, we wrote here: This Is The Big One.   Others (e.g. Mr Worstall) followed our lead, and soon it was recognised by all and sundry. See, George, it is really obvious (& let me quickly add that C@W was by no means alone in trumpeting the matter).  George duly cottoned on too and started running his own energy policy - hatching tax breaks (unnecessary) and a streamlined permitting regime (stupid, at least in the way it's been done), with a bit of gratuitous green-baiting (Juvenile George's stock-in-trade).

But what else obviously follows from the obvious significance of shale ?  Why yes: every Green and Red and general unwashed malcontent and transgressionist across Europe would realise that shale gas (if actually found here) could be the death-knell of their various stone-age / statist dreams.  Accordingly, they would be out in force to try to prevent drilling, with a lot more chance of drawing the crowds than (say) the rather recondite NoDashForGas sit-in at West Burton.  Oh yes, this too was entirely obvious - we predicted it here last year - and is a major vulnerability of the whole UK shale gas prospect.

With the Battle of Balcombe rumbling on, there is no need to rehearse just how far short of a strategy we are: and I unhesitatingly blame Osborne.  There is nothing good to be had from going abut the job clumsily and pissing off conservative Middle England in the process.

Is all lost ?  Well, if this were Germany we'd be in really big trouble, because their greens (and the old superannuated Atomkraft-Nein-Danke brigade, now in well-heeled retirement with time on their hands and misty recollections of their glory-days to perpetuate) have serious stamina, as witness the very long-running Battle of Stuttgart Station.

But our homegrown greens are a little less committed.  I maintain that the UK shale programme is vulnerable to the antis, but there is certainly an optimistic scenario.  Those with long memories will recall the massive pro-coal-mining demonstrations in the early 1990's, when Michael Heseltine (sic) was at the DTI and allowing large-scale pit closures to take place.  A short moratorium, a general return to the sofa to watch whatever was the compelling soap of the day; and after a couple of months all was forgotten and the pits closed as planned.  Likewise in the first year of the NuLab government, some more pit closures were announced: cue massive popular hostility to the Dash For Gas (yes, even then - and that was technically the second D-F-G; the current one is the third).  And what did young Peter Mandelson do then ? (yep, he was at the DTI in 1997).  Why - another moratorium ! - this time on new gas-fired power plant permits.  And after the usual short interval ... well, you know the rest.

So there's at least a chance the great unwashed just pack up and go home**.  Therefore, if there is a decent strategist somewhere in Whitehall (and I very much think there is) there is at least the possibility of getting this show back on the road.  There is, after all, no great rush.

If a real strategist takes charge, there is one final optimistic precedent worth noting.  In the first Thatcher government a truly strategic attack on the NUM was being hatched under a properly thought-out, comprehensive plan (which embraced such details as building coal stocks to unprecedented levels, uprating Felixstowe for coal imports, building the A14 to get them to the Midlands by road, and installing an infrastructure for coordinating the Police nationally.  See, George, that's what a real strategy looks like.)  In 1981, before all this was complete the NUM went on strike for a pay rise.  So Thatcher ordered a tactical retreat - looked like a horrible climb-down at the time - reculer pour mieux sauter, until things were good and ready.  Well, you know the rest.

So all is not lost.  But Osborne ... his failings are inexcusable.  Is there really not a better candidate for Chancellor on the coalition benches ?  That's another job where strategy is at a premium, n'est-ce pas ?


** having a few spare hours last week, I monitored the tweeting on events at Balcombe.  Somewhat to my surprise, having been at frenetic and very high-volume levels all week, it fell off dramatically after lunchtime on Friday.  Does this mean all these tossers are tweeting from work ? Watching the cricket ?


john miller said...


Will the EU allow the UK to produce cheap gas?

Two chances: Sweet Fanny Adams and worse than that...

Blue Eyes said...

We need a system that allows new successes to buy off local opposition to the potential negatives. If the likes of Cuadrilla were paying lots of local taxes to fund the Balcombe arts library or whatever, maybe there would be less opposition to this potential bonanza?

At the moment the moaners get to share the effects of not allowing cheap energy with the whole population. What if there was a faction campaigning in favour of the benefits?

Maybe Blackpool will prefer to be a boom town.

andrew said...

GO's head looks a little big and his skin looks a little loose - like a mask.

Perhaps you should run a competition for the best guess of who is underneath.

DtP said...

Absolutely spot on. The only one redeeming factor to their benefit is that the opposition look more amateurish than these bunch of teenagers. It's like they're allergic to, you know, work.

There's a dude who writes for the Observer, William Keegan - I think he may have been the editor many moons ago and before that lived in the Bank of England at quite a senior rank - and he's spent the last 3 years calling Oik a cunt and virtually every charge sticks.

Osborne is lazy, ignorant, aloof, over-rated, intransigent, fickle, mis-directed, vulgar and ultimately wrong on most things. Austerity doesn;t exist yet the narrative has become embedded, reducing the top tax rate was pointless if not harmful (chuck the admin costs of 45% in rather than 40% and its screaming irrelevance is cacophonous), energy, tax avoidance, transport costs - geez, these are quick wins for a Chancellor who knows his strength and yet he folds, he fails to establish his intention and for orgs etc to either come on board or get fucked. When Margaret fucking Hodge is besting him on areas that the guy had nothing to lose, well, it's a bloody sorry state of affairs.

The only marginal victory may be the benefit cap and the bedroom tax but the former was IDS and the latter really couldn't have been handled much worse - has no one heard of tappering? Round here - in Yaarkshire, the feeling is quite palpable that as the bedroom tax accrues so little revenue that the after taste is simply rich boys mocking the poor, crowing over their ability to define a wedge issue for £1bn with a fuck you indifference to its mismanagement and ffs if they weren't aware of the impression it would send out it beggars belief.

The irony of all this is that Miliband's colleagues seem to be doing their best to lose the next election having failing to heed his memo of 'just shut the fuck up and don't say a God damned word' although his Trades Union intervention seems bloody strange.

It really is very depressing that none of these guys know how to run stuff - that the political class in this country has now become just a gig with perks, a lucrative vacance before a nice little sinecure to last into retirement. Hmm..

'Vote Tory, Vote slightly less shite than the other guys!'

hovis said...

An amusing pro fracking piece Nick. As you know I am against fracking and whilst I agree that the Osbourne is a childish little turd. I am pleased in one sense in that he, Maude and Browne have illustrated the utter corporatist nature of the state and its utter corruption, especially in relation to Unconventional Oil/Gas extraction in the UK.

I think you completely misunderstand the opposition to what we might generically call fracking. (As you well know more specifically it is horizontal high volume slickwater fracking which is the cause of concern as well as allied processed such as 'acid jobs'.

The main thrust of the Bell- Pottinger* type PR , has been on several fronts in the mainstream press, firstly trying to tar all opposition as 'dole sponging' 'rent-a-mob' 'eco-loon' 'greenie' 'anarchists'. Which obviously lowers any type of debate when any pro frackers engage at the intellectual level of a two year old.

The second strand is to puff up the benefits of fracking, which are in actuality tiny when compared that claimed, and the what would be involved to retrieve the claimed amounts of oil/gas. Any financial benefits would accrue in the main to those pushing the agenda. I am amazed by how many self proclaimed "right wingers" who oppose government lies waste and corruption and the over bloated state are in raptures over fracking as though is its somehow different.

The third strand of the PR narrative which is to pretend that all is well and that we have the most regulated industry in the world, don't worry your little heads...fracking is safe, all the 'experts' had ruled in favour. This is of course utter bullshit.

For example the normal line of argument is to point to the fact that the Royal Society had not come out negatively against fracking in its report. If you actually take time to look at the report (as I know you have), it calls for heavy and monitoring and regulation. So fracking must only be carried out in a strict environment. I currently don't have all the items in front of me, but I recall there were 10 recommendations. How many of them have been carried out? I shall leave that question open to all you pro fracking keenies to find out for yourselves.

Now before wrapping up lets do some hypotheticals. Would you think things should just continue as they are for example if you were to find out

... there is actually no real monitoring of the process, no impact assessments, no real government watchdog involvement.
... the staff employed by a drilling company, responsible for disposal of toxic returned waste water have been 'extensively' trained ...on a one day course provided by a one man band who freely admits he knew nothing about the subject in hand before being asked to certify the employees.
... a member of the government at Cabinet Office level was appointed with direct conflict of interest, in contravention of the ministerial code and used his position to ensure via lobbying that monitoring and safety precautions are reduced to non existent. Especially when that member of the government was known to have overseen rapidly falling safety standards and has two major industrial accidents under his watch.. or that he perjured himself in court .. would you be concerned?
..Or that planning consents are given by subterfuge and lies, with a large dollop of neo feudalism.
... a drilling company continuously misrepresented facts in official applications and announcements, broke consents and agreements and failed to inform the authorities that they had broken a well.

Of course it's only anarchists and lunatics that could only ever oppose fracking ...

*Bell Pottinger of course have the delightful track record of spinning for Uzbekistan's murderous dictator, and for those responsible for dumping toxic waste off the coast of West Africa, where Trafigura were amongst others implicated.

hovis said...

BE: A little secret, there is no cheap energy from Shale, its a big fat fib.

"We've done an analysis and [any reduction in energy bills] it's very small…at the most it's a very small percentage…basically insignificant,”

Mark Linder, a public relations executive, Bell Pottinger, [Cuadrilla's PR Company]

Nick Drew said...

nice to be back up & running again, I must say ! Thanks for sticking with us, chaps

john M - welcome. Have seen the Booker piece: big subject, see partial answer below

BE - precisely: just one of several strategic strands required (they've effectively been doing this in France for yonks, only it's nuclear there)

Andrew, Dick - yes, a weird 21st-C-politics guy, along with other specimens such as Broon

hovis - well, yes, big subject. Some quick responses:

- Bell Pottinger (and their predecessors acting for Cuadrilla who if anything were worse), yup, feeble stuff: good PR (based on a good underlying case) is another essential strand of strategy; it's obvious to all that the entire Cuadrilla circus is hopelessly amateurish, a real embarrassment to the respective industries and a hopeless pathfinder

(unless, as I've written before, the whole game is for the majors to watch Cuadrilla + other tiddlers self-destruct, then pick up their acreage for pennies ... the long game, seeing as the gas ain't going anywhere)

- yes I do know a reasonable amount about the technical aspects and yes, I categorically agree with your summary of the regulatory shortcomings (I could tell you yet more, and correct you on a couple of details, but you are broadly right), my point from the very start 2 years ago being that if the gas is as plentiful as Cuadrilla believe (and they really, really do - I've met them and they wet themselves every time they think about how much they think they've found) there is absolutely no shortage of £££ to Do The Job Properly - which ought to be the No.1 strategic strand !!!

- I really disagree with you on the economic benefits which (if the gas is there!) will be much greater than the imbeciles @ BellPott have said. More on this another time, I think

James Higham said...

I maintain that the UK shale programme is vulnerable to the antis, but there is certainly an optimistic scenario.

It will soon be one of the few scenarios left available.

hovis said...

Nick, thank you gfor your reply - indeed a large subject. I would be intersted in your "extras", however I too was being light in what I wrote - so much more that is the corrupt corporatist cluster f*ck that is currently Unconventional Oil Gas in the UK. My main thrust being that all pro's keep saying it is regulated and should only be carried out to the highest standards when it patently isn't. Surely if Osbourne/Cameron were serious they would hve made sure that this exploratory stage wouldhave been the drilling equivalent to a Potemkin village?

James interesting your view is predicated that it is: safe, regulatable, feasible, economic.
(See above.)
I would be interested your sources unless they are simply the Telegraph,Mail or similar.

Nick Drew said...

hovis - I shall definitely be back on the topic you may be sure

(those not interested in fracking can switch off the blog - and the TV, and radio, and all newspapers ... and, errr, go back to the gardening)

Graeme said...

in view of Hovis's comments, have Cuadrilla started to frack in Balcombe? I thought it was just anotyher highly conventional well.

hovis said...

Graeme: As far as I understand they are drilling and "exciting" the well, which is not fracking but as close as you can get without it stepping over to that definition. As they have to apply for the separate license for the full "frack". That said Cuadrilla's public pronouncements change week by week.

As with most things in this debate the devil is in the detail. I have only come about this from a lay persons interest via friends that farm a couple of miles from the site who have major concerns.

If you want an alternative view on Balcombe and the analysis of it try this:

Graeme said...

hi Hovis

in this Bishop Hill post there are a number of replies to Smythe - based on more up-to-date industry knowledge, I imagine, than an emeritus professor possesses: