As the UK beds down for the night, it is blanketed with government alerts that traveling out into the snow-covered landscape might prove deadly – as it already has for 10 people ranging in age from seven to 75. The snowfall may total more than 19 inches, as Storm Emma collides with the “Beast from the East.” Subzero temperatures also strained energy supplies on Thursday, triggering the largest spike in consumer demand in eight years.
While far from perfect, the UK’s more free market-oriented policies have provided stable and reliable energy supplies to keep families warm and safe indoors.
Natural gas is at the heart of the system – fueled by private energy investors.
Amber Rudd explained the sector’s success in a 2015 speech, when she was secretary for energy and climate change:
In some areas the [energy] system works well.
The gas used to heat our homes is amongst the cheapest and most secure in Europe.
And this is despite the decline in our domestic gas production from the North Sea.
How has this been achieved?
Investors, driven by a desire to make a profit, have built new LNG [liquefied natural gas] terminals and pipelines that have improved diversity of supply.
In this case, energy security has been best served by government staying out of the way and allowing markets to find an answer.
Private investment – often derided as “energy speculation” – assured a stable energy supply during this week’s crisis.
Private investments notwithstanding, the National Grid issued a “gas deficit warning” Thursday after supply fell 16.5 million cubic meters shy of demand. The shortfall – which caused wholesale gas prices to spike 74 percent – will have little direct impact on home heating prices. Those costs fall heaviest on large energy consumers, such as industrial users, who may in turn raise prices.
Rudd warned about supply issues two years ago, as well:
Of course we can’t be complacent. We currently import around half of our gas needs, but by 2030 that could be as high as 75%.
That’s why we’re encouraging investment in our shale gas exploration so we can add new sources of home-grown supply to our real diversity of imports.
There are also economic benefits in building a new industry for the country and for communities.
Our North Sea history means the UK is a home to world class oil and gas expertise, in Aberdeen and around the UK – we should build on that base so that our shale potential can be exploited safely.
“Shale gas exploration,” otherwise known as fracking, enabled the U.S. to increase its natural gas production to nearly record-breaking levels and, perhaps this year, become a net exporter of LNG.
The UK could easily follow suit. Its shale deposits of natural gas are estimated at 1,300 trillion cubic feet (tcf), according to the British Geological Survey.
Despite the abundant supply and evident demand, fracking has hardly begun in the 28 months since Rudd’s speech, thanks to government regulations. Scotland banned the practice outright last year over environmental concerns, which evidence suggests are misplaced.
More abundant energy resources drive down prices, giving the world’s most vulnerable populations access to simple electricity and home heating or cooling. “Material impoverishment undermines the conditions that allow humans to flourish,” according to the Acton Institute’s core principles. Adequate energy supplies are an indispensable building block of human development.
With enough energy, “doctors can conduct surgeries after dark. Children can read into the night,” explained Chris Horst in a Christianity Today article on fracking. “Pastors in remote areas can access top-shelf theological training.”
But it also benefits those in developed nations during their times of greatest need – like Thursday.
The UK’s megastorm should give Christians an appreciation for the benefits of private investment and the potential harms of misguided government regulation.
(Photo credit: vagueonthehow. This photo has been cropped. CC BY 2.0.)