The North Sea is running out of oil and gas – well, it was always going to happen… More unexpectedly perhaps, this year it cost the taxpayer £400m to support (that’s the cost of tax breaks to the net of tax revenue) – it is clearly an industry in terminal decline. It’s been coming for some time of course, as has the answer to the question – where Britain will get its gas from?
The government’s chosen answer is Fracking: probably the most unpopular source of energy ever, so unpopular (and uneconomic) that the government had to water down environmental protections, change land ownership and planning law, promise the most generous tax regime anywhere in the world, and literally force this new industry on a countryside in revolt.
But there is another way for Britain to replace North Sea gas – and with a source of gas that is sustainable in all senses of the word.
Ecotricity recently released a report – Green Gasmills: The Opportunity for Britain – which shows that by 2035, green gas from grass could provide all of the gas needs for 97% of Britain’s homes, pump £7.5 billion annually into the economy, and create a new industry with up to 150,000 jobs.
Green gas made this way is virtually carbon neutral, so could play a significant role in Britain meeting its climate targets, and creates new habitats for wildlife on an unprecedented scale.
And the green gas revolution is already underway. Ecotricity has recently received permission to build its prototype ‘Green Gasmill’ at Sparsholt College in Hampshire, the first of its kind in Britain.
As North Sea reserves run out, the big question is where we’re going to get our gas from next. The government thinks fracking is the answer, but this report shows that we have a better option.
Recently, it’s become possible to make green gas and put it into the grid, in the same way we’ve been doing with green electricity for the last two decades. The current way of doing that is through energy crops and food waste – but both have their drawbacks.
Through our research, we’ve found that using grass is a better alternative, and has none of the drawbacks of energy crops, food waste or fracking – in fact, it has no drawbacks at all.
Grass can yield twice as much gas per tonne of feedstock than food waste, and the gas is cleaner and significantly easier to upgrade to grid quality.
Grass can be sourced from permanent pasture or grown as a break crop on food producing land. It doesn’t need to compete with food grown for human consumption, and it’s not based on intensive farming or a monoculture either. It needs no artificial fertilisers or pesticides – and in the process of growing it, we can create wildlife habitats, making room for nature. Those new habitats are desperately needed in Britain.
Grass for gas also offers the potential for farmers to diversify from raising animals for human consumption – an industry that is not only in decline in Britain, and economically very challenging, but one that produces a significant amount of the world’s climate change gases.
Over 50% of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture, according to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute. The United Nations says that farming livestock is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.
So making green gas from grass will cut carbon emissions, help Britain become energy independent, support food production by improving soils, create wildlife habitats, and provide support for farmers who are set to lose EU subsidies following Brexit too.
Our first Green Gasmill has been given the go-ahead, and we hope to starting building it this year – though that does depend on whether government energy policy will support this simple, benign and abundant energy source.
As our report shows, the benefits of Britain making its gas this way are astounding. And in the light of this new option available to us, Teresa May should review the government’s plan for where Britain gets its gas – post-North Sea.
We now have a more than viable alternative to fracking, which people have been fighting tooth and nail up and down the country to prevent. It’s not too late, because fracking hasn’t started yet. We need a proper review of where Britain gets its gas from – we can either frack the countryside or we can grow the grass. It’s that simple.
A version of this post first appeared in New Statesman Spotlight supplement