By blog writer Lucinda Obank
It may sound odd to hear the Salisbury attack and UK Energy Policy mentioned in the same sentence, yet the two are inextricably linked.
Vladimir Putin’s motivations for the Salisbury attack were arguably threefold. Firstly, to demonstrate defectors of Russia are never safe. Secondly, the Russian response to the attack (expelling diplomats and introducing sanctions) was deployed to bolster an image of powerful leadership ahead of the Russian elections. Thirdly, as the UK advocates a robust response to Putin, the attack was designed precisely to test where the UK stands diplomatically.
May’s hands are tied when it comes to rightfully sanctioning Russia for its ruthless and barbaric attack. This is because Russia currently supplies 35% of gas to European pipelines which, if turned off would spark a fuel crisis, one result of which would be a severe constraint on the UK's ability to respond. Condemning Russia and expelling diplomats will make no real difference to the Kremlin except creating a confrontation that aids Putin’s electoral campaign by playing on public anxieties and the fear of being surrounded by enemies ready to plot.
In light of this, the Salisbury attack has offered a cause to pause and re-think UK Energy policy. The UK sits on huge deposits of unexploited shale gas which if utilised would supply Britain’s energy demands for at least 25 years. Responding by reducing dependence on Russian oil will hit their economy hard by reducing natural resource rents and consequently Russian oligarch wealth. It has even been suggested that with deteriorating British-Russian relations it is arguably time to become self-sufficient and to escape future blackmail from Putin by investing in fracking, despite being a controversial political move.
Strong anti-shale sentiment in the UK has stopped plans to frack from going ahead previously, but progress this year is slowly being made in the industry. Whilst I share the profound environmental concerns with opponents of fracking, I advocate that it should be used as a transition fuel until a green economy becomes established which can satisfy our energy demands. Investing in both fracking and renewables will decarbonise our energy economy and serve to improve our diplomatic stance in the future. Investing in both fracking and renewables has the potential to decarbonise our energy economy and serve to improve our diplomatic stance in the future.
The shale gas revolution in the US should be used as an example of an economic opportunity that the UK could potentially miss if it doesn’t sort its energy policies out. The US have enjoyed higher economic growth, lower natural gas prices, lower imports and a decline in the coal industry. The so-called ‘shale boom’ will see that the US remains a dominant force in global gas markets for years to come.
Strong opponents to fracking in the UK must consequently ask themselves what a future reliant on Putin will look like and what could be missed by rejecting an economically strategic and self-sufficient answer to the Salisbury poisoning.
Sources and Further Reading:
- James Forsyth, ‘Two things that must change after Salisbury’, The Spectator(17 March 2018)
- ‘Where does UK gas come from?’, British Gas(December 2017)
- Adam Vaughan, ‘UK Fracking to begin in earnest in 2018 after toughyear for industry’, The Guardian(25 December 2017)
- Dalibor Rohac, ‘Don’t just stand there, do something!’, The Weekly Standard(22 March 2018)
- Adam Vaughan, ‘US ‘will become one of the world’s top gas exporters by 2020’, The Guardian(13 July 2017)