Five minutes with… Greg Barker, UK Minister of State at the Department for Energy and Climate Change

Materials World magazine
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2 Jan 2014

What does the future hold for the UK energy mix? Melanie Rutherford caught up with Greg Barker, UK Minister of State at the Department for Energy and Climate Change, at ADIPEC 2013 in Abu Dhabi, to find out.

What impact will the limited oil and gas reserves in the North Sea have on the UK economy?
There’s still huge potential in the North Sea. While we are a net importer of oil and gas, we shouldn’t underestimate the North Sea, which is actually, in oil and gas terms, a relatively young field. With advances in technology, we are confident that there are many years left in the North Sea, and there are new finds being made. It is going to remain an important source of oil and gas for years to come. But we also have the prospect of unconventional gas in the UK, with the shale revolution. We’re determined to do that in an environmentally sensitive way, setting a new standard for onshore extraction of unconventional gas, and I am convinced that we can do it at real scale and in a meaningful timeframe. The potential impact of this huge new source of gas could be really positive for the UK economy.

How will you tackle issues surrounding public support for shale gas production?
I think we need to have a sensible, candid, level-headed discussion with the public, making sure that they have the facts, first and foremost. For many people, all they know about fracking is what they hear by word of mouth or more alarming stories on the internet. But the public deserves to be informed. I myself have been to North America to see the largest single shale fields in Pennsylvania and Virginia, and there are lessons to be learnt. We need to make sure that we get it right in the UK. That means learning from what works well in the States, but also where they’ve made mistakes. We can learn that it can be done effectively – if you do it right, it can be done with minimal environmental impact – and that it has a very positive impact on jobs, on energy security and potentially on prices as well. Given our history of high levels of health and safety and environmental regulation, and production in the North Sea, I think that we can get this right and set a new global benchmark for responsible shale gas production in the UK. But that means telling people what it actually means and what the impacts are going to be. I am committed to having that dialogue with communities that are affected directly and with the wider public more generally.

How do you hope the UK energy mix will look in five years’ time?
More renewables. We will be well down the road towards new build of nuclear. Less coal. More gas. But what we ultimately strive for is a low-carbon, secure, low-cost energy supply. That means, first and foremost, a range of technologies and energy synthesis, giving us energy security. Secondly, allowing us to meet our ambitious climate change targets, and thirdly, to make sure we do that at the least possible cost to the consumer and to British industry, and ensure we remain competitive in the global race.

Read more about what key figures in the global oil and gas industry had to say at ADIPEC 2013 on our blog, materialsworld.tumblr.com