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French regulator puts EDF Flamanville nuclear plant on safety watch

PARIS (Reuters) – French nuclear regulator ASN said it has put EDF’s Flamanville 1 and 2 reactors under increased surveillance following a series of shortcomings in maintenance and contractor oversight.

The ASN’s action is the latest in a long series of technical and operational issues that have bedevilled EDF in recent months and raised new concerns about the state-controlled utility’s safety culture.

The regulator said in a statement there had been a high number of significant shortcomings in the Flamanville plant’s maintenance and in the oversight of contractors in the plant, as well as insufficient quality of documentation. It added that it had summoned the plant’s director and ordered him to submit an action plan to improve plant operation.

EDF (EDF.PA) did not dispute the ASN’s ruling.

“We accept the ASN’s diagnosis and we accept its decision. That is why we submitted an action plan in August to resolve the problems,” an EDF spokesman said.

EDF’s Belleville nuclear plant on the Loire river has also been under increased surveillance since 2017.

The problems at the Flamanville 1 and 2 reactors are not directly related to the many problems with a third nuclear reactor that EDF is building on the same site. Flamanville 3 is a decade behind schedule and its cost has tripled to nearly 11 billion euros and is likely to rise further.

Separately, EDF said on Tuesday it had found problems with weldings on the steam generators of some existing reactors, sending its shares down 6.8% on fears that the faults could lead to reactor closures.

The shares recovered some of the losses to rise 5% on Wednesday. They are down 28% over the past 12 months, making EDF the second-worst performer in the Stoxx European Utilities index .SX6P

SAFETY CULTURE

“There is a chain of control from reactor builder Framatome, to nuclear plant operator EDF and regulator ASN, but it has been demonstrated over and over again that this chain of control is malfunctioning. Every few months there is a new problem,” World Nuclear Industry Status Report author Mycle Schneider said.

Schneider said there had been no follow-up to a 2018 French parliament investigation into nuclear safety and security.

A parliament report reut.rs/2kE2IQ7 published in July 2018 concluded that France’s nuclear plants are a safety threat because of their excessive reliance on outsourcing, the risk of terror attacks and a lack of operational rigour.

Unlike the US, Russia and Japan, France has had no major nuclear nuclear accidents such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl or Fukushima and its regulator ASN is seen as independent.

But EDF’s long series of problems – both at its existing fleet of 58 nuclear reactors and at the EPR reactors under construction in Flamanville and in Olkiluoto, Finland – have tarnished EDF’s image as a leader in nuclear technology and weighed on its ability to sell nuclear plants abroad.

While Russian rival Rosatom here has a $133 billion order book here reactors worldwide, EDF’s only foreign project is for two EPR reactors at Britain’s Hinkley Point, in a contract with its own UK arm, EDF Energy.

“Sometimes there are weak signals, but we are putting in place procedures. Safety is our number one concern, it is in our DNA,” the EDF spokesman said.

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Eversmart Energy collapses to leave 29,000 customers without supplier

A green energy firm with more than 29,000 customers has collapsed, becoming the sixth supplier this year to go bust.

Eversmart Energy confirmed it had ceased to trade in a short note on its website on Friday.

Industry regulator Ofgem said it would appoint a company to take on all of Eversmart’s customers, advising them not to switch to a new provider until this process was completed.

The collapsed firm supplied energy to 29,000 households and “a very small number” of businesses, Ofgem said.

 

Philippa Pickford, the regulator’s director for future retail markets, said: “Eversmart Energy customers do not need to worry, as under our safety net we’ll make sure your energy supplies are secure and domestic customers’ credit balances are protected.

“Ofgem will now choose a new supplier for you and whilst we’re doing this our advice is to ‘sit tight’ and don’t switch. You can rely on your energy supply as normal. We will update you when we have chosen a new supplier, who will then get in touch about your new tariff.”

Eversmart did not say why it had ceased trading, but the Energy Ombudsman said complaints about the Manchester-based firm had soared from 55 last year to 225 in the first eight months of 2019.

Energy Ombudsman chief executive Matthew Vickers said: “We have seen a significant increase in complaints about Eversmart Energy, receiving four times as many complaints so far this year as we did in the whole of last year.

“Billing and switching problems have been the main drivers of unresolved complaints about the company.”

Eversmart was named the second worst supplier for customer service in a report by the Energy Ombudsman last year.

Last year the firm was criticised for launching a low-cost tariff in which households had to pay about £1,000 for a year’s worth of energy up front.

Bosses said at the time claimed the tariff was “better value than an Isa or a high street savings account”, but Citizens Advice warned the rest of the industry would be forced to pick up huge outstanding debts if the supplier went bust.

It is not known if the supplier who picks up Eversmart’s customers will honour the 12 per cent interest they were promised, or how many of the 29,000 customers were on the tariff.

Eversmart is the 13th supplier to drop out of the UK market since the beginning of last year. Its collapse comes three weeks after competitor Solarplicity ceased trading.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Our research shows this unlucky baker’s dozen of failed companies has left behind at least £172 million in unpaid costs. These will be picked up by other consumers through higher bills.

“When a supplier goes bust, customer credit balances are protected. But all of us will eventually pay for honouring them through increased bills.

Ofgem warned last month more providers are to go bust or merge after a huge increase in the number of small firms entering the market in recent years. The regulator announced stricter tests on new suppliers’ financial health earlier this year under proposals designed to stem the rising number of failures.

Emma Bush, energy expert at price comparison service uSwitch, added: “With yet another supplier going out of business, Ofgem needs to press ahead with its reforms for regular health checks on existing energy companies to ensure each and every one can finance its operations while upholding a high level of customer service.

“Regular stress-tests for suppliers and ongoing fit-and-proper person assessments would help that.”

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Energy firms plan UK’s first carbon-neutral ‘industrial cluster’

Energy companies have ignited multibillion-pound plans for the UK’s first carbon-neutral “industrial cluster” in the Humber.

An alliance of companies including National Grid, Drax and Norway’s state energy company, Equinor, are leading a campaign to shrink the carbon footprint of Britain’s most polluting industrial zone.

The cluster includes hundreds of refineries, factories and the Drax coal-fired power plant near the Humber estuary, safeguarding 55,000 jobs and a local industrial economy worth £18bn a year. However, it is also responsible for the highest concentration of industrial emissions in the country, undermining the UK’s goal to become a carbon-neutral economy by 2050.

The alliance plans to trial world-leading technology to capture and store carbon emissions from factory and power plant flues before they enter the atmosphere. It also hopes to use carbon capture while breaking down natural gas to create hydrogen, which can be used in industry, heating and transport without creating climate emissions.

Lord Haskins, the chair of the local enterprise partnership, said it planned to work with businesses across the Humber “to make this ambitious plan a reality”.

“This is a huge opportunity to accelerate clean growth in the Humber while also supporting significant industries to adapt for the future. If we can achieve this goal of becoming carbon neutral on the Humber it would make us a brilliant example not just for the rest of the country, but the rest of the world,” said Haskins, a former Labour adviser and boss of Northern Foods.

UK urban centres are also vying for investment to become the country’s first carbon-neutral city. Bristol has joined the race by vowing to cut its carbon emissions to net zero by 2030 through a £1bn climate scheme. The UK’s first European Green Capital hopes to maintain its green lead by attracting investment from major companies and investors to create a carbon-neutral city.

Marvin Rees, the mayor of Bristol, said its City Leap programme was “a world first” that would lead the way on reducing carbon emissions. “We are creating a decarbonised local energy system that Bristol can be proud of. City Leap is leading the way on carbon reduction, while at the same time addressing important social and economic challenges,” he said.

Bristol council voted unanimously in favour of establishing a net zero-carbon city, meaning any climate emissions must be neutralised by schemes that absorb carbon, after becoming the first to declare a climate emergency.

City Leap aims to bring together international organisations, investors and tech companies to help develop low-carbon solutions that can drive down the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.

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United Oil & Gas Confirms Award Of Four UK North Sea Blocks

(Alliance News) – United Oil & Gas Ltd said Monday it has accepted the formal offer from the Oil & Gas Authority for the awarding of four blocks in the UK North Sea in the UK 31st offshore licensing round.

The oil & gas company now holds a 100% interest in blocks 14/15c, 15/11c, 15/12a and 15/13c, which make up Licence P2480. The blocks cover an area of 500 square kilometres, and includes the Zeta prospect which United estimates could contain around 90 million barrels of in-place oil.

The blocks were awarded on the basis of a low-cost work programme involving the purchase of an existing high-quality 3D seismic dataset and detailed geological and geophysical analysis.

In the same licencing round, United Oil & Gas was provisionally awarded a 10% interest in blocks 98/11b and 98/12 in the English Channel. The company said it expects to receive confirmation on those licence in the coming weeks.

“We are delighted with these awards, which, based on extensive technical work carried out over the available acreage ahead of the application were our primary focus for the 31st round,” said Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Leather.

“This is our second successful UK licencing round and our largest award to date. United has done well to be included in the roster of companies which have been successful in this round, including Chrysaor, Equinor, Chevron and Total,” Leather added.

Shares for United Oil & Gas were untraded on Monday, last quoted at 4.07 pence in London.

By Dayo Laniyan; dayolaniyan@alliancenews.com

Copyright 2019 Alliance News Limited. All Rights Reserved.

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UK shale gas driller mulling sale due to fracing challenges

LONDON (Bloomberg) – Investors backing closely-held Cuadrilla Resources, which pioneered UK shale gas drilling before becoming mired in red tape, are exploring options including an outright sale of the company.

Shareholders including private equity firm Riverstone Holdings LLC, which has a direct 45% holding, and Kerogen Capital, which holds an indirect stake, have hired the Royal Bank of Canada to study ways to cash out of their investment, said people familiar with the matter, asking not to be named because the information is private.

The bank has been working with the investors for months, they said. No final decision has been made and the deliberations may not lead to a transaction.

Cuadrilla has struggled to produce and sell any natural gas due to widespread opposition to its hydraulic-fracturing technology, also known as fracing. Investors have been waiting for it to finish work on a well in northwest England, which is currently suspended after causing an earthquake registering 2.9 on the Richter scale last month.

Cuadrilla declined to comment. Riverstone and RBC didn’t return requests seeking comment, while an external spokesman for Kerogen wasn’t immediately able to comment.

Kerogen owns 53% of Australian energy-service company AJ Lucas Group Ltd., which holds 48% of Cuadrilla, according to data compiled by Bloomberg and Cuadrilla’s website. Kerogen’s stake in AJ Lucas, built up since late 2011, is now valued at about A$58 million ($40 million). The value of AJ Lucas’s shares has fallen almost 90% over that period.

AJ Lucas, based in Australia, didn’t respond to a request seeking comment outside of business hours.

Cuadrilla has been trying for more than a decade to prove Britain has commercially viable quantities of shale gas. If it does, the country could partly replicate an energy boom seen in the U.S., which reversed its status as a major net fuel importer. However, local opposition in the UK and different regulations governing fracing have made it almost impossible for Cuadrilla to appraise the country’s gas reserves.

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Bristol launches ambitious £1 billion net zero energy finance bid

Bristol has launched an ambitious plan to raise up to £1 billion of investment to turn it into the UK’s first carbon neutral city.

Bristol City Leap, a project co-led by Bristol City Council and local energy supplier Bristol Energy, has launched a global search for organisations willing to invest in a joint venture that will help deliver a net zero energy system in the city by 2030.

The project is more than a year in the planning, having first been unveiled in May last year. It was then approved by Bristol City Council in April this year, prompting more than 180 organisations – including tech firms, investors and energy companies – to get in touch.

Bristol City Leap has now formally launched the procurement process, which is expected to run for a number of months. More information, as well as an investment prospectus, is available on the Bristol ESCO website.

Bristol’s mayor Marvin Rees described the project as a “world first”, adding that while it would lead the way on carbon reduction, the project would also address “important social and economic challenges”.

“The inclusion of Bristol Energy is integral to delivering smart energy propositions utilising City Leap’s projects by weaving a number of technologies together, helping to ensure that the company continues to deliver clean energy and social value for local people,” he said.

Bristol Energy is to play a pivotal role in the City Leap project, the council said, and the utility is to bring forward and deliver smart energy propositions – including localised tariffs and new, innovative services – for the benefit of Bristol’s residents.

The supplier will benefit from additional investment, aimed to reduce its reliance on council funding.

Marek Majewicz, managing director at Bristol Energy, said that City Leap had “social value at its heart”.

“From community heat networks, to energy innovation in social housing, the substantial investment from the partnership will enable everyone in Bristol to benefit from low carbon, renewable energy projects.

“Bristol Energy is already working on a wide range of innovative projects and we’re looking forward to harnessing low-carbon technologies for the good of our city and our customers.”

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Octopus Energy buys out rival to propel it into the big time

Octopus Energy has struck a deal to become one of the UK’s fastest growing energy suppliers after agreeing to buy a smaller rival.

The energy challenger brand told its staff on Wednesday that it has agreed to buy Co-op Energy, which supplies gas and electricity to about 300,000 homes.

Octopus, which supplies 850,000 customers, is expected to confirm early on Thursday that the deal will nudge its business past 1 million customers after only four years in the market.

The deal, thought to be worth more than £30m, propels Octopus to within a whisker of rival supplier Bulb Energy, which supplies 1.4 million customers and is the UK’s fastest growing new supplier.

It follows a flurry of deals within the energy market which is beginning to consolidate after a flood of new suppliers joined the market in recent years, many of which have proved financially unstable.

Co-Op Energy snapped up 160,000 customers from GB Energy Supply after it collapsed in 2016, and then gained another 130,000 customers after its takeover of Flow Energy last year.

The company, part of the Midcounties Co-op, has since run into financial trouble. It revealed deepening losses earlier this year in the Co-op’s financial report, which hinted that the supplier might be sold to protect the wider business.

Octopus Energy, which is owned by Octopus Group, is also loss-making but has the full support of its investment fund owner which has ambitions to grow the business to compete with the big six.

Octopus Group was an early backer of the property site Zoopla and backs Big Gym, Secret Escapes and Eve mattresses through its investment arm Octopus Ventures.

Its fast-growing energy supplier bought smaller rival Affect Energy last September and took on the customers of failed energy start-up Iresa in December last year.

It also won a lucrative contract to supply energy to M&S Energy customers that was previously held by SSE for nine years.

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UK energy price fears as electricity imports climb to record high

Reliance on European power would bring extra costs after no-deal Brexit, say experts

The UK’s reliance on electricity imports has climbed to a record high amid fears that homes and businesses could face higher energy bills if the UK crashes out of Europe.

The latest government figures, released just weeks before Britain’s exit from the EU, show that the UK’s net electricity imports reached their highest ever level in the first quarter of this year.

The four high-voltage power cables linking the UK to Europe’s energy markets imported a sixth more electricity than the year before, after a new interconnector opened in January.

In total, European electricity imports made up almost 7% of the UK’s total demand, and the government hopes to increase imports to about 20% by 2025.

Although this is a small share of the UK’s electricity, experts have warned that higher import prices could lead to higher energy bills.

The government’s leaked no-deal planning report, Operation Yellowhammer, predicted a marked increase in energy prices for homes and businesses if the UK crashes out without a deal.

The market price for electricity could climb because of a fall in the value of the pound against the euro, but also because of potentially costly complications of severing ties with EU energy markets.

Gas and electricity bills rose by £2bn in the year after the 2016 referendum result because of the plummeting value of the pound, according to a report from University College London.

This translated into an average household’s bill increasing by £35 for electricity and £40 for gas, and researchers predicted bills would climb by a further £61 every year in the years following the referendum.

A report commissioned by National Grid before the referendum predicted that energy bills could climb by £500m every year by the 2020s if the UK left the EU’s internal energy market.

Kristian Ruby, the head of pan-European trade association Eurelectric, said a no-deal exit could mean the UK faces third-party costs to use the power lines connecting Britain to European power markets, which would raise the overall cost of the energy.

Ruby said the UK might also find it more difficult to trade if it were left out of the complex pan-European trading system, and this could place a “risk premium” on UK prices.

“When you throw all rules up in the air at the same time, this lack of clarity, predictability and rule of law is what is very concerning for us,” he added.

A spokesperson said the government had taken steps to make sure energy trading continued and that energy laws “work effectively and provide value for money”.

The Guardian understands that a pan-European network of energy system operators has agreed a plan for the UK to remain within the internal market on a voluntary basis which would offer the same commercial terms.

A spokesman for National Grid, which runs the UK’s power cables, said it was “not anticipating any additional charges for interconnectors in the event of a no-deal Brexit”.

However, the plan has not been agreed by the European commission and could be cast in doubt if the UK leaves without an agreement or without paying the £39bn exit fee.

Alexander Temerko, a major Conservative party donor, said he feared electricity market prices could jump by almost a third if the UK does not remain part of the EU’s internal energy market after a no-deal Brexit.

The Ukrainian-born billionaire, who is planning to build a new electricity cable between the UK and mainland Europe, said the price hike could mean higher bills and negative consequences for UK business.

Temerko publicly dropped his support for Boris Johnson during the Conservative leadership campaign earlier this year over fears he could steer Britain towards a no-deal Brexit.

“If we have a no-deal Brexit all existing regulations for the transmission of electricity will be terminated with immediate effect. I don’t know how quickly, or how high, the price of electricity would jump. My expert opinion is that prices could jump by 30%. But there are no scenarios for this. We are not ready,” he said.

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Renewable Energy

Renewable energy comes from the Earth’s natural resources – sunlight, wind, waves, the tides and geothermal heat from deep within our planet. It has two great advantages: unlike oil, coal and gas, it will never run out, and it’s clean – it doesn’t pollute the planet or cause dangerous climate change.

It is versatile and adaptable. Renewable energy can supply huge cities on the grid or remote villages unconnected to any mains electricity. It can also be built close to where the power is actually needed, and the sheer range of technologies means that one or another will be suitable almost anywhere.

The UK has some of the best renewable energy sources in the world. Our islands, battered by wind and waves, are perfect for tapping into these power sources. Even solar energy has a role to play – solar panels are more efficient in direct sunlight, but can generate power even on a cloudy day. New developments in battery storage mean renewable energy can be used even when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun shining. This provides a fantastic opportunity for the UK to be at the forefront of technological innovation, creating jobs and driving down costs even more.

The rise of renewable energy
In fact, renewable energy is slowly replacing fossil fuels. In 2015 renewables generated more power than coal for the first time ever, and by 2018 was approaching the level of gas generation and is set to continue growing. It’s also getting much cheaper – wind power now costs far less than nuclear, and between 2015 and 2017 the price of offshore wind halved.

All this makes much of the government’s attitude towards renewable energy at odds with its claim to being an international leader on tackling climate change. Cuts to government support for solar power has led to a drop in the number of solar panels being installed, and continued political and financial backing for fossil fuels and nuclear power just don’t make sense. The UK is legally committed to tackling climate change and, by 2050, reducing emissions by 80% compared to 1990. There is pressure on all governments to get to zero carbon emissions even before 2050 if we have any hope of keeping global temperature rises below 1.5 degrees.

Massively increasing renewable energy is the most important way the government is going to meet its commitments, and for us to have a chance of stopping the worst effects of climate change from happening.

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Frackers in UK get fresh hope government will loosen rules

A change of British government has given the much maligned fracking industry another opportunity to make out its case for stimulating the controversial technique to tap unconventional natural gas reserves.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his new business minister, Andrea Leadsom, have come out in favor of hydraulic fracturing in the past. That could provide impetus for an industry that has all but ground to a halt thanks to strict regulatory limits on the seismic activity around fracking wells.

As Cuadrilla Resources Ltd. resumed work at a site in Lancashire, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy said Thursday that it saw shale gas as a crucial domestic energy source that can cut gas imports as well as working as a bridging fuel to get to net zero emissions by 2050. That may indicate the government could loosen rules that have hobbled the industry.

“For our industry in particular, we do need a review” of seismic limits, said Ken Cronin, chief executive officer of the U.K. Onshore Oil and Gas body.

Some sort of change is necessary to keep fracking alive. Cuadrilla has until Nov. 31 to work at its Preston Road site. After that, planning permission expires and only flow tests of existing boreholes are possible. The firm has applied to Lancashire County Council for an 18-month extension, but a decision on that is unlikely before summer 2020, a spokeswoman said.

Fracking involves pumping water and tiny particles into underground rock formations under high pressure, opening cavities to allow gas to flow into the wellbore. The technique can cause tremors in the earth, although most are so minor only scientific instruments can detect them.

In Britain, rules restrict fracking to operations that have underground seismic activity of below 0.5 on the Richter Scale. That’s a fraction of what’s allowed in Texas and Oklahoma where fracking has revolutionized the oil industry.

“We were stymied by the 0.5, and we think that there is good scientific evidence out there to increase that level,” Cronin said.

It’s one of the few technologies that could slow or even reverse the sharp declines in oil and gas production from the North Sea as conventional deposits run dry. Exploration has been halted a number of times over concerns about earthquakes caused by fracking, most of them too small for people to notice.

By comparison, a passing truck produces magnitude-3 quake on the Richter Scale, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. Cuadrilla Resources Ltd. had stopped its U.K. fracking operations in October, following a series of mini-seismic events at its site in Lancashire, north west England.

After years of delays, fracking in the U.K. seemed closer than ever when Cuadrilla Resources Ltd. said in February that the nation’s first horizontal fracking well had uncovered a large reservoir of high-quality fuel.

But that optimism however was short-lived as Cuadrilla blamed overzealous controls on seismic activity that prevent it from being able to fully tap the potential of the well. Both it and Jim Ratcliffe-owned Ineos Group Ltd., have said that unless the government loosens regulations they won’t be able to frack in the U.K.

Cuadrilla Chief Executive Officer Francis Egan said that government policy to explore and develop shale-gas “has not changed.” He said he took encouragement by government climate advisers, the Climate Change Committee, recognizing natural gas as an essential energy for the U.K.’s net-zero commitment.

“Give the British people their mineral rights, and get fracking at last,” Johnson wrote in the Telegraph in 2014. As Mayor of London, he told the Times of London newspaper that the city “should leave no stone unturned, or unfracked, in the cause of keeping the lights on.”

Leadsom wrote in the Yorkshire Post in 2016 that “a shale gas industry will not only boost our economy and create thousands of jobs across the supply chain it will help to guarantee a secure energy supply which is an absolute must for this government.”

Despite apparent support at ministerial level, dozens of lawmakers in the Conservative Party oppose the practice partly on environmental grounds and partly because of the threat dozens of wells would have to the countryside.

So far, the government hasn’t committed to changing the rules. On Thursday it restated its enthusiasm for fracking without saying how it would balance the environment concerns.

“Shale gas could be an important new domestic energy source reducing the level of gas imports while delivering broad economic benefits, including through the creation of well-paid, quality jobs,” the business department said in a statement. “It could also support our transition to net zero emissions by 2050.”

Opposition parties point out fracking and producing more gas isn’t compatible with goals to rein in fossil fuel emissions and climate change.

“There is no way we can reach net zero by 2050 if we fully exploit the UK’s shale gas reserve,” said Rebecca Long-Bailey, the member of Parliament who speaks for the Labour opposition on business. “Simply put, there is no room left for fracking and it should be banned immediately.”

Environmental questions
The practice has come under fire from environmental campaigners concerned about the affect it has on rock structures and water systems as well as the emissions. Protesters have consistently disrupted prospective shale gas sites up and down the U.K. and have taken the issue to court to have it stopped.

In a new study from Cornell University, globally the industry is found to be behind rising greenhouse-gas emissions, according to Robert Howarth. The process contributes more methane than cows and wetlands. The gas has global-warming potential, 84 times greater than carbon dioxide across a 20-year period.

“The industry seems to have struggled to convince the British public that developing a new fossil fuel resource is an environmentally responsible thing to do,” Laurence Williams, a research fellow in environmental politics at the University of Sussex, said in an email Wednesday.

The argument that shale gas can work as a transition fuel “had only limited success in persuading environmentally minded people to support fracking,” said Williams. “And it struggles to compete with the simplicity and clarity of a phrase like ‘keep it in the ground.’”