Mayor of London could make fracking decision by 2014

By Nilima Choudhury

The extent of shale gas deposits in London should be clear by the end of 2013, allowing London’s Mayor Boris Johnson to make a decision on whether these can be exploited.

Johnson’s environmental advisor Matthew Pencharz stressed to RTCC that it was unlikely central London would become home to a series of drilling rigs, but said all low carbon options needed to be explored.

“If there are deposits in London – there might be, but we won’t know until later in the year. But it’s worth having a look,” he said, adding: “The government is obviously talking about the future of shale gas – we don’t know if there’s any in London – there might be on the very outer edges of London – we’re not going to be digging up Trafalgar Square.”

Last week Mayor Boris Johnson, who is close to Prime Minister David Cameron, informed Daily Telegraph readers that ‘no stone should be left unfracked’ to keep the lights on.

“It is glorious news for humanity. It doesn’t need the subsidy of wind power. I don’t know whether it will work in Britain, but we should get fracking right away,” he wrote.

The Mayor’s office stressed that drilling for shale gas would not happen in Trafalgar Square. (Source: Diliff)

Despite huge concerns over the environmental impact of fracking [read our analysis here], it does appear shale gas could contribute to the Mayor’s plans to produce 25% of London’s energy from local sources by 2025.

As outlined in Johnson’s recently published 2020 Vision, the Mayor wants to promote local energy production to keep London’s lights on, boost investment and growth in London’s low carbon economy.

“Power generation [from shale gas] has the real potential of giving us cleaner, greener, more secure and cheaper in retail energy,” said Pencharz.

In order to encourage investment in non-polluting sources of energy, City Hall has applied to the UK energy regulator for a licence that allows the Greater London Authority to buy excess electricity produced by residents and public bodies.

It could then sell it on, at cost price, to railway operators, the police and hospitals.


Air quality is a major issue for London residents. Recent figures from campaign group Clean Air London revealed air pollution results in 15-30% of all new cases of asthma in children, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and coronary heart disease in adults 65 years of age and older.

Annual average levels of nitrogen dioxide in central London are over twice the legal limit for Europe. Clean Air London says diesel vehicles like buses and lorries are the main culprits, and critics claim the Mayor and the government have not done enough to regulate their emissions.

By 2016, the Mayor has proposed 20% of all London buses to be hybrid which his office concludes emit four times less nitrogen dioxide compared to diesel buses and half the amount of CO2.

“The Mayor is doing a series of things to address that – new buses for London are the cleanest of its class,” said Pencharz, referring to the new ‘Boris Bus’, which costs £354,000 per vehicle. Tests do demonstrate the New Bus for London is the greenest diesel electric hybrid bus in the world.

“They’re a lot better than your average diesel. But there is no electric double decker bus – it doesn’t exist – that’s not to say it won’t exist in the future. We’re setting up a pathway to go in that direction.

“Single decker electrics – the capital cost is just too much for us to go there but we’re going to run some trials to see if they work.

“There are a lot of actions we’re doing to address air quality,” he added. “There’s something called the Mayor’s Air Quality Fund which is a £6 million fund from Transport for London.”

Pencharz agrees that taxis are the heaviest polluters, but the Mayor is yet to find a successful and cost-effective way to get the taxis off the road.

In 2012, the London Taxi Company, which makes most of the ubiquitous black cabs on the streets, announced plans to develop a hybrid taxi and, in the long term, one powered by hydrogen, although it appears progress is yet to be made.

“Everybody’s got to develop low emission vehicles for 2016 for London so we’re developing our next version,” a spokeswoman for the London Taxi Company told RTCC.

Olympics feedback

The Mayor’s office also appears keen to capitalise on some of the lower profile gains achieved at the London Games of 2012.

Branded the ‘Greenest games Ever‘, a series of climate and sustainability policies were implemented as a result, and the Mayor’s office is keen to not let this momentum slip.

“We do ourselves down, but we shouldn’t, we can pull it off and we did,” said Pencharz. “We shifted a lot of freight deliveries into the non-peak times to take traffic off the roads [during the Olympics]. It reduced congestion a lot. These are the [lessons] that we’re taking from the Olympics.”

Night deliveries can be unpopular with residents wanting a quiet sleep, but Pencharz suggests noise dampeners and a sensitive attitude from business can mitigate those concerns, indicating it is an option they are considering.

Climate change adaptation

Hanging over all these plans is the threat of climate change. This is a topic that Boris Johnson enjoys discrediting in his Telegraph column, but Pencharz’s attitude to the issue suggests that may be a smokescreen to appease his right-wing fans.

“We’ve seen in the last few years pretty spectacular rain storms. It may appear to have rained quite heavily but we’ve actually missed these cataclysmic inundations,” he said.

“If we got that in London – and one day we will because the odds are that it would happen – it will have some effect on the infrastructure and it’s quite important that we prepare ourselves to ensure that.”

The devastation was revealed in New York after Hurricane Sandy is testament to the damage extreme weather can have on the most advanced cities.

It resulted in clean-up costs of between $50-$70 billion. It flooded five boroughs in New York, submerging cars, tunnels and the subway system and plunging skyscrapers and neighbourhoods into darkness.

Londoners are concerned – in October 2012, a resident messaged the Mayor asking, “If London is to ever experience anything like the catastrophe of Hurricane Sandy, how well prepared are we?” It’s a good question – and it’s unclear if the Mayor or the government currently have an answer.

London’s vulnerability to flooding caused by a continuous rise in water level and the slow “tilting” of Britain (up in the north and west, and down in the south and east) caused by post-glacial rebound led to the construction of the Thames Barrier in 1983.

Further inland, Pencharz said the Mayor has initiated other flooding-related initiatives: “There’s a project here called Drain London which looks for where flooding might happen, where infrastructure is and to put in plans about how to make it more resilient.

“I think we’re very proud of being the first city to have a climate change adaptation policy to prepare ourselves for the changing climate and weather.”

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