UK

As Martin Wolf has noted in the Financial Times, world oil prices have fallen 38 per cent since the end of June. A Martian listening to George Osborne’s Autumn Statement would have no idea of this. For consumers lower oil prices can have positive effects but for mature producing provinces they are very damaging and could be fatal.

Mr Osborne proposed a cut in the supplementary charge on oil company profits by 2 percentage points from 32 per cent to 30 per cent. There is to be a “cluster” area allowance to help the development of small fields which sit next to each other. The ringfence expenditure supplement is to extended from six years to 10. Wow! That will really keep the investment flowing. Read more

BP oil platform in the North Sea  © Reuters

After 40 years of production that far exceeded original expectations, the North Sea oil and gas industry is in serious jeopardy. At the beginning of the year, there was a degree of optimism following Sir Ian Wood’s report and the establishment of a new, more interventionist regulator considered capable of driving a further wave of activity. But with the fall in oil prices over the past four months, the mood has changed dramatically. Read more

The Saltire national flag (Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

  © Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Devolution max — the home rule option endorsed by the three UK party leaders — could just encourage Scots to vote No next Thursday. For many in the business sector, however, including the energy companies, the idea looks half baked; a proposal adopted in panic because of a solitary poll showing the Yes campaign ahead. The consequence will be an extended period of uncertainty with a new question mark over every prospective investment in Scotland. Read more

A sign pointing to Whitehall (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty)

  © Getty

Applications close this week for the newly created post of chief executive of the UK civil service. The general reaction to the advertisement of the vacancy has been muted, to put it mildly, with a much repeated view that the job is un-doable.

The role is certainly not an easy one – think of it as Yes Minister with knives – but the conventional wisdom is too negative.

Whitehall badly needs reform and this could be a good way to drive forward the changes which have been so elusive over the past few years. But if they really want change and a modern, professionalised civil service, ministers will have to adapt as well. Read more

Readers will be familiar with the issue of shale gas - its potential to change the world energy market and the controversies surrounding its development. But you might be less familiar with tight oil – oil from shale rock which can also be extracted by hydraulic fracturing. That is the next story and its development particularly in the UK will be every bit as controversial. Even the publication of the initial basic survey of the resources in place is being held up by political nervousness. Read more

Nearly. That was my summary of the state of negotiations between the UK government and EDF on new nuclear last month. Nearly but not quite as comments by Ed Davey over the past week make clear. The government had hoped to make a positive announcement before the summer but it is now looking at the prospect of more months of further talks. A deal, intended by ministers in London to represent a final offer, was put on the table four weeks ago. EDF in Paris, where all the energy company’s decisions are made, has failed to respond.

Frustrated by the unwillingness of EDF to engage, the government, which wanted to do a deal and thought an agreement was possible after the last Anglo-French summit in May, has now effectively stepped back and is talking to other possible suppliers. Read more

The new estimates of shale gas resources published by IGas, one of the energy companies involved in exploration in the UK, complicate still further the decisions facing the Government on energy. Ed Davey, energy secretary, talks about moving to a point at which power supplies will be almost carbon free. But at the same time civil servants across Whitehall, including some from his own Department, have been asked to produce a paper on the competitiveness of UK energy supplies at a time when US costs are falling dramatically. That will be an interesting piece of work and should be published openly. Read more

The announcement that the Department of Energy and Climate Change – along with half a dozen other Whitehall ministries – has accepted another reduction in its budget under the latest spending review will be celebrated only by the energy companies and their lobbyists. A weak department has been weakened further with its negotiating capability undermined at a critical moment.

Most of DECC’s £3bn budget goes to meet its statutory obligations – including nuclear decommissioning costs. Those obligations can’t be cut so the burden falls on the “discretionary” areas of policy making which include negotiations around the vexed issue of Electricity Market Reform. Cuts and natural wastage, which leaves a significant number of posts unfilled, mean that the department is now seriously understaffed for these negotiations. There is big money at stake and for the companies no expense on staff and lobbyists is too great. The secretary of state has been supine in accepting the cuts without challenge. Read more

The news that Exxon is to build a $10 bn LNG export facility in Texas marks another significant step forward in the story of shale gas and its disruptive impact on the world energy market. Those who want a parallel for the painful process through which so many of the established forces of the industry on one side and the lobby groups on another have struggled to come to terms with the reality of shale gas over the last three years should read John Heilbron’s fascinating book on GalileoRead more

The news of another excellent year for investment in the North Sea will come as a surprise only to those who do not understand the dynamic relationship between economics and technology.

The original predictions were that North Sea oil and gas – certainly in the UK sector – would be exhausted by 1990. A strict depletion policy in Norway might keep production running for a few more years. That was the received wisdom of the 1970s.

Now, 56 years after the first gas was produced at the West Sole field, the prospect for the whole province is for at least two more decades of production. Total output is down but there is a long tail. Resources which were once thought inaccessible are now being brought onstream thanks to advances in drilling and reservoir management technology. Read more

Ed Davey, secretary of state for DECC

Ed Davey, secretary of state at DECC, outside his ministry

The UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change is about to publish forecasts suggesting that gas prices could rise by up to 70 per cent over the next five years. This is scaremongering nonsense, and shows just how out of touch the Department is with the realities of the international energy market. Officials appear not to have consulted the industry or the traders. In reality the odds are that prices are just as likely to fall as to rise for three distinct reasons. Read more

A number of well-sourced reports over the past two days suggest that, as predicted, we are on the edge of a deal for the construction of new nuclear power stations in the UK.

The champagne corks however are not quite popping either in Whitehall or in Paris. Read more

There is absolutely no need for an energy shortage in the UK, but the indecision of policy makers is making serious problems over the next few years ever more likely. There is no shortage of supply – but the raw materials of the energy business – such as gas and coal, or for that matter wind – have to be converted into power to produce the electricity which is essential for a complex modern economy. If the power stations are not in place electricity can’t be produced. Read more

Shale gas drilling rig near Blackpool, in north-west England . Getty Images

I spent the holidays in Wales, dodging the odd shower, and contemplating the potential if someone could invent a technology that, short of massive hydro-power schemes, could convert rainfall into power. Wales would undoubtedly be the Saudi Arabia of rain power.

But Wales may not have to wait for new technology to become an energy producer again. The country looks set to be one of the main centres in the UK for the rapidly expanding shale gas business.

One of the most significant events of 2013 for the energy sector in the UK will be the publication of the next report on shale gas prospects across the country from the British Geological Survey. Well timed leaks of part of the report, which appeared just before the chancellor’s statement in December, have already suggested a significant increase in the resource base available near Blackpool. Read more

Wholesale gas market faces investigation. Getty

The announcement of an inquiry into the wholesale gas market in the UK reflects the increasing concern about the way in which pricing structures operate in a business with a limited number of powerful players. It would be wrong to prejudge the specific inquiry. What matters is that the sector as a whole needs to regain consumer trust.

From the wholesale electricity business and retail gas supply, to the negotiations between the government and private sector over subsidies to wind and nuclear power generation, there is a culture of complexity with too many decisions taken in private. The commitment to transparency from the new energy minister, John Hayes, is very welcome and long overdue. Read more

Japanese company Hitachi buys into nuclear

The news that Hitachi has paid what seems a high price for the Horizon franchise to build new nuclear stations in the UK is good news for the industry. Hitachi has a strong balance sheet and a good technical record – untarnished by Japan’s Fukushima incident. The deal is a tribute to the Department of Energy and Climate Change officials involved and to Number 10′s strong support for the nuclear programme.

Now, only two questions remain. What price will UK consumers pay for nuclear generated power and who will fund EDF’s initial investment in Hinkley Point.

After a long and successful campaign to make nuclear power acceptable within the UK the companies involved in the industry seem to be jeopardising further progress by refusing to spell out the detailed costs of the new nuclear stations they want to build. Read more

The news that Areva and the Chinese company Guangdong Nuclear Power Group have pulled out of the bidding for the Horizon franchise to build some of the UK’s next generation of nuclear power stations was unsurprising. Areva is not an operator of nuclear stations and the government is reported to have made clear to the companies that while Chinese investment was welcome, a Chinese operator was not. Read more

By the end of this week bids must be in from the consortia seeking to develop the UK’s new generation of nuclear power stations. It is decision time but the irony is that the key decisions will be taken in Paris rather than London. Read more

Short of appointing Jessica Ennis as head of government relations it is hard to think what more EDF could have done to get the UK government to give them the go-ahead to develop new nuclear power stations in the UK.  But still no decision has been taken on the crucial issue of pricing structures.  Almost every other potential investor has tired of waiting and pulled out of the game.  How much longer will EDF wait ? Read more

Wanted.  Permanent Secretary for the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change.   Key attributes – a thick skin, a blind eye and the ability to wield a sharp knife.

The speed with which the appointment process has moved since the resignation of Moira Wallace was announced at the unusual hour of 8pm on the evening of July 19th and the direct involvement of Sir Bob Kerslake, the head of the home civil service, are signs of the concern felt at the top end of Whitehall about what is happening in DECC and the way in which the Department has lost its way.   Putting things right, however, will need something more than a change of personnel. Read more