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So, what should we do in the absence of knowledge?

Summary:
If we don't have the information, just not a scoobie of the knowledge required, to make a decision then what is it that we should do? Sensible folk would probably say we should go and find out before we make our decision:The rise of the UK’s nascent shale industry is "overhyped" and 55 million years too late, according to new research of the UK’s geology.A team of scientists has warned that the UK’s most promising shale gas reservoirs have been warped by tectonic shifts millions of years ago which could thwart efforts to tap the gas reserves trapped within layers of shale.Professor John Underhill, a chief scientist at Heriot-Watt University, said the debate over whether or not to develop domestic gas sources could prove redundant because Britain’s shale layers are “unlikely” to be an

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If we don't have the information, just not a scoobie of the knowledge required, to make a decision then what is it that we should do? Sensible folk would probably say we should go and find out before we make our decision:

The rise of the UK’s nascent shale industry is "overhyped" and 55 million years too late, according to new research of the UK’s geology.

A team of scientists has warned that the UK’s most promising shale gas reservoirs have been warped by tectonic shifts millions of years ago which could thwart efforts to tap the gas reserves trapped within layers of shale.

Professor John Underhill, a chief scientist at Heriot-Watt University, said the debate over whether or not to develop domestic gas sources could prove redundant because Britain’s shale layers are “unlikely” to be an economic source of gas.

OK, excellent. There's a scientific prediction. What is it that we do when using the scientific method? We attempt to design experiments to disprove the assertions being made. If they survive such attempts at disproof then we upgrade assertions and speculations into something quite possibly true. That is, we attempt to go and find out. 

So, what should be the reaction to this assertion

Quentin Fisher, a professor of petroleum geoengineering at the University of Leeds, said more work was needed as the disadvantages pointed out in the seismic imaging could be balanced by other factors with an advantage for shale extraction.

“Prof Underhill is quite correct to highlight the great uncertainties that exist regarding the likely productivity of shale in the UK and is correct that the geology in the UK tends to be structurally more complex than in the US. Many of us involved in this debate have regularly highlighted the large uncertainties that exist,” Fisher said.

“Although geological complexity and late tilting may be detrimental to shale gas prospects in the UK, there are other factors that may be more favourable, such as having thicker shale sequences.”

He said the only way to find out was through testing. “The bottom line is that the only way to truly assess the viability is to drill wells, and we need to get on with that.”

Well, yes, quite so. We've now got duelling theories and the only way we can decide between them is to go drill. So, go drill we should.

We all know how Professor Underhill's speculations are going to be used of course. The anti-frackers will be shouting that there just ain't any gas there so instead let's continue with the cucumber storage of moonlight scheme. When the correct response is as above. If there's gas there then we're copacetic (we,. not the anti-frackers), if there isn't then, well, so let's go find out.

There is a similarity here with a point made about climate change. The greater the uncertainty about how bad the effects will be the more careful we've got to be about it happening. Certainly true but the same logic applies here. The more the uncertainty about the shale gas contents of Britain the more the answer is drill baby, drill.

Tim Worstall

Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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