Centrica talks down shale gas but may still invest

Sam Laidlaw did his bit to rain on the Davos parade when he dissed the prospects for shale gas as the game-changer that will shake countries out of their economic torpor. Yes, said the Centrica boss, shale had produced astonishing changes in the price of natural gas in America, but it was unrealistic to imagine this could be replicated – at least in Britain.

That is not what those on the Alpine jaunt want to hear. Global political and business leaders are desperate to find the equivalent of a new internet during a period of debt and recession gloom.

Peter Voser, the Shell boss, is expected to strike a more upbeat tone when he signs a gas deal with Ukraine claimed to be worth $10bn (£6bn) and could be worth as much as $50bn.

But in fact Laidlaw is not as negative as he is pretending: the owner of British Gas is one of a number of major energy players considering whether to invest in British shale trailblazer, Cuadrilla Resources.

David Cameron’s old Etonian buddy may also feel he needs to explain to shareholders – though not to environmentalists – why he has not jumped on the carbon-producing energy bandwagon earlier. His arguments against quick development of shale in Britain were largely built around civic opposition to the “fracking” needed to exploit reserves and population density, which makes it difficult to drill the many wells needed.

Laidlaw again refused to comment on any prospective interest in Cuadrilla, whose existing shareholders, Riverstone Holdings and AJ Lucas, would like to bring in a larger partner to give clout to the schemes off Blackpool and elsewhere.

Shell has an easier ride in Ukraine because the government there is desperate to find indigenous shale reserves so that it can escape its dependence on Russia.

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