UK 6 hours from 'lights out' in March

Britain was only six hours away from the lights being switched off in March as gas supplies ran 'dangerously low' in the cold weather according to a report from Crown Estate.

The report has added to growing concerns over Britain's increasing reliance on energy imports as domestic production falls, and energy bills continue to rise.

The fuel shortage in March was blamed on a combination of colder than expected weather and a faulty pipeline.  Despite reports at the time suggesting Britain was only two days from running out of stored gas, Crown Estate said the situation was even more precarious because of supply interruptions and that in fact the UK was only six hours from running out of its reserves.

Rob Hastings, energy and infrastructure director at the Crown Estate said;

“We really only had six hours' worth of gas left in storage as a buffer. If it had run any lower it would have meant interruptions to supply.

‘The bottom line is that in the UK we are in a place where the gas supply is dangerously low.’

The National Grid, which pipes gas around the UK, insisted the UK has ‘substantial resilience’ and diverse supply sources including imports of liquefied natural gas. 

But these latest revelations supply squeeze While Britain's storage capacity has increased in recent years, energy watchdog Ofgem says it still lags behind other major European economies on gas storage because of its historic role as a producer.

The Crown Estate owns the rights to gas storage caverns under the UK seabed including Rough off the coast of East Yorkshire. Energy firms use these caverns to build up supplies of natural gas during warmer months.

Centrica recently admitted the extended cold snap saw volumes at Rough - which it leases from the Crown Estate - reach a record low level in April.

The March supply issue was caused by problems at a processing plant in Norway that supplies gas to Britain through the Langeled pipeline, plus disrupted supplies between Belgium and the UK. Gas storage levels were already low after an exceptionally cold winter.

Chief Executive Nick Winser of National Grid maintained that there never was much supply left at the end of winter.

‘The UK has low storage levels by international standards, but there is a large diversity of (supply) sources. Our gas supply resilience is quite substantial, ‘he added.

Mr Winser said the UK attracts shipments of LNG when stored natural gas supplies are low, ensuring it is not reliant on gas storage.

The Crown Estate report comes as the Government is exploring other forms of gas production among them shale gas drilling, also known as fracking.

A recent report from the IOD estimated that fracking could create an industry worth £4billion a year in the UK and generate more than 70,000 jobs.  However the method is opposed by environmentalists who maintain that it has the potential to cause seismic activity and contaminate the water table.

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