Yet more disarray over whether we will have enough gas supplies this winter.


We escaped problems by the skin of our teeth last year and the year before - will we be so lucky this time round?

It's not as if we have not known about the problem. Everyone has been aware for years that North Sea oil and gas was on the wane.

And there have been plenty of siren warnings. Birmingham MP John Hemming has been one of the most vocal.

John does have the depressing tendency to worry a subject almost to death, like a demented Alsatian, but you have to give him some credit.

Because we are back in the same old groove. But who do you believe?

Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks recently admitted that Britain's gas supply this winter will be uncomfortably tight despite billions of pounds of investment by energy firms to boost imports.

Mr Wicks said the UK market was struggling because North Sea decline was cancelling out the impact of new gas pipelines from Norway and the Netherlands.

Last winter the National Grid issued an unprecedented supply alert as shortages loomed and energy bills soared. "It's not going to be the easiest of winters and we need to manage this with care and make sure we get it right," Mr Wicks said.

Dwindling output from the North Sea has turned the UK into a net importer after decades as an exporter of surplus gas.

At least two new import pipelines are scheduled to come on stream this winter but Mr Wicks said falling

North Sea gas output and rising consumption had cancelled out the benefit.

"Sadly, they are balancing each other out," he said.

Sir John Mogg, chairman of energy regulator Ofgem, takes a more optimistic line.

He has claimed gas supplies to the UK will be "less tight" than expected this winter and proclaimed he is "much more confident" that we will have adequate stocks to get us through.

"Shortages of gas are already seeming less of a threat," he insisted.

Good news indeed if it comes to pass. He even envisaged cheaper energy prices rather than ever dearer ones.

Now there's a novelty, and, as someone who has bet on them rising by freezing mine until 2010, I am just beginning to wonder whether I did the right thing.

But it just goes to show how radically we need to reap-praise our whole approach to energy.

Middle Eastern instability, the Iranian nuclear threat and world oil demand is all having an effect.

Some pundits think oil will fall to around $60 a barrel;

some reckon it will rise to nearer $100. Gas supplies are subject to the vagaries of Russian political whims and our so-called European partners who seem determined to make sure they're alright first... and never mind the UK.

The long term solution has surely to be a massive transfer from petrol to biofuels and a massive push to encourage energy efficient houses by incentivising home owners to adopt domestic solar panel and wind power schemes.

Perhaps a new role for clean coal. It is time to stop dithering.