COMMONS

Shale gas gets support from MPs in new report

23 May 2011

Shale gas drilling in the UK has been given the go-ahead by MPs in a new report looking at the impact it could have on water supplies, energy security and greenhouse gas emissions.

Safety

The inquiry found no evidence that the hydraulic fracturing process involved in shale gas extraction – known as ‘fracking’ -  poses a direct risk to underground water aquifers provided the drilling well is constructed properly. The committee concluded that, on balance, a moratorium in the UK is not justified or necessary at present. The MPs, nevertheless, urge the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to monitor drilling activity extremely closely in its early stages in order to assess its impact on air and water quality.

Tim Yeo MP, Chair of the Committee said:

"There has been a lot of hot air recently about the dangers of shale gas drilling, but our inquiry found no evidence to support the main concern – that UK water supplies would be put at risk.

There appears to be nothing inherently dangerous about the process of 'fracking' itself and as long as the integrity of the well is maintained shale gas extraction should be safe.
The Government's regulatory agencies must of course be vigilant and monitor drilling closely to ensure that air and water quality is not being affected."

Energy security

Shale gas extraction could reduce the UK's dependence on imported gas, but it is unlikely to have a dramatic effect on domestic gas prices, according to the report. The British Geological Survey estimates that the UK's onshore shale gas resources could be as large as 150 billion cubic metres - equivalent to roughly 1.5 years of total UK gas consumption and worth approximately £28 billion at current prices. The UK's potential offshore reserves could "dwarf" onshore supplies, however, and the committee calls on the Government to encourage the development of the offshore shale gas industry in the UK. Worldwide shale gas could add 40% to recoverable natural gas resources, mostly in China and the US.

Chair of the Committee, Tim Yeo MP, added:

"Onshore shale gas reserves in the UK could be quite considerable and will certainly help us increase our energy security – though not, unfortunately, very dramatically.

Offshore reserves may be much higher and, while more costly to recover, could potentially deliver self-sufficiency in gas for the UK at some point in the future."

Greenhouse gas emissions

Greenhouse gas emissions from gas are lower than from coal, but are still much higher than many low-carbon technologies – like nuclear, solar or wind power. Concerns have been raised about shale gas, because it is made up of methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide. However, methane would only be released through leaks from the well or pipelines and the MPs are confident that this can be easily minimised through regulation and enforcement. 

Tim Yeo MP, said:

"It is understandable that environmentalists have concerns about methane emissions from shale gas after YouTube videos from the US apparently showed people setting fire to tap water.

Regulations in the UK are stronger than in the States and should stop anything of the sort from happening here."

Shale gas could reduce carbon dioxide emissions globally, according to the report, by encouraging a switch from coal to gas for electricity generation, particularly in developing economies. However, it will not be sufficient to meet long term emissions reductions targets and avoid the worst effects of global climate disruption.

Chair of the Committee, Tim Yeo MP, concluded:

"Shale gas could encourage more countries to switch from coal to gas, which in some cases could halve power station emissions.

But if it has a downward effect on gas prices it could divert much needed investment away from lower carbon technologies like solar, wind, wave or tidal power.
The emergence of shale gas increases the urgency of bringing carbon capture and storage technology to the market and making it work for gas as well as coal."

Further Information 

Image: iStockphoto

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