UK parliamentary committee backs shale gas exploration

A UK parliamentary committee has ruled that shale gas drilling poses no risks to the country’s water supplies and should be given the go ahead for development.

According to the Energy and Climate Change Committee, which published its report on Monday, a moratorium on shale gas drilling in the UK is nor justified nor necessary.

“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,” says committee chair Tim Yeo MP. “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.”

The Committee did recommend, however, that the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) should carefully monitor initial drilling activity to assess any potential impact on air or water quality.

The UK has considerable shale gas reserves, according the British Geological Survey data cited by the report.

While onshore shale gas resources could total 150 billion cubic metres – equivalent to around 18 months of UK gas consumption, offshore resources could “dwarf” these.

The Committee is now calling on the Government to support the development of a shale gas industry, which could be worth £28 billion for the onshore resources alone.

“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,” comments Yeo. “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.”

As well as concerns about contamination of aquifers, environmentalists have also raised concerns about emissions from shale gas, which is primarily methane – a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.

But the Committee’s report argues that UK regulations are much tougher than those in the US and will be more effective in minimising leaks from wells or pipelines.

According to its proponents, shale gas could also reduce CO2 emissions overall by enabling a switch from coal to gas for electricity generation.

But Yeo does admit that encouraging the development of shale gas “increases the urgency of bringing carbon capture and storage technology to the market and making it work for gas”.

A recent US study claims that shale gas leakage can make it ‘worse’ in greenhouse gas emission terms than coal or oil and France, which could have very substantial resources, has put a temporary ban on fracking.

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Related stories:
Fracking natural gas worse than mining coal, warns US study (27-Apr)
ETI seeks gas fired power stations for carbon capture demonstration (7-Apr)
Energy efficiency drives 22% decline in gas use by British Gas customers (3-Feb)
Renewable gas could meet 16% of demand, says National Grid (23-Jul 2010)

25 May 2011