Shale gas warning for green targets

11 December 2012
By Sofia Mitra-Thakur
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Shale gas drilling rig

Shale gas drilling rig

It is "categorically clear" that the UK cannot develop shale gas if it is to meet international commitments to tackle climate change, MPs have heard.

The shale gas industry has barely begun in the UK and gas company Cuadrilla is currently waiting to hear whether it can resume the first exploration of shale resources in Lancashire, which was suspended following two minor earthquakes.

But concerns have been raised over the impact of exploiting unconventional gas resources on greenhouse gas emissions.

There are also fears over potential local problems such as damaging development, water pollution and tremors caused by the controversial method of extracting gas from shale rock by hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking".

Francis Egan, chief executive of Cuadrilla, told the Parliamentary Energy and Climate Change Committee that, if properly managed, shale gas had 10 per cent lower emissions than liquefied natural gas (LNG) imported from Qatar or gas piped from Russia.

He said: "From an emissions point of view, it makes sense for the UK to produce its own indigenous gas rather than LNG from Qatar or pipelines from Russia.

"There's a role for gas and renewables. No one fuel is going to supply all the energy of the country, or should be allowed to, it's important to have diversity of supply as well as resource."

Mr Egan told the committee of MPs that if the company gets the go-ahead to continue exploration, with a decision expected from government imminently, Cuadrilla hoped to have initial data on potential gas supplies by the middle of next year.

Shell's Graham Tiley added that shale gas could play a role in reducing emissions by replacing coal, saying: "In our view, a switch from coal to gas is the most important thing one can do at the moment in terms of reducing emissions."

But Professor Kevin Anderson, of the Tyndall Centre at the University of Manchester, warned shale gas had no role as a transition fuel on the way to a low carbon economy if the UK was to meet international goals to curb climate change.

The UK has committed to taking steps to keep global temperature rises to no more than 2 degrees C and for developed countries to make a greater share of the efforts to cut emissions.

The UK's domestic targets to curb emissions do not sufficiently reflect the efforts it would need to make to meet international promises, Prof Anderson said.

If the UK was to go further than its domestic legally-binding commitment to cut emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 and take the steps needed to meet global commitments, shale gas was not an option because the UK would exceed its allowed emissions.

Prof Anderson said: "It is absolutely categorically clear that shale gas cannot be compatible with the UK's international targets."

He added: "If we are serious about climate change, if we quantify it in relation to our international commitments, we can be absolutely categorical shale gas cannot be a transition fuel."

He warned that, in an energy-hungry world, it would be naive to think that exploiting domestic resources in the UK and reducing imports would prevent extraction of gas elsewhere in the world.

"If you burn more indigenous gas here, that other gas will be burnt elsewhere and carbon emissions will go up," he said.

Friends of the Earth's Tony Bosworth said that if the UK were to cut emissions from the power sector to a suggested target of 50g of CO2/kwh of electricity by 2030, a target the government has so far refused to sign up to, there would be a small role for gas-fired power plants in coming decades.

But it would be far less than the "dash for gas" the government's recently-published gas generation strategy envisages as an option for the future.

Mr Bosworth said: "There's a small role for gas on that system, nothing like the role the gas generation strategy sees. It's a role of balancing, not baseload."

However, he said he opposed development of shale gas in the UK because of the potential local environmental impacts.

There is also disagreement over how much recoverable gas there is in the UK's shale rock and how much exploiting shale in Europe will affect gas prices.

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