Can the UK develop strong fracking industry and still achieve its climate change targets?

Fracking not in line with UK climate goals without carbon capture

Developing a larger-scale fracking industry in the UK without simultaneously investing in carbon capture and storage technology would likely prevent Britain from achieving its climate change targets, an expert report stated.

The report by the Committee on Climate Change – an independent body that advises UK government on global warming – found three key areas that would require attention to ensure fracking did not hinder efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The three issues are preventing methane leaks, using shale gas only to replace imports and offsetting emissions produced by shale gas burning in other areas of the economy.

"Under best practice, UK shale gas may have a lower carbon footprint than much of the gas that we import,” said Professor Jim Skea, from the Committee on Climate Change.

"However, gas is a fossil fuel wherever it comes from and is not a low-carbon option, unless combined with carbon capture and storage.”

The committee previously said that without developing carbon capture and storage technology, the use of gas in general would have to be dramatically restricted if the UK wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 compared to 1990s levels, which it is legally bound to do.

Even if technical measures are in place to prevent methane leaking from drilling and production facilities, fracking could produce about 11 million tonnes more greenhouse gases a year by 2030 – equivalent to required cuts to agricultural emissions for that time.

The government has already been warned that it will probably not meet its carbon budgets for slashing emissions in the 2020s and 2030s without more action.

However, the Department of Energy and Climate Change disagrees.

"We've already put measures in place to limit and monitor emissions that meet the conditions set out in this report so we can continue to tackle climate change and take advantage of the benefits this new industry could provide," said Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom. "Shale gas is a fantastic opportunity which could create thousands of jobs across the country and a secure home-grown energy source that we can rely on for decades to come."

Last month, Germany’s government agreed to ban fracking in the country indefinitely. The ban, which will be decided upon by the German parliament, could be reviewed after five years.

Hydraulic fracturing, a technique involving pumping liquid under pressure into the ground to crack the rock to release gas, was banned in France in 2011.

The development of hydraulic fracturing in the US in the past decades has reportedly created 600,000 jobs and stirred economic growth. The oversupply of natural gas led to polluting coal-fired power plants being replaced with cleaner gas-fired ones. However, reports have emerged recently that many natural gas powered plants opened at the height of the shale gas boom are struggling economically in several states due to the growing popularity of renewable resources such as solar and wind power.

Operators in California reported problems and have asked the state for financial help to allow them to stay online as a backup for situations when there is not enough renewable power available.

In May this year, California's grid operator, the Independent System Operator, said that revenue estimates for many natural gas power plants are substantially below their fixed costs.

Operators of nuclear power plants in Illinois, New York and Texas have reported similar problems.

California started pushing for the development of renewable power 10 years ago. The state’s then governor Arnold Schwarzenegger set a goal for the state to obtain 33 per cent of its power from renewable resources by 2020. The state’s government has been financially supporting the developments. As a result, California increased its solar generating capacity eight times over the past three years.

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