Fracking for shale gas should go ahead in the UK, finds the industry-backed Task Force on Shale Gas in its third report, which was released this week. However, the report into the impact of shale gas on climate change offers some important caveats to this recommendation.
The report argues that UK shale gas can be part of a transition to a low-carbon future, so long as carbon capture and storage (CCS) is developed alongside it and fracking revenue is used to boost research into renewables and other forms of low-carbon energy.
Stressing the need for a “major and rapid” transition off of coal, the Task Force emphasises that “this move away from coal and towards natural gas should not come at the expense of investment into and development of a long-term renewable energy and nuclear technology.”
It adds: “Everything possible should be done to minimise the climate impact of gas extraction in the UK.”
As the report argues, the only way to exploit Britain’s shale gas resources in a climate-friendly way is by using CCS.
While CCS doesn’t need to be a prerequisite for exploratory drilling, it will be “essential” if fracking develops at scale, it says.
However, progress in developing Europe’s CCS technology has been painfully slow.
As Chris Redston of Frack Free Ryedale noted: “This technology is still not ready to roll out… and is certainly not part of the shale gas industry’s agenda.”
The Task Force also recommends that fracking should not receive public subsidy or tax breaks, and that the tax revenues from shale gas exploitation should be used to fund renewables research and development.
As the report states: “The Task Force is convinced that for a shale gas industry to serve appropriately as a transition fuel it is important that it is clearly demonstrated that this will not prohibit or slow the development of renewables and low carbon energy industry.”
“What is interesting is the criticism in this report of the Government’s policy on renewable energy. The report states that the Government ‘must not prohibit or slow the development of renewables’ – but that’s exactly what is happening,” Redston commented. “The government has gone all-in with the gas industry and is at the same time attempting to dismantle the renewable industry.”
As James Murray, editor of Business Green, argues: “The problem is to date the government has shown very little appetite for embracing what are reasonable recommendations put forward by the shale gas industry’s own task force.”
He continues, recommending that “if Ministers are serious about developing an environmentally responsible shale gas industry that supports, rather than undermines, a credible decarbonisation strategy they really should embrace [the report’s recommendations] wholesale.”
Lord Smith, chairman of the Task Force and former Labour cabinet minister, acknowledged that: “Shale gas is not the answer to climate change. That is a mixture of renewables, nuclear and energy efficiency and other low-carbon sources of energy. But we can’t simply wave a magic wand and say that will happen tomorrow. Shale gas provides a bridge.”
However, green campaigners remain sceptical about claims that shale gas can be used as a bridge fuel. Hannah Martin, Greenpeace UK energy and climate campaigner, said: “Fracking is not a bridge to a low-carbon future but just another cul-de-sac in our efforts to ditch dangerous fossil fuels.”
“Energy analysts say that if fracking gets started at all in the UK, it still won’t be fully developed for another decade, by which time we should be well on our way to a fossil fuel-free energy future.”
Photo: Number 10 via Flickr