Over the next few weeks, and starting with this one, I’ll be hosting a series of blogs from a group of energy experts that have all kindly agreed to reflect on the societal benefits we derive from the various energy sources available to us in the UK mix.
In this, the first, Corin Taylor – a senior advisor to UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG) – discusses shale gas. I’ll also be featuring posts on wind energy, nuclear power, large scale solar, biomass, waste-to-energy and even coal too. None of these sources of energy are available to us without some detriment to the environment and they all meet opposition in the planning and permitting stages of development. But they also all provide some form of benefit to society – whether that’s simply keeping us warm in winter, or powering our economy and creating jobs, or raising tax receipts for the Exchequer that can then be used to fund public services or cutting carbon emissions.
The purpose of these posts is not to persuade anyone of the relative merits of any particular technology choice or source of energy, but to simply explore the overlap between energy, society and the environment. Enjoy!
Large-scale production of shale gas in Britain would bring three principle benefits.
First, more than four out of five of us heat our homes with natural gas, and gas will continue to be the main heating source as we decarbonise electricity generation. But without UK shale gas production, National Grid’s latest scenarios suggest that 90% of our gas will be imported in 20 years’ time. According to scenarios compiled by the Institute of Directors last year, shale gas could provide around a third of the country’s gas needs by 2030, which is roughly equal to Britain’s entire residential demand, and National Grid suggest that up to 40% of the country’s gas requirements could be met by shale by 2035.
Second, production of shale gas will create employment and benefit manufacturing. Importing gas supports few jobs in this country, but according to a recent EY report, a British shale gas industry could spend £33 billion over the next two decades on items such as steel, cement, rigs, hydraulic fracturing equipment, water treatment and environmental monitoring services. EY concluded that this activity could support 64,000 jobs across the country, including in the supply chain and in service industries such as hospitality and retail.
Other manufacturing firms are also likely to benefit from shale. Natural gas liquids are important feedstocks for the petrochemical industry. Ethane, for example, is used to make ethylene, which is found in a wide range of everyday products, including food packaging, tyres, detergents and adhesives.
Third, shale gas can help to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality. When used to generate electricity, gas emits around half the CO2 of coal, with almost none of the air pollutants, such as sulphur dioxide and particulates. Natural gas can also be used to replace diesel in buses and trucks, complementing electric cars in improving air quality in cities. Reading, for example, now has a fleet of compressed natural gas buses.
It’s at the global level, though, that shale has the most environmental potential. Energy demand in developed countries such as the UK is not increasing, but developing countries are building new power stations at a rapid rate. Over the last decade, coal has fuelled most of that development, dwarfing the contribution made by renewables. But shale gas can be found in many of the same countries, providing an opportunity for the next phase of emerging market development to be fuelled by gas and renewables rather than coal, which would be good news for the climate.