THE Government has declared it is “going all out for shale”, pointing to the impact of the fracking revolution in the USA as an alternative to conventionally extracted gas.
Fracked gas is being promoted as a cheap and abundant energy source in the UK, with its supporters pointing to the economic gains that have followed the United States fracking revolution. To some, the development of new techniques to access untapped natural gas deposits promises new, and possibly cheaper, supplies of energy.
But what might the true price be, such as environmental impacts?
There are risks for water quality and biodiversity – for example, noise, disturbing wildlife. The RSPB recently worked with other conservation organisations on a review of the evidence. The main risks identified were: significant water demand in areas already under water stress; problems with disposal of waste water; risk of water contamination, mainly from technical failures and spillages; habitat loss, fragmentation and disturbance, the impacts of commercial extraction would be increased and cumulative.
A major concern is the scale of development needed to extract large volumes of gas. Extracting 10 per cent of the estimated resource in the Bowland Shale would require thousands of wells. Also burning natural gas produces fewer carbon dioxide emissions than coal, but would a shale gas revolution mean for our emissions overall?
Our main concern, is that more fossil fuels would come online in the 2020s, exactly when we’re meant to be switching to zero-carbon renewable energy. What’s more, some studies have shown that methane leakage from fracking wells is a serious problem in the US. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, so shale gas could do more harm than good.
Fracked gas will not power energy prices because we are part of a European free market. The gas will be sold to the highest bidder and companies supplying the UK will have to bid for it, alongside everyone else. It would worsen global warming. American research suggests that fracked gas contributes more to global warming than coal.
D F Courtney