Shale gas drilling in the UK has been given the go-ahead by MPs in a new report looking at the impact it could have on water supplies, energy security and greenhouse gas emissions.
Shale gas extraction could reduce the UK’s dependence on imported gas, but it is unlikely to have a dramatic effect on domestic gas prices, according to the report. The British Geological Survey (BGS) estimates that the UK’s onshore shale gas resources could be as large as 150 billion cubic meters—equivalent to roughly 1.5 years of total UK gas consumption (or 15 years of the UK’s current LNG imports) and worth approximately £28 billion (US$45 billion) at current prices.
We conclude that shale gas resources in the UK could be considerable. However, while they could be sufficient to help the UK increase its security of supply, it is unlikely shale gas will be a “game changer” in the UK to the same extent as it has been in the US. It is more likely that in countries such as Poland—with a larger reliance on gas imports and greater potential shale gas resources—the impacts of shale gas production will be significant.
We conclude that it is important for the UK to monitor the development of shale gas in Poland—the “barometer of Europe” on this issue—both in terms of exploration and regulation. We are concerned that there could be adverse competitive consequences for the UK if Poland unilaterally develops its shale gas resources within the EU, particularly if their energy policy is driven by energy security—in spite of the environmental concerns associated with hydraulic fracturing—owing to their reliance on imported gas.—Shale Gas Report
The UK’s potential offshore reserves could dwarf onshore supplies, however, and the committee calls on the Government to encourage the development of the offshore shale gas industry in the UK. Worldwide shale gas could add 40% to recoverable natural gas resources, mostly in China and the US.
Onshore shale gas reserves in the UK could be quite considerable and will certainly help us increase our energy security—though not, unfortunately, very dramatically. Offshore reserves may be much higher and, while more costly to recover, could potentially deliver self-sufficiency in gas for the UK at some point in the future.—Tim Yeo MP, Chair of the Committee
The inquiry found no evidence that the hydraulic fracturing process involved in shale gas extraction (fracking) poses a direct risk to underground water aquifers provided the drilling well is constructed properly. The committee concluded that, on balance, a moratorium in the UK is not justified or necessary at present. The MPs, nevertheless, urge the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to monitor drilling activity extremely closely in its early stages in order to assess its impact on air and water quality.
There has been a lot of hot air recently about the dangers of shale gas drilling, but our inquiry found no evidence to support the main concern—that UK water supplies would be put at risk. There appears to be nothing inherently dangerous about the process of “fracking” itself and as long as the integrity of the well is maintained shale gas extraction should be safe.
The Government’s regulatory agencies must of course be vigilant and monitor drilling closely to ensure that air and water quality is not being affected.—Tim Yeo MP
Shale gas could reduce carbon dioxide emissions globally, according to the report, by encouraging a switch from coal to gas for electricity generation, particularly in developing economies. However, it will not be sufficient to meet long term emissions reductions targets and avoid the worst effects of global climate disruption.
Shale gas could encourage more countries to switch from coal to gas, which in some cases could halve power station emissions. But if it has a downward effect on gas prices it could divert much needed investment away from lower carbon technologies like solar, wind, wave or tidal power. The emergence of shale gas increases the urgency of bringing carbon capture and storage technology to the market and making it work for gas as well as coal.—Tim Yeo MP