Despite the evidence of significant potential risks presented in a recent report by the Tyndall Centre, the British government says it will forge ahead with plans for shale gas development in the UK. The Tyndall Centre’s study, “Shale gas: a provisional assessment of climate change and environmental impacts” [PDF], urged the UK to place a moratorium on shale gas in light of serious risks associated with shale gas development, including the contamination of ground and surface waters, the expected net increase of CO2 emissions, and substantial monetary costs which could delay major investments in clean energy technologies.
Shale gas extraction involves drilling into shale formations followed by a rock fracturing process which uses heavily polluting chemicals. Especially in the US with the introduction of drilling “refinements” known as hydrofracturing or “fracking,” shale gas extraction has become highly divisive, and ever more popular among natural gas producers (making up nearly 10% of production by some estimates). The significant water contamination and public health risks associated with shale gas are well documented in last year’s “Gasland” film.
Paul Monaghan, the Co-operative’s head of sustainability describes shale gas as “like tar sands in your backyard, both in terms of local pollution and in terms of carbon emissions.”
Cuadrilla Resources is preparing more drilling at Europe’s “first true shale gas find” in the UK’s northeast, near Blackpool, Lancashire.
Since countries in the EU follow the precautionary principle (supposedly) when it comes to environmental and health concerns, the Tyndall report rightly suggests suspending shale gas development until the extensive US review initiated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is completed and released at the end of 2012. Although it is only temporary (at this point), last year New York Governor David Paterson ordered a 7-month moratorium on high-volume hydraulic fracturing of horizontally drilled wells, which remains in effect until July 1st, 2011.
But back in the UK, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) was quick to dismiss the Tyndall Centre’s moratorium idea:
The DECC is ignoring the precautionary principle by not giving thorough consideration to the known threats from shale gas extraction. Hopes were raised ever so slightly with a DECC spokeswoman stating that, “It’s very early days, but we don’t expect it to play a key role in meeting our energy needs.”
Shale gas development will not serve as a substitute for oil and coal and thus its growth will make achieving global warming commitments more difficult.
Canadian university researchers have already pointed to the incompatibility of shale gas development with meeting global warming emission reduction targets. An initial study from the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions [PDF] reveals that increasing reliance on shale gas in British Columbia’s energy mix will make living up to its emissions reductions legislation of 33% below their 2007 level by 2020 unachievable (without pie-in-the-sky carbon capture storage technology).
The report states:
In the UK, the Climate Change Act of 2008 requires 80% emissions cuts of greenhouse gases below 1990 levels by 2050. Additionally the UK must follow European Union targets for reductions of 20% below 1990 levels by 2020.
With these CO2 reduction requirements in mind, and considering the negative environmental and health effects that shale gas extraction entails, the UK is heading in the wrong direction.