Environment

Task Force backs shale gas as bridge to low carbon future

Task Force on Shale Gas Third Report

Shale gas could help the UK move to a low carbon economy, according to an industry-funded panel.

The Task Force on Shale Gas, in its latest report published this morning, said gas would play a significant role in the UK’s energy mix over at least the next 15 years.

But it said shale gas must not stop the development of renewables and low carbon energy industries.

It called on the government to speed up the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) and spend earnings from shale gas on research into renewables and low carbon energy. If shale were developed at scale, a CCS industry should be grown concurrently, it said.

The task force is led by the former Environment Agency chairman, Lord Chris Smith, and says it aims to provide a “transparent, trusted, independent and impartial platform” on shale gas exploration and production. This is the third of four reports since it was established in September 2014.

Today’s report, Assessing the Impact of Shale Gas on Climate Change, concluded that shale gas was less damaging than liquefied natural gas (LNG) and similar to conventional gas.

“Shale gas can, we believe, provide a useful transition to a low carbon long-term future, and government policy should recognise that”.

“If properly regulated, implemented and monitored, shale gas should be explored as a potential gas source to meet UK energy needs”.

Friends of the Earth criticised the task force for failing to say if, or how, the UK would stop companies producing more gas if fracking went ahead.

Frack Free Ryedale, which is opposing plans by Third Energy to frack a well in North Yorkshire, said the task force had ignored the problem of fugitive emissions associated with shale gas production.

Report conclusions

The Task Force report concluded:

  • To meet binding climate change commitments, UK energy future had to be in renewables, nuclear and low carbon technologies
  • But renewables could not meet most or all of UK energy demands in the short (up to 2020) and medium (2030) terms.
  • Gas from fossil fuels would play a significant role in the UK’s energy mix for several decades
  • Gas was half as damaging to the climate as coal, while shale gas was equivalent to conventional gas and less damaging than LNG
  • CCS should be developed as a priority to mitigate the climate impact of gas – but a CCS industry should not be a pre-requisite for exploratory drilling

“However, if a shale gas industry begins to develop at scale, CCS will become essential, and a CCS industry should be developed and grown concurrently”.

  • The government should commit to spending revenue from a shale gas industry on research and development in low carbon energy generation, storage and distribution.

Reaction

Tony Bosworth, Friends of the Earth energy campaigner, said:

“Three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. Fracking in the UK would just add to this unburnable carbon, while also bringing risks for the environment and health of local communities.

“Government experts have said that more fossil fuels will hamper tackling climate change, but the Task Force doesn’t say if or how we will get others to produce less gas if we start fracking.

“Rather than focus on finding new sources of gas, the Government should be cutting how much gas we need by expanding, not cutting, energy efficiency and renewables. That could cut gas imports by up to 30% and would be better for climate change, better for energy security, better for the local environment and better for jobs.”

Chris Redston, of Frack Free Ryedale, said the report could not be seen as independent or impartial because it was funded by the shale gas industry and supported by the PR company, Edelman, which had run campaigns for the oil and coal lobby. He said CCS technology was not ready and may never be. And he added:

“It is noted that all discussion about climate change is limited to carbon emissions, thus completely ignoring the widespread problem of fugitive methane emissions associated with shale gas production. Recent reports have shown that methane leaks more than offset any benefit from burning gas in power stations rather than coal – and in fact, demonstrate that fracking is still a huge threat to the climate, particularly as methane is 30 times more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.”

“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 effective renewables’ – but that’s exactly what is happening. Over the summer the Government have removed almost all support for wind and solar energy, at the very time when this needs to be maintained in order to help us make the transition to a low-carbon economy.

“Even if the shale gas industry were allowed to develop as fast as [the government] wishes, it would not produce any meaningful quantities of gas for a decade, by which time we will need to be drastically reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.”

“At a time when support for fracking is at an all-time low of just 21%, this cheerleading report for the fracking industry will not fool anyone.”

The Task Force on Shale Gas plans to publish its final report, covering economics, in December this year, together with final conclusions and recommendations.

Link to previous Task Force on Shale Gas reports

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