Regulation

Fracking needs tougher regulation to meet UK climate goals – report from government advisors

CCC report

Shale gas development on a significant scale is inconsistent with UK carbon budgets unless three conditions are met, according to long-awaited advice to government.

A report from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) was submitted to ministers at the end of March but laid before parliament only this morning (7 July 2016).

It called for stronger regulation and the urgent development of carbon capture and storage. It said if all its tests were met shale gas could make a useful contribution to UK energy supplies.

The government and industry welcomed the report and said no new regulation of shale gas was needed.

Tests for shale gas

The CCC concluded that shale gas would breach the nation’s targets for emissions cuts unless key tests were passed:

  • Well development, production and decommissioning emissions must be strictly limited. Emissions must be tightly regulated and closely monitored in order to ensure rapid action to address leaks.
  • Gas consumption must remain in line with carbon budgets. UK unabated fossil energy consumption must be reduced over time within levels advised by the CCC to be consistent with the carbon budgets. This means that UK shale gas production must displace imported gas rather than increasing domestic consumption.
  • Accommodating shale gas production emissions within carbon budgets. Additional production emissions from shale gas wells will need to be offset through reductions elsewhere in the UK economy, such that the overall effort to reduce emissions is sufficient to meet carbon budgets.

Regulation

The report said:

“The UK regulatory regime has the potential to be world-leading but this is not yet assured. ”

It said onshore oil and gas exploitation may require a dedicated regulatory body and added:

“It certainly requires that a strong regulatory framework is put in place now.”

Prof Jim Skea, one of the authors of the CCC report, told The Guardian:

“We need stronger and clearer regulation. UK environmental policy allows quite a lot of discretion to the regulator and, depending on how things develop, it would be necessary to be more precise if you are to regulate emissions effectively.

“Existing uncertainties over the nature of the exploitable shale gas resource and the potential size of a UK industry make it impossible to know how difficult it will be to meet the tests.”

Emissions

The report said oil and gas operators should be required to use technologies to limit methane emissions, including ‘reduced emissions completions’.

It said a monitoring regime to catch potentially significant methane leaks early was essential to limit the impact of ‘super-emitters’.

It added:

“Production should not be allowed in areas where it would entail significant CO2 emissions resulting from the change in land use (e.g. areas with deep peat soils).

“The regulatory regime must require proper decommissioning of wells at the end of their lives. It must also ensure that the liability for emissions at this stage rests with the producer.”

Consumption

The CCC said carbon budgets required consumption of all unabated fossil fuels to fall over time.

“There is no case for higher levels of UK gas consumption than we have previously set out.

“The long-term path for UK gas consumption, assuming carbon budgets are met, depends strongly on whether or not carbon capture and storage (CCS) is deployed.”

It added:

“A UK approach to delivery of carbon capture and storage (CCS) is urgently needed”.

If CCS were widely deployed it would allow fossil fuels to be consumed in a low carbon way, the report said. Without CCS, almost all fossil fuels would have to be eliminated in power generation by mid 2030, and almost all CO2 eliminated from all sectors of the economy by 2050.

Carbon budgets

The CCC said the impact on overall UK emissions from UK shale production could be around 11 MtCO2e/year in 2030 under a tight regulatory regime.

This is similar in size to the emissions savings in the agriculture sector under the central fifth carbon budget. If regulation were more lax, emissions would be significantly higher, it said.

New sources of UK production must be used to displace imports to meet carbon targets, it added.

“Allowing unabated consumption above these levels would not be consistent with the decarbonisation required under the Climate Change Act.”

Government response

The Department of Energy and Climate Change, in a formal response afternoon, said the report’s three tests could be met. On test one, regulation of emissions, it said:

“The regulatory system ensures that wells are safely and appropriately designed, operated and decommissioned during development, production and decommissioning. There are strong requirements in the regulatory system to ensure any associated emissions are limited.”

On test two, consumption, DECC said:

“Lifecycle emissions from UK shale gas are comparable to conventional sources of natural gas, and that it is not believed that UK shale development will impact overall UK gas consumption.”

On test three, carbon budgets, DECC said:

“Additional emissions from shale gas production would be accommodated within carbon budgets and offset by lower emissions in other sectors.”

The Energy Secretary and Conservative leadership contender, Andrea Leadsom, said:

“Shale gas is a fantastic opportunity which could create thousands of jobs across the country and a secure home grown energy source that we can rely on for decades to come.

“We’ve already put measures in place to limit and monitor emissions that meet the conditions set out in this report so we can continue to tackle climate change and take advantage of the benefits this new industry could provide.”

A DECC spokesperson told DrillOrDrop this morning:

“We are happy with the findings. This is nothing new for us. We have been aware of these issues for a long time and we have already put regulation in place. Emissions will be limited and monitored. We are happy about meeting the tests. Fracking will be useful to the UK energy mix.”

Reaction to the findings

Professor Averil Macdonald, chair of the industry body, UK Onshore Oil and Gas, said in a statement

“Today’s report confirms what we have long maintained – that shale gas production is compatible with the country’s need to reduce emissions. The report also shows that shale gas has lower lifecycle emissions than imported LNG. As an industry, we look forward to continuing to work proactively with regulators to minimise fugitive emissions from our operations.”

Labour’s Barry Gardiner, the shadow energy and climate change secretary, told The Guardian

“The CCC report lays out three fundamental tests [but] the government has decided to do precisely nothing to increase protection for the public or to deliver security for our climate targets. On this basis, it is currently neither safe nor reasonable to approve any fracking in Britain.”

Dr Doug Parr, Greenpeace Chief Scientist

“The idea that fracking can be squared with the UK’s climate targets is based on a tower of assumptions, caveats, and conditions on which there is zero certainty of delivery.

“We know that the government is resisting putting in place policy and regulations needed so that fracking can pass the three climate tests that the Climate Committee is recommending.

“The problem with ramping up a whole new high-carbon infrastructure and the fossil fuel vested interests to go with it is that you can’t just dial it down later on if emissions start going through the roof.

“The government now faces a clear choice between promoting this climate-wrecking industry in the face of strong opposition or honour the Paris climate deal and back clean, home grown, reliable renewable energy and smart technologies instead.”

Paul Mobbs, environmental consultant for Extreme Energy Initiative

“On a quick reading it’s possible to say that the CCC have completely ducked the issue of fugitive methane emissions. Yes, they refer to some recent research studies on the issue, but as part of their calculations they’re still using the data from “reduced emissions completion” studies in the USA.

“Recent peer-reviewed studies on this data has shown that it is flawed because the methane sensor used doesn’t work under all test conditions — and the data from the Allen study, the standard data source used, demonstrates that it was not sensing high methane releases for some of the time.”

“The problem with the sensor has been known publicly for about 12 months, and within the industry for much longer. In fact the failure of the measuring equipment goes some way to explaining the difference between “inventory analysis” studies used by the industry, and the recent studies of actual gas concentrations which discovered high methane emissions.”

CCC report and the Infrastructure Act

The CCC’s report meets a requirement under the Infrastructure Act 2015 to advise the government on the compatibility of shale development with UK carbon targets. The CCC must revisit its advice every five years, in each carbon budget period.

If the committee deems shale gas extraction to be contrary to the UK’s climate targets, the Secretary of State must either remove companies’ shale gas extraction licenses or explain why they are allowing fracking to continue.

Links

The CCC report Onshore Petroleum The compatibility of UK onshore petroleum with meeting the UK’s carbon budgets

Formal government response

Written statement to parliament by Energy Minister, Andrea Leadsom

UKOOG details response to the report

Letter from the CCC to Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Amber Rudd, on a strategic approach to CCS

8 replies »

  1. Really desperate comment from Doug Parr. The investment in UK shale will be minimal. We already have a gas grid. Investment in wells is a fraction of investment in renewables. Not only would it not displace investment, increased tax revenue, could in theory, accelerate investment in renewables. He should follow that tack. I for one would fight his corner with government for that one.

    • The levelised cost of electrical generation (true cost) in 2015 from various sources can be found at
      http://about.bnef.com/press-releases/wind-solar-boost-cost-competitiveness-versus-fossil-fuels/
      Uk CCG at £78 per Mwh
      Uk onshore wind £58 per Mwh
      Global offshore wind £119 per Mwh
      So onshore wind is the cheapest.

      However world leaders in offshore wind,Dong Energy,state they will have UK offshore wind down to £77 from 2020 instalations.
      http://www.dongenergy.co.uk/uk-business-activities/wind-power/partners/cost-of-energy

      Then there is the very relevant fact that shale gas is twice the price of our own North sea gas and thirty percent dearer than imported LNG.

      By 2023 all wind will be cheaper than CCG unless you find cheaper gas to burn than we have at present. Burning shale gas would put CCG way over wind.

      100% renewables at present would be unrealistic but rapid increase of renewables now would be the most logical and cost effective decision. This would then make our own home grown North sea gas last longer. A win win scenario.

      Maybe we should start by reducing Offshore production tax of 60-80% and replace it with the same tax rate offered to the onshore,30%. This would see an instant massive expansion of our mighty home grown offshore industry and get the 40,000 workers, who have been laid off because of the crippling tax regime, back to work with their 375,000 employed work colleagues. More export, more revenue, and the best solution until the inevitable permanent demand destruction of fossil fuels by renewables.

  2. It’s great that onshore wind is cheap, unfortunately all wind farms are just decoration on a windless night in February unless there is a massive amount of back-up storage (very unlikely in the medium term) so we need a back-up fuel. OK you seem to want to take a risk on N Sea gas, maybe it would be better to hedge our bets by investing in a range of sources. Anyway, it’s interesting that an industry that was responsible for Piper Alpha and fatal helicopter crashes attracts your support rather than the relatively safe shale gas industry. I guess North Sea gas is seen as familiar and predictable whereas shale seems strange and space age, in spite of the thousands of wells drilled safely in the USA.

    • Shale gas certainly isn’t space age. It’s more like Victorian age. Full scale production would mean industrialising vast areas of the countryside, detrimental to farming, tourism and quality of life for both humans and wildlife. In the North, which would bear the brunt of most of the shale industry, it has taken decades to clean up our environment, waterways and air from the damage wreaked by earlier industries. We have no intention of letting our environment and population be exploited once again. We are better than that.

      • The North will not be the only areas to potentially benefit from shale exploration, the Weald area in the South has a lot of potential though for shale oil rather than shale gas. The concept of “industrialisation of the landscape” is an interesting one. If I remember rightly the proposed Cuadrilla site is 4.5 hectares, hardly massive. It is likely to be much less visually intrusive than say wind or solar farms, or electricity pylons. I actually find electricity pylons an interesting example of “industrialisation”, in my opinion they are monstrous carbuncles cutting a swathe across the landscape but how much extra would we be prepared to pay on our electricity billls to have all cables buried. Similar considerations apply to railways, motorways, airports etc. I guess the question is, what would we be prepared to give up to go back to the pre-Victorian idyll. We will need fossil fuels or a vast proliferation of wind and solar (which will need fossil fuel back-up anyway) and like it our not, there will be industry to obtain it.

        • The Cuadrilla site may be 4.5 hectares but that is just one exploratory site. For shale to become economically viable it would require hundreds of sites with thousands of wells. Added to that would be thousands of HGV movements, noise, lighting, compressors, flaring and air pollution, access roads, water treatment facilities, monitoring sites, ‘man camps’ and more. Hardly just one insignificant 4.5 hectare site.

  3. In 1982 Gro Harlem Brundtland was asked to prepare a report for the UN. Her team started work in 1983 and was published as ‘Our Common Future’ (http://www.un-documents.net/wced-ocf.htm). In her forward she states;
    “In the final analysis, I decided to accept the challenge. The challenge of facing the future, and of safeguarding the interests of coming generations. For it was abundantly clear. We needed a mandate for change.”
    Further on, she states;
    “Scientists bring to our attention urgent but complex problems bearing on our very survival: a warming globe, threats to the Earth’s ozone layer, deserts consuming agricultural land.”
    With the exception of the hole in the ozone layer, which the global ‘Montreal Protocol’ helped stabilise. Nothing really has happened in nearly 30 years since this report was published. And the UK Government wants to continue down the road of ‘business-as-usual’, ‘profites-before-people and planet’.
    I have posted in the past, that COP21 Paris was a failure. We still have not had the mandate for change we need!

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