What future for fracking?

171014 KM KMPC

Third Energy’s fracking site at Kirby Misperton 14 October 2017, North Yorkshire. Photo: Kirby Misperton Protection Camp 

As two companies prepare to frack in northern England in the next few months, DrillOrDrop reviews new predictions about the future role of shale gas in the UK.

Fracking and energy security

The Gas Security Supply Strategic Assessment (12 October 2017), commissioned by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, did not include any contribution from shale gas in its predictions about future UK gas supply.

In 10 references to shale gas, the 29-page assessment said the product of fracking could “provide a valuable new source of gas” at a time when supplies from the North Sea were forecast to decline. Shale gas and biomethane would reduce reliance on imports and contribute to economic growth, it said.

But it concluded that shale gas was not needed to guarantee secure supply. The assessment stated:

“We are secure now, and the GB gas system is well placed to continue to be secure and robust in a range of supply and demand outcomes over the next two decades.”

The assessment calculated that there would need to be a loss 60-70% of supply capacity before there was any interruption in supply. A 60% loss represented losing all liquefied natural gas supply, all imports from Belgium and Netherlands and 50% of current UK production.

The assessment acknowledged that the UK Government was “optimistic” about shale gas. But the conclusions appeared to challenge the view taken by ministers that shale gas would lead to much-needed energy security.

Frack Free United

Steve Mason, from the cross-party pressure group Frack Free United, responded to the conclusions of the assessment:

“This is getting ridiculous. All the so-called arguments for fracking are toppling like dominoes. The evidence is stacked so high against the industry, only their corporate muscle keeps fracking on the agenda.

“This Tory government is backing fracking and forging on with a ludicrous dirty energy policy. It is time for them to wake up and listen to their own reports, the voice of the public in areas under threat and halt all fracking activity now.”

pnr 170927

Cuadrilla’s shale gas site at Preston New Road, 27 September 2017. Photo: DrillOrDrop

Fracking and green growth

The Government’s Clean Growth Strategy, launched by the Prime Minister (12 October 2017), had no references to shale gas or fracking in its 165 pages.

There were five references to natural gas, including the acknowledgement that heating homes, businesses and industry accounted for nearly half of all UK energy use and a third of carbon emissions.

The document also acknowledged:

“Nearly 70 per cent of our heat is produced from natural gas”.

But it concluded:

“Meeting our target of reducing emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050 implies decarbonising nearly all heat in buildings and most industrial processes. Reducing the demand for heat through improved energy efficiency will have an important role to play but will not by itself suffice to meet our 2050 target.”

It said the UK needed to increase the pace of decarbonisation if it were to meet the carbon budgets for the period 2023-2032 and referred to “decarbonising the gas grid by substituting natural gas with low carbon gases like biogas and hydrogen.”

The document set out polices on green financing, carbon capture and storage demonstration, improved business, industrial and home energy efficiency, low carbon transport, the phase-out of unabated coal for electricity generation by 2025, new nuclear power, a new network of forests, peat restoration, a new system of agricultural support and zero avoidable waste by 2050.

There were no policies to promote unconventional gas and oil, including shale gas or hydraulic fracturing.

UKOOG logo

The report’s conclusions appeared to conflict with the case made by the onshore oil and gas industry in support of shale. Its organisation, UKOOG, regularly states that shale gas is a bridge to a low carbon economy. UKOOG repeated this case in its response to the document’s conclusions:

“By replacing high lifecycle emission LNG imports with natural gas produced onshore, we can help to reduce the UK’s carbon footprint and provide a cost-effective source of energy and feedstock for our homes, businesses and industry.

“Natural gas will continue to be a critical fuel for the UK in the transition to a low carbon economy. As the report makes clear, the reforming of methane with Carbon Capture and Storage is likely to be the primary means of producing low carbon hydrogen, which has great potential to decarbonise heating, transport and industry and improve air quality.”

Keith Taylor, Green Party MEP and member of the European Parliament’s environment committee, said of fracking:

“We’ve been told time and again that this dirty, dangerous and destructive process is a necessary ‘bridge’ to our clean energy future. Turns out we’ve been lied to – not even the Government believes that guff. If it did, fracking would surely be part of this ‘clean’ growth strategy.

“It is clearer than ever that Ministers’ commitment to fast-tracking fracking across England – while our neighbours in Ireland, Scotland and Wales are all moving towards banning extreme energy exploration – is entirely ideologically driven. It’s a commitment that will ensure – as the strategy makes clear – the UK will fail to meet its legally-binding climate change targets under the Climate Change Act [2].”

Frack Free Lancashire

Claire Stephenson, of the campaign group, Frack Free Lancashire, said:

“It’s unbelievable that the UK government are still insisting on forcing fracking onto unwilling communities when all scientific and public opinion is pointing the other way.

“If we are to meet our climate change obligations and truly have a chance at a clean future, we must immediately abandon the dangerous and misguided folly that is fracking.”

Fracking and the local economy

The regional pro-fracking group, Lancashire for Shale, showcased the benefits of unconventional gas industry to local companies at a conference earlier this month (9 October 2017).

DrillOrDrop’s request to attend the event was turned down. The following material is from a press statement from Lancashire for Shale and the organisation’s publicity video (see below).


Francis Egan. Photo: Lancashire for Shale

Cuadrilla’s Chief Executive, Francis Egan, was a speaker at the event:

“Whilst the industry is still at an early stage, we continue to put local suppliers first wherever possible and are proud to be employing local people.

“The future opportunities for Lancashire manufacturing and engineering businesses are considerable as the shale gas industry grows”.

Another speaker, US energy consultant, Katie Klaber, reportedly described the impact of shale gas on the Marcellus region of Pennsylvania.

“There are a lot of opportunities for local manufacturing and engineering firms, for instance making tanks for water storage and other fabrication. And then there’s all the ongoing maintenance. It’s much more cost-effective to use local suppliers.

“Shale gas here [in Pennsylvania] has boosted the manufacturing economy more broadly by making energy more secure and affordable. It’s also encouraged the reshoring of some manufacturing capacity that had gone abroad, and that’s had a knock-on benefit. There’s no doubt it’s been responsible for billions of new investment.”

A Northern Energy Taskforce

A more cautious approach to the role of shale gas to the region’s economy was published three days later by the think tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research.

A Northern Energy Strategy (12/10/2017) said:

“Shale gas has garnered significant opposition from local communities and may be too environmentally risky to proceed with.”

It recommended several preconditions before shale gas was developed in the UK:

“A clear, consistent and universally applied regulatory framework for shale gas extraction (within the remit of the Environment Agency);

“Shale gas use should displace, rather than add to imported gas consumption, as argued by the Committee on Climate Change (2016);

“The government should establish a Sovereign Wealth Fund to ‘bank’ the benefits of government revenues on shale gas and use them to forward fund the continued development of the energy system of the North, as well as offering individual and community benefits.”

The report also said:

“Government must reinvigorate its interest in CCS technology and establish some form of Catapult Centre for CCS in the North as one of a number of pre-conditions to any extraction of shale gas.”

19 replies »

  1. The energy security argument was always weak just like the argument that fracking would provide cheap gas. At long last the government has been forced to accept the truth. The UK has no energy security problem and what is more fracking is not even featured in the government’s green growth strategy. And this from the only party that supports fracking in Westminster.

  2. “The assessment calculated that there would need to be a loss 60-70% of supply capacity before there was any interruption in supply. A 60% loss represented losing all liquefied natural gas supply, all imports from Belgium and Netherlands and 50% of current UK production.”

    With the UK set to lose almost all of its domestic supply of gas within a decade, these figures become somewhat uncomfortable.

    The UK is dependent on foreign countries for most of its gas, and that is only going to get worse as time passes. The thing about making predictions is that they just aren’t accurate. You can’t plan for the unknown unknowns. There are many ways that UKs energy security can be compromised by relying on imports. That’s a fact. It’s also a fact that relying on imports creates a larger environmental impact than exploiting domestic gas.

    Shale gas won’t bring the UK total energy security, if it’s commercially viable. But it can provide enough security to see the UK through unforseen events, and it can provide the country with some negotiating power when it comes to foreign diplomacy.

  3. Just to repeat that for every GW of wind or solar energy used for electricity generation we require a nearly equal amount of back-up supply to cover the periods like freezing cold, windless February evenings when there will be practically no wind of solar generated electricity.

    Also as stated above “heating homes, businesses and industry accounted for nearly half of all UK energy use” and 70% of heating is by the use of gas. That energy has to be reliable, secure and economical – what’s it going to be — nuclear, coal, gas, wood chip, – you make a practical choice. For me shale gas will not be the complete answer, it will work hand-in-hand with renewables, BUT it can be PART of the answer. “Clean energy projects” will only power UK homes for part of the time and will not be available when we most need it.

    One hopes that in the future alternative sources of clean, economical, reliable power will be found to replace fossil fuels but we are nowhere near that stage yet.

    • For the whole history of mankind, apart from the last hundred years or so (therefore a very long time), we didn’t use gas for heating. Your argument Refricktion is based only on the sort of gas usage and reliance that we have had for a few decades. We now know we cannot keep burning fossil fuels that give off C02 – as a matter of the utmost urgency. We have developed technologies that deliver energy without the C02, we just need to refine them and build more of them, plus the storage capacity. So is it wise to continue with the short term gas reliance and exacerbate global warming, or in exactly the same time frame, use the same money and political will to develop carbon free, sustainable alternatives? Bear in mind that at the present rate of change, we have about 9 years until the carbon in the atmosphere passes the point of no return.

  4. Just had a look at the National Grid current figures (last 30 mins) for sources of electricity supply. Gas 60%, Nuclear 23%, Wind 2.15%, Solar (of course) 0%. So let’s go for fifty times more windmills, maybe 300 times to cover stiller nights than this and home heating as well. And the protesters talk about ” industrialisation of the landscape”.

    By the way I saw an article today on increasing use of trees to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, what a brilliant idea. Why has no-one advertised that before.

  5. “In essence, trees, as kings of the plant world, have much more “woody biomass” to store CO2 than smaller plants, and as a result, are considered nature’s most efficient “carbon sinks”. It is this characteristic which makes planting trees a form of climate change mitigation.”/

    Go for it, find a tree that’s volunteered in your garden if you have one, stick it in a pot and next year plant it in some sensible place.

  6. Interesting that statements about secure gas supplies are made at the same time others report gas supplies will tighten dramatically after 2020 and could point to a return of COAL! Equally, look at the recent investment by Ineos into the gas market, apart from fracking.

    I have not seen a UK government in my lifetime get an energy policy right. DYOR would be my advice, and concentrate on non government information. (Remember the “drive” to diesel! And then think about the levels of depreciation now being evident on electric/hybrid vehicles. Each government changes tack and the tax payer is left with the bill.)

  7. Mike-you can burn fossil fuels WITHOUT giving off CO2. Sorry to upset your premise, but there you go. Equally, we now have a world population of around 7 billion, on the way to 10 billion. Burning animal dung is no longer a practical alternative, we have not left enough space for the requisite number of animals and the farms to produce the food to feed those animals.
    Simples. Remove the carbon from the fossil fuels and continue to use the residual “fossil” fuels where all the infrastructure is already in place to do that. I think some UK trials are already planned for this. Then, take the carbon removed and process into products based upon carbon. Ahh, I see my error-that is a science based solution, and that would not do.

    By the way, does my memory play tricks when I seem to remember the CC scheme was cancelled because there was no security that the investment by the tax payer was actually going to produce a working scheme??

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