IGas proposals to explore for gas at Ellesmere Port in Cheshire were incompatible with UK commitments to limit temperature rise, a climate change expert will warn next month.
Professor Kevin Anderson, deputy director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research, has submitted evidence to a public inquiry on the scheme.
He says the company was “imprudent” and could have been “negligent” in failing to assess the impact on climate of its proposal.
In support of the local campaign group, Frack Free Ellesmere Port and Upton, Professor Anderson will also say that gas cannot be considered a low carbon source of energy.
The inquiry in Chester will consider IGas’s appeal against a refusal of planning permission to assess the viability of its Portside one well site. The company wants to carry out extended well tests on gas in the Pentre Chert, a rock formation which, it says, is not shale.
Cheshire West and Chester Council rejected the company’s application in January 2018 on the grounds that it failed “to mitigate and adapt to climate change” and ensure “best use of renewable energy use and generation”.
IGas proposes to flare over 10 tonnes of gas per day for up to 90 days. But it has told Frack Free Ellesmere Port & Upton (FFEP & U) that it has not calculated the greenhouse gas emissions of the well test.
Professor Anderson said in his evidence to the inquiry:
“It is undeniable that the proposed development will cause greenhouse gas emissions. Those emissions will be released during its construction, operation and decommissioning.
“Even though IGas propose a short development – from start to finish around 18 weeks – and even though it is just exploration, the release of the greenhouse gases that it will cause is neither mathematically nor symbolically compatible with the UK’s ratification of the Paris Agreement.”
He accused IGas of seeking to ignore or downplay the climate implications of its scheme. But he said:
“They cannot be ignored in making planning decisions. The greenhouse gas emissions caused by the proposed development will persist for a very long time in the atmosphere. They will impact on the ability of the UK to achieve the radical reductions needed to avoid the extremely serious impacts of warming above 1.5°C.”
In a letter to FFEP & U, IGas quoted part of a statement from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the official advisor to the UK government, which said emissions from shale gas exploration were “generally small”.
But the company did not complete the CCC’s advice, which said most studies of greenhouse gas emissions usually ignored exploration and that exploration emissions, particularly for extended well tests, should not be assumed to be low.
Commenting on the Ellesmere Port scheme, Professor Anderson said:
“That IGas are proposing fossil fuel exploration without even knowing what its greenhouse gas impact will be is imprudent, at best.
“But, when considered alongside the CCC’s express conclusion that ‘it should not be taken as a given that emissions from exploration will be low, especially for any extended well tests’, IGas’s failure to assess its own greenhouse gas impact is negligent, all the more so for a company operating in an industry so reliant on robust analysis, measurement and compliance.”
Professor Anderson added:
“IGas should have calculated the greenhouse gas emissions for the proposed development so that its impact could be known.
“That calculation should have included provision for fugitive emissions, cold venting, flaring, ancillary plant, transport, and construction, decommissioning and restoration.
“Since IGas has failed to undertake these calculations, the true extent of the greenhouse gas impact of the proposed development is unknown.”
“Erroneous to say any fossil fuel is low carbon”
The government, in its revised National Planning Policy Framework issued in July, instructed local authorities to “facilitate” onshore oil and gas developments, including shale gas. The Framework said these developments had benefits in helping the UK move to a low carbon economy.
But Professor Anderson said:
“Fossil fuels are by their nature high carbon energy sources with natural gas (almost identical to shale gas) comprising 75% carbon by mass, and consequently emitting large quantities of carbon dioxide once combusted.”
“Shale gas is a high-carbon energy source.
“It would be erroneous to regard any fossil fuel as ‘low carbon’”.
Failing to meet carbon budgets
Professor Anderson’s argument on the Ellesmere Port scheme centers on a warning by the CCC that the UK is unlikely to meet its carbon budgets for 2023-2027 and 2028-2032. These were set under the Climate Change Act which aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80% of levels in 1990 by 2050.
The budgets were based on limiting warming to 2 degrees C. But since then, the UK has committed to the Paris Climate Agreement, which seeks to reduce emissions further so that temperature rise would be restricted to 1.5 degrees C.
A report in October 2018 by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy and other systems.
Professor Anderson said in his evidence to the inquiry:
“The UK’s Paris 1.5 degrees C commitment, informed by the 2018 IPCC 1.5 degrees C special report, puts such tight constraints on the UK’s available carbon budget, that, under any reasonable criteria, new hydrocarbon developments are very difficult indeed to reconcile with the UK’s contribution to limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C.
“If the UK is to meet its Paris temperature and equity commitments, there will need to be a reduction in the UK’s domestic carbon budgets.”
The CCC reported in 2016 that shale gas development at scale in the UK was incompatible with our climate targets unless three tests were met.
These required: strict limits on emissions during site operations; shale gas must displace imported gas, rather than increase consumption; and production emissions must be incorporated into carbon budgets.
IGas said it proposed to use acidisation, rather than fracking, to exploit the gas at Ellesmere Port.
But in greenhouse gas terms, the impacts are very similar, Professor Anderson said. On the CCC’s three shale gas tests, he said:
“Suffice it to say that none of those tests has yet been met.”
He added that there was “very little scope” for offsetting shale-related emissions in other sectors, given that the UK was likely to miss its fourth and fifth carbon budgets.
“Add to this the high likelihood that the CCC will recommended tightening the UK’s domestic carbon budgets to align with Paris, suggests there will be vanishingly few opportunities for offsetting, and consequently the CCC’s third test will not be met.”
- The public inquiry is due to open on Tuesday 15 January at 10am, Assembly Room, Chester Town Hall, Northgate Street, Chester CH1 2HJ. Planning Inspectorate page for the inquiry It is scheduled to run until 23 January (not sitting on Monday 21 January). DrillOrDrop will be reporting from the hearings.