Fracking will not solve all our problemsby Caroline Flint / September 18, 2014 / Leave a comment
This piece is part of our special report on energy policy. To read the first piece in the series, click here. To read the third piece in the series, click here.
If its most ardent cheerleaders are to be believed, the start of fracking and the development of shale gas in the United Kingdom is set to be a game-changer, heralding an era of plentiful and cheap home-grown energy, far less environmentally destructive than our current reliance on coal. Almost all of those claims are unsubstantiated and they degrade the quality of the public debate on shale gas, inflating a bubble of expectation that is unlikely ever to be met.
Of course, gas is a fuel that remains vital in the UK—80 per cent of our homes rely on it for heating, while around 30 per cent of our electricity comes from gas-fired power stations. While Labour is committed to the decarbonisation of our electricity supply by 2030, and low-carbon power generation will reduce our reliance on fossil fuels over time, we still need flexible power to help manage peaks in demand and provide back-up generation to deal with the intermittency of some renewables. National Grid expects gas to play a vital role in our energy system for many years to come, and our ability to source this fuel within our own borders has been steadily declining. In 2004, the UK became a net importer of gas for the first time since North Sea extraction began. For those reasons, there are potential benefits to shale gas, if it can be extracted safely in a context of robust regulation, monitoring and local consent. It could help displace some imported gas, thereby enhancing the UK’s energy security.
But what level of contribution could it make? The British Geological Survey has estimated substantial resources of shale gas in the Bowland reserve in the northwest, while in the Weald Basin and the Midland Valley there is less. But not all resources will be recoverable. Until there is exploration, which has only just begun, we cannot be clear how much shale gas is extractable or what its contribution to the UK’s energy mix will be. Two years ago, Poland was widely thought to be in the vanguard of…