EXTRACTING natural gas from shale rock should be part of the UK’s energy policy – despite widespread opposition to the process known as fracking – according to experts.
However, their report, out today, warns it would be risky to assume gas bills will fall or that there are extensive resources of shale gas.
And the Grantham Institute on Climate Change and the Environment says the gas-fired power stations can only play a significant role in generating electricity beyond 2030 if they are fitted with technology to trap and store their carbon emissions.
Chancellor George Osborne has provoked controversy with moves that signalled a new “dash for gas”, including proposing tax relief for shale gas exploitation and a gas generation strategy backing use of the fossil fuel for electricity. Those championing shale gas claim it may provide large supplies of gas, which could reduce the price and provide energy security through domestic production.
But critics fear the process of fracturing shale rock with high-pressure liquid to release the gas risks causing earthquakes and pollution of water supplies, and that gas wells could affect house prices. There are also concerns that a continuing reliance on gas will make it harder and more expensive to meet climate-change goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.
The report’s authors said: “Analysis reveals that substantial investment in gas on the assumption of low prices and large unconventional reserves is a risky option. A lower risk option would be a ‘dash for smart gas’, where natural gas is used judiciously in those areas where it offers the greatest value in decarbonising the power sector.”
And they said: “In the short run, the UK’s emissions can be reduced by replacing coal-fired power stations with those fuelled by natural gas, which emit less than half the carbon dioxide of coal-fired plants.
“But in the medium to long term, a heavy reliance on gas-fired power stations with unabated emissions would hinder the decarbonisation of the UK’s power sector.”
The government has raised the possibility of relaxing “carbon budgets” for reducing emissions in the 2020s so that more natural gas can be burned to make electricity. But the report warned that doing so could make it more expensive to cut carbon, because it will have to be done more quickly to meet legally-binding goals.
The study also warned that low gas prices were not guaranteed in the future, with some estimates suggesting prices were more likely to rise than fall in the UK in the next 20 years.