IT is “categorically clear” that the UK will fail international commitments on combating climate change if it develops shale gas, politicians were warned today.
The shale gas industry, which was suspended after operations caused two minor earthquakes in Lancashire, is expected to be granted permission by the UK Government tomorrow to resume exploration despite ongoing fears about the dangers of the controversial ‘fracking’ process.
Gas firm Cuadrilla, which has been pioneering the process in England, told the UK Parliamentary Energy and Climate Change Committee today that if properly managed, shale gas would produce 10 per cent lower emissions than liquefied natural gas imported from Qatar or gas piped from Russia.
However, academics told the committee that exploiting unconventional gas resources would make it impossible for the UK to fulfil key global greenhouse gas emission commitments.
Meanwhile, in the Scottish Parliament the SNP government was today accused of “stonewalling” and ignoring official warnings after Energy Minister Fergus Ewing refused to rule out a dash for shale gas north of the border.
Fracking, the shorthand term for the method of extracting gas from shale rock by hydraulic fracturing, has been widely linked to damaging developments, water pollution and tremors.
Francis Egan, chief executive of Cuadrilla, told the committee: “From an emissions point of view, it makes sense for the UK to produce its own indigenous gas rather than LNG from Qatar or pipelines from Russia.
“There’s a role for gas and renewables. No one fuel is going to supply all the energy of the country, or should be allowed to - it’s important to have diversity of supply as well as resource.”
Rival firm Shell agreed, saying: “In our view, a switch from coal to gas is the most important thing one can do at the moment in terms of reducing emissions.”
But Professor Kevin Anderson, of the Tyndall Centre at the University of Manchester, warned that shale gas had no role as a transition fuel on the way to a low carbon economy if the UK was to meet international goals to curb climate change.
He said that the UK’s domestic targets to curb emissions did not sufficiently reflect the efforts it would need to make to meet international promises to keep global temperature rises to no more than 2C.
Prof Anderson said: “It is absolutely categorically clear that shale gas cannot be compatible with the UK’s international targets.”
He added: “If we are serious about climate change, if we quantify it in relation to our international commitments, we can be absolutely categorical shale gas cannot be a transition fuel.”
Friends of the Earth conceded that there would be a small role for gas-fired power plants in coming decades but it remained opposed to the development of shale gas in the UK because of the potential local environmental impacts.
Last week Chancellor George Osborne signalled tax breaks for gas developments. Energy Secretary Ed Davey is expected to lift the ban on shale gas exploration tomorrow.
In Scotland, fears are growing about plans by Australian giant Dart Energy to drill in the Forth Valley for coal bed methane, a technique with similarities to fracking which Network Rail recently warned could cause an explosion beside one of Scotland’s busiest mainline railways.
Speaking after a combative debate in Parliament today, Green MSP Patrick Harvie said: “The Scottish Government’s own regulator has published guidance which clearly states there is a lack of real data on the greenhouse gas emissions from fracking and more research is required. For the minister to continue stonewalling shows local communities face an uphill struggle to prevent unwelcome developments.”
A spokeswoman for Friends of the Earth Scotland said: “A green light for fracking would send out all the wrong signals. It’s an unproven technique here in the UK, with an increasingly poor environmental track record around the world.”
The Scottish Government stressed that while no fracking was currently underway or planned in Scotland unconventional gas was a potential alternative gas source which could help secure the nation’s energy supply.
A spokeswoman added: “It is essential however, that exploration and production of natural gas is done safely and responsibly with due regard to the environment... New guidance has been produced by SEPA to cover their regulatory roles in relation to coal bed methane and shale gas.”