Experts warn shale fixation could undermine renewables

Published on Monday, 24 March 2014 11:48
Written by Govtoday staff

As the energy and climate minister Greg Barker unveils his new strategic framework for low carbon technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, independent experts raise concern that government reliance on shale gas as a bridging technology could damage future investment and transition to low-carbon technologies.

The minister is to host an event today at the Royal Society of Arts, London, to launch the new strategic framework and to promote innovation in the low-carbon technology sector.

Yet, independent experts at the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental
Management (CIWEM) remain deeply concerned that apparently ever-increasing resources of shale gas (derived from hydraulic fracturing, commonly termed fracking) will undermine the development of alternative technologies.

With shale gas extraction positioned to improve UK energy security and potentially reduce energy costs, CIWEM warns, in its newly updated hydraulic fracturing policy position statement, that the political pressure to exploit a substantial resource of domestic gas could undermine further development of low-carbon technologies, such as carbon capture and storage.

CIWEM's chief executive, Dr Simon Festing, said: "The central bind for energy minister Greg
Barker is that the more the UK seeks to develop shale gas to meet energy security needs, the greater the long-term risks that the government fails in its commitment to increase the use of low-carbon technologies.

"Outright opposition to fracking is irrational, since its use can reduce carbon emissions in the short term. However, support for shale gas extraction must not come at the expense of low-carbon technologies."

Gas will have a role to play in space heating in the medium term and it is unlikely that all shale gas would be burned to generate electricity. But given the new figures available from recent revisions to estimates of shale gas resources, if it was to be burned to generate electricity, shale gas would represent nearly 30% of the UK's carbon budget to 2050.

CIWEM's experts warn that the strategy of using gas as a bridging fuel must be managed carefully as it risks locking the UK into fossil fuel infrastructure for a period, after which there would be a need for a dramatic, rather than progressive, reduction and replacement with renewable energy.

Key points from CIWEM's hydraulic fracturing policy position statement:

  • Shale gas is a fossil fuel so it is essential that the resource is considered within the context of the UK's carbon budget.
  • Shale gas exploitation could reduce the UK's dependency on imported gas; gas is essential in the medium term for space heating as well as electricity generation.
  • Hydraulic fracturing could result in local environmental impacts, hence strict regulation will be required and environmental mitigation should be implemented where possible.
  • Baseline monitoring is important prior to implementation of hydraulic fracturing to ensure that environmental impacts can be assessed accurately.
  • Open dialogue and engagement with stakeholders should be undertaken by the industry.

Source: CIWEM


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