The Task Force on Shale Gas has released its third report, which looks at how the development of a UK shale industry would impact emissions. Amidst the polarising debate over shale gas, the Task Force on Shale Gas was established in 2014 to provide an impartial, evidence-based assessment of the potential benefits and risks of shale gas extraction to the UK.
The main conclusion of the report is that shale gas has a part to play as an interim baseload energy source over the medium term, on the basis that it is not feasible for renewables to meet the UK’s short-term energy requirements. Environmental groups are questioning the findings of the report, reasoning that a shale gas industry could take ten years to get off the ground, by which time the renewables industry will be further developed.
The Task Force warns that investment in shale gas should not slow the development of renewables and low carbon energy. Lord Chris Smith, chair of the Task Force said, “Our conclusion from all the evidence we’ve seen is clear. The UK will only meet its binding climate commitments by moving in the long term to renewable and low-carbon energy sources.”
The climate impact of shale gas is estimated to be similar to that of natural gas but less than LNG. A proviso of the Task Force’s recommendation to develop shale gas is for the government to concurrently accelerate the development of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in order to mitigate emissions from gas usage. The report also recommends the deployment of income from the shale gas industry to research and development for renewables and low-carbon generation.
The Task Force categorises the main challenges to renewables deployment as being infrastructure, investment, and intermittency. While the report does not mention the government’s recent cuts to renewable incentives, it does highlight the requirement for investors to be certain of the long-term economic viability of their projects.
Energy security is a primary driver for the development of shale gas. In 2014, approximately 45% of the UK’s gas supply was from net imports. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) advised this year that gas imports could increase to 75% by 2030, without the development of shale gas.
The National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios (2015) report provides a peak shale gas scenario which would reduce import dependency to 34% in 2030. One of the conditions to be in place to meet this peak scenario was the granting of planning permission to Caudrilla to build the UK’s first shale gas site in Lancashire. In June this year, Lancashire councillors rejected the site despite planning advice that it should be given approval. This was seen as a test case and, amidst concerns that other councils would follow suit, the government introduced new measure to enable the fast-tracking of shale gas planning applications. In addition, a new Infrastructure Act gave people the right to extract gas from over 300 meters below the surface, without the consent of landowners.
Energy ministers have supported the report’s findings that shale gas should be a bridge to a low-carbon future, but have not yet commented on the recommendation that its development be accompanied by increased investment in CCS. A final report will be published by the Task Force in December 2015, which will consider the economics of shale gas in the UK. This can be expected to compare development costs with those in the US, where a shale gas boom has significantly improved energy security and acted as a downward driver to oil prices. More information and the Task Force reports can be found here.
Written By- Nikki Wilson