The Task Force on Shale Gas recommends that exploratory drilling should go ahead in the UK, as long as it doesn’t restrict the ongoing development of renewables and low-carbon energy. Tough safety measures must also be in place, monitored by a robust and fully resourced regulatory system.
The advisory body produced its overall summary and conclusions of a year’s research and reporting last week based on four separate studies, the latest being the economic impacts to the UK of a shale gas industry. alfaenergy has followed some of its previous reports, which covered the impacts of shale gas on climate change, the local environment, and planning regulations.
The Task Force on Shale Gas was established to provide evidence-based assessment of the potential benefits and risks of shale gas extraction to the United Kingdom. It claims to be completely impartial and independent, although it should be noted that its funding comes from businesses involved in the shale gas industry.
Fracking, the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into rock to extract natural gas, raises a number of public concerns, including its impact on the local environment. Research from the Task Force conclude that risks to the local population are no greater than other industrial works, provided best practice is followed. The Task Force says that baseline monitoring of air, land, and water is essential in order to reassure communities. However, environmental groups raise concerns over accidental leaks during the fracking process that could adversely affect livestock and agriculture.
When considering the climate change impact, it is recommended that the process of “green completions”, recently made compulsory in the United States, should also be implemented in the UK. That is, the capturing of excess gas from the drilling process, instead of flaring, in order to reduce emissions. This brings financial benefits to the gas producers because the excess gas can be directed into the pipeline and ultimately sold.
The economic findings were that, with the provision of skills training, a shale gas industry could create thousands of jobs in the UK, both directly and indirectly. However, exploratory wells should be tested to evaluate the amount of gas that is economically recoverable and at what pace. Government incentives have been called for at the exploratory stage.
The government is clearly taking steps to smooth the path for investors in shale gas. In the same week that the Task Force published their report, the government announced that shale gas companies no longer needed the permission of landowners to drill horizontally under their ground. This means that drilling will be allowed to take place 1200 meters under national parks and places of special scientific interest.
In addition, the government has deemed the matter of the Cuadrilla shale gas site to be of national importance and so the final decision on its approval, following appeal, will be made by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, instead of a local planning inspector. In June this year, Lancashire councillors rejected the proposed the Cuadrilla shale gas site despite planning advice that it should be given approval.
The development of a shale gas industry is a component of the UK’s new energy policy, which has gas and nuclear generation at the heart of a low-carbon solution. However, in light of the recent Paris Agreement, which has set a more ambitious global warming target than expected at well below 2°C, commentators are questioning how this is compatible with the development of a shale gas industry and calls are for renewables to be given more focus.
Earlier this year, the government announced a cut to renewable subsidies and the removal of the Climate Change Levy for renewable energy. Last week, it was announced that proposed cuts to solar subsidies for domestic customers would be softened to 65% instead of the proposed 87% after 55,000 responses were received to the government’s consultation.
The final report from the Task Force on Shale Gas is supportive of the development of the industry but reiterates that it should not be to the detriment of continued renewables uptake. Indications are that the government will push ahead with the investment in shale gas sites, but this will be a long process once the approval, building, and testing of each installation are taken into account. The current low price of gas, together with unknown recovery rates also bring into question its economic feasibility, while the introduction of government support could be difficult politically. The final report from the Shale Gas Task Force can be found here.
Written By – Nikki Wilson