Shale oil rig in the USA. Photo by USGS

Fracking – Green Alliance Discussion

3 minutes read

Is drilling for shale gas really necessary?

Environmental think tank the Green Alliance held a discussion about the finer points of fracking last week. While there was no outright fracking industry representative on the panel, there were disparate views expressed. The participants were Caroline Lucas, Green MP, Michael Liebreich, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, David Kennedy, Chief Executive of the Committee on Climate Change, and Lord Chris Smith, from the Environment Agency. The chair was Guardian journalist Zoe Williams.

Essentially the debate centered around was there some, relatively small advantage to be gained from fracking, against the disadvantages of adding to global greenhouse gas emissions. Unlike the USA, it didn’t seem likely to the participants that the small amount of natural gas added to the European market by fracking would lower prices.

L-R Chris Smith, David Kennedy, Zoe Williams, Michael Liebreich, Caroline Lucas. Photo by Green Alliance.
L-R Chris Smith, David Kennedy, Zoe Williams, Michael Liebreich, Caroline Lucas. Photo by Green Alliance.

Michael Liebreich pointed out that fracking had severe depletion effects and this meant that wells fell off by 85% in two years and new wells had to be drilled. He believed it should be mandatory for fracking companies to provide baseline water quality data before wells were drilled so that pollution could be monitored. Apparently this is optional at the moment.

David Kennnedy said that the carbon footprint of shale gas was as bad as coal. However, if best practices were followed, the carbon footprint of fracked gas would be comparable to natural gas, and lower (all factors considered) than Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) , which has to be shipped for long distances from producer to consumers. Chris Smith suggested that fracking might be a small but useful component of the UK’s energy needs. Coal use is up, which makes the emission situation worse.

The dangers of Shale gas are:

  1. The escape of chemicals into groundwater
  2. Waste materials rising to the surface
  3. Escape of methane – a dangerous greenhouse gas – into the atmosphere

Zoe Williams questioned Chris Smith on whether the regulators were tough enough. He thought they were.

Overall Caroline Lucas suggested that the climate dangers of releasing more fossil fuels into the atmosphere was too calamitous and we should therefore not be fracking at all. The participants discussed the electoral effects of drilling lots of wells on farming and rural land, which was thought to impact upon conservative voters more than those of other parties, although that is speculation.

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