It’s acknowledged that it’s unlikely that it will be possible to extract shale gas in large volumes in the immediate future in the UK or that it will make a significant difference to consumer bills. The main political parties support of ‘fracking’ instead seems to be based on the potential opportunity it offers the UK to improve our security of energy supply, but what does that mean?
They talk a lot about regulation and monitoring, but there are no guarantees of safety when it comes to injecting a chemical cocktail of carcinogens into the earth’s crust. In the exploratory drilling process alone, the range of chemicals, including hydrochloric acid, pose a massive threat if they escape from the well and all wells leak eventually – 6% of gas wells leak immediately and 50% of all gas wells leak within 15 years. (1)
Since the start of the year, two UN climate reports have come out, which have made it clear that greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels are rising faster than ever and that the only way to avoid the worst impacts of climate change is to switch urgently to renewable energy, reduce energy demand, and wean ourselves off fossil fuels for good.
Fracking releases methane into the Earth’s atmosphere which is a much more potent greenhouse gas, between 20 and 25 times more so, than CO2. (2)
Exploiting new sources of fossil fuel such as shale gas will radically undermine our stated aim of reducing emissions in order to meet our international obligations. It undermines efforts to tackle the climate crisis – which in turn means our children will inherit a much more hazardous world.
We need to leave around 80% of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we’re to have any chance of avoiding dangerous climate change. (3)
With this in mind, it makes no sense to start a new industry extracting shale oil and gas.
The exploration wells that we are seeing at the moment are just the start. Unconventional gas will require tens of thousands of wells over huge areas of the country. Production will require pipelines, compressor stations and waste disposal on a massive scale. The tiny exploration companies will be replaced by massive firms when they sell the information and licences they’ve gathered.
Fracking will accelerate climate change and pollute our environment. It will lead to yet more dependence on fossil fuel precisely when the overwhelming scientific and political consensus confirms that we need to move urgently in the opposite direction. The only safe and responsible thing to do with shale gas is to leave it in the ground. Fracking will not lower our fuel bills. It will not give us energy security and it will not create significant numbers of jobs.
Public support for fracking is at a low. Now is the time for politians working on energy policies and manifestos for the forthcoming election campaign to be bold and do the right thing. For inspiration look to Denmark. By 2020, the country aims to produce 70 percent of its energy from renewable sources and to make the switch to renewables completely by mid-century. They’re already at 43%. (4)
Meanwhile, the UK fracking industry themselves say it will take 5 years before they’ll even know if there’s the possibility of an industry.
Denmark has shown that industrialized countries are able to carry out real, genuine and rapid transition to renewable energy right here in Europe. If it’s security of energy supply they’re after, the answer is staring them in the face.
(1) Fracking: Frequently Asked Questions – Friends of the Earth – http://www.foe.co.uk/sites/default/files/fracking-frequently-asked-questions-18022.pdf
(2) Climate Change Connection – http://www.climatechangeconnection.org/emissions/CO2_equivalents.htm
(3) 80 Percent of the World’s Fossil Fuels Must Stay in the Ground to Avert Catastrophe – Christopher Hayes – The Nation – http://www.thenation.com/blog/179514/80-percent-worlds-fossil-fuels-must-stay-ground-avert-catastrophe#
(4) Denmark leads the charge in renewable energy – DW – http://www.dw.de/denmark-leads-the-charge-in-renewable-energy/a-17603695