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Fracking incompatible with climate targets

A new report by the Committee on Climate Change – an independent scientific body that advises the UK government – has warned that hydraulically fractured shale gas is incompatible with the UK government’s self-imposed target of reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

According to Tereza Pultarova in Engineering and Technology Magazine:

“The report found three key areas that would require attention to ensure fracking did not hinder efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions… preventing methane leaks, using shale gas only to replace imports and offsetting emissions produced by shale gas burning in other areas of the economy.”

On all three areas, the policies being pursued by the current government will guarantee failure.  Even with existing controls on methane leakage, following the government decision to axe research into carbon capture and storage, fracking is likely to produce an additional 11 million tonnes of greenhouse gases by 2030.  And while UK shale gas may be marginally “cleaner” than imported compressed liquid natural gas, this is only true if it is substituted.  If, as is likely, shale gas is added to imported gas, then it will do nothing to reduce UK carbon emissions.

Professor Jim Skea, Member of the Committee on Climate Change, said:

“Under best practice, UK shale gas may have a lower carbon footprint than much of the gas that we import. However, gas is a fossil fuel wherever it comes from and is not a low-carbon option, unless combined with carbon capture and storage.  Existing uncertainties over the nature of the exploitable shale gas resource and the potential size of a UK industry make it impossible to know how difficult it will be to meet the tests. Clarification of the regulation of the sector will also be needed.”

Unsurprisingly given that even in the favourable US shale patch fracking companies are dropping like flies, the UK government is reluctant to add tighter regulation to an industry that is already unprofitable.  For this reason, the Department of Energy and Climate Change has rejected the Committee’s conclusions:

“We’ve already put measures in place to limit and monitor emissions that meet the conditions set out in this report so we can continue to tackle climate change and take advantage of the benefits this new industry could provide.  Shale gas is a fantastic opportunity which could create thousands of jobs across the country and a secure home-grown energy source that we can rely on for decades to come.”

This despite the slew of bankruptcies and job losses afflicting the US shale patch, and the growing litany of environmental damage wrought in both drilling and decommissioning of fracking wells.  In the end, while the government may pay lip service to tackling climate change, making a fast buck always has and always will come first.

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