Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Cameron Throws a Penny In the Shale Gas Well and Hopes His Wishes Come True

Energy

The Carbon Brief

By Mat Hope

Shale gas has become a national talking point in recent weeks. The media debate has hit overdrive, with strong rhetoric occasionally displacing the facts. And now the UK Prime Minister (PM) has got in on the act—throwing his weight behind the creation of a UK shale gas industry.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, David Cameron is optimistic that exploiting shale gas can bring energy prices down, create jobs and help communities. He says that for those reasons, the UK "cannot afford to miss out on fracking." Evidence suggests the prime minister's optimistic claims should come with some caveats, however.

Energy Prices

Cameron says adding shale gas to the UK's energy mix has "real potential to drive energy bills down." His claim contrasts with a number of reports that suggest shale gas production is unlikely to stop gas prices rising. He claims it's a simple calculation: more domestic energy production equals lower costs.

Research suggests shale gas may not affect bills until the 2020s, however. The London School of Economics's Grantham Institute and the Oxford Institute of Energy Studies, conclude this is because shale gas won't be competitive with gas imports for another decade. The government's own analysis suggests gas could cost about 10 pence per therm more in the 2020s than it does today.

One report appears to back up the PM's claim, but only if shale gas production progresses quickly in other parts of the world.

It claims gas prices could go down if the U.S.'s shale gas boom continues, China exploits its reserves in a big way and a European shale gas industry—including in the UK—takes off. That could allow the UK to import gas more cheaply, potentially reducing bills.

So if shale gas production is going to reduce household bills, it needs to develop across the globe—not just in the UK. Even then, imports are likely to have a greater effect on prices than increasing the UK's domestic supply.

Jobs

The prime minister claims developing a UK shale gas industry could create 74,000 jobs. But the number of jobs depends on how much shale gas there is, and how easy it is toextract.

The figure comes from an Institute of Directors report. But environmental campaign group, Greenpeace, has called the estimate "wildly optimistic" as it is based on figures from North Sea and US oil and gas production, which it describes as a "completely different" industry.

It's also questionable whether the UK currently has enough skilled workers to take the jobs. A survey by recruitment website, oilandgaspeople.com, found that 44 percent of respondents believe recruiters and companies will have to pay higher wages to hire qualified overseas staff to meet a sudden growth in demand.

So the number of jobs the industry can create will depend on how quickly it develops, and whether there are people with the skills to take them, which is hard to predict at this early stage.

Community Benefits

Cameron hopes the community benefit package offered by industry to residents willing to host wells will be enough to stymie public opposition to fracking. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) recently announced that communities will get £100,000 for every well they host, alongside one percent of the well's revenue if gas is extracted.

The industry needs to drill exploratory wells before it can properly estimate how significant the UK's shale gas industry might be. But as the Balcombe protests show, not everyone is happy to have a frack pad in their community.

And paying off communities may not be the best approach, according to research by Geoff Wood, from the University of Dundee's Centre for Energy, Petroleum, and Mineral Law and Policy. Wood argues that communities need to be involved throughout the planning process if the government wants to prevent them obstructing projects later.

Only time will tell if the current scheme will be enough to encourage communities to sign on the dotted line—recent evidence suggests it might not.

Regulation

A key cause for concern is the impact fracking might have on the local environment. Shale gas is extracted by firing water at chemicals at high pressure into shale rock, cracking it and releasing the gas. This has led to—sometimes overstated—claims that fracking can stimulate earthquakes and pollute local water sources.

The prime minister says the risks are minimal as "the regulatory system in this country is the most stringent in the world". Nonetheless, the UK's shale gas regulation is still being formulated, and the Environment Agency is yet to finalize the rules for the commercial exploitation.

There are risks involved in any form of energy production. Once the fracking rules are in place, expect a heated debate over whether or not they are sufficient to protect against the worst impacts.

Optimism

Shale gas is likely to play a role in the UK's future energy mix, but the government and media are getting ahead of industry development. At the moment, Cameron's claims make fracking seem a little too free and easy—time will tell if the Prime Minister's optimism is justified.

This article originally appeared on Carbon Brief.

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

——–

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

An aerial view of a crude oil storage facility of Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) in the Krasnodar Territory. Vitaly Timkiv / TASS / Getty Images

Oil rigs around the world keep pulling crude oil out of the ground, but the global pandemic has sent shockwaves into the market. The supply is up, but demand has plummeted now that industry has ground to a halt, highways are empty, and airplanes are parked in hangars.

Read More Show Less
Examples (from left) of a lead pipe, a corroded steel pipe and a lead pipe treated with protective orthophosphate. U.S. EPA Region 5

Under an agreement negotiated by community groups — represented by NRDC and the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project — the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) will remove thousands of lead water pipes by 2026 in order to address the chronically high lead levels in the city's drinking water and protect residents' health.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
ROBYN BECK / AFP / Getty Images

By Dave Cooke

So, they finally went and did it — the Trump administration just finalized a rule to undo requirements on manufacturers to improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new passenger cars and trucks. Even with the economy at the brink of a recession, they went forward with a policy they know is bad for consumers — their own analysis shows that American drivers are going to spend hundreds of dollars more in fuel as a result of this stupid policy — but they went ahead and did it anyway.

Read More Show Less

By Richard Connor

A blood test that screens for more than 50 types of cancer could help doctors treat patients at an earlier stage than previously possible, a new study shows. The method was used to screen for more than 50 types of cancer — including particularly deadly variants such as pancreatic, ovarian, bowel and brain.

Read More Show Less
Ian Sane / Flickr

Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control showed a larger number of young people coming down with COVID-19 than first expected, with patients under the age of 45 comprising more than a third of all cases, and one in five of those patients requiring hospitalization. That also tends to be the group most likely to use e-cigarettes.

Read More Show Less