Environmental 'clearance' for gas fracking might not be the whole story.
Supporters of fracking got a boost this week with the publication of a report that claims fracking is a not a significant cause of large earthquakes. In fact no more than a man jumping off a ladder and significantly less than mining activities.
Professor Richard Davies of Durham University said: “In almost all cases, the seismic events caused by hydraulic fracturing have been undetectable other than by geoscientists. It is extremely unlikely that any of us will ever be able to feel an earthquake caused by fracking.”
The anti-shale gas campaign group, Frack Off, said the report “carefully avoids all the real issues”, adding that other issues surrounding fracking include leaking methane, water contamination, air pollution, well blowouts, pipeline explosions and road traffic.
Other unlikely support has come from Green commentators who have argued that shale gas is one of the main ways in which the US has, and the UK could, reduce their carbon emissions in an effort to combat climate change. The New York Times ran with a headline of “Shale Gas to the Climate Rescue” and a Guardian Comment Is Free blog post called fracking “the monster we greens must embrace”.
However, Terry Hathaway at the LSE politics blog argues that this is misleading because there has been no reduction in US coal production. All that has happened is the price has fallen and they are exporting to India and the UK. He argues, “These are arguments that must be exposed for what they are: greenwashing. It seems obvious to say so, but the world’s production of carbon will not be reduced through the greater use of fossil fuels, nor will it be reduced through policies that focus only on local emissions and omit the impact of the policy on global emissions.”
Even if the environmental objections can be overcome there is still the question of economic viability. As I posted in February, the the UK costs are almost twice that of the USA, similar to the range of market prices for natural gas in 2012, meaning shale gas developers could struggle to compete. Even with the Chancellor’s tax incentives.
So fracking might still make a contribution to our gas requirements, but it is likely to be at a much lower level than in the USA. And the jury is still out on the environmental issues.
Crossposted on Utilities Scotland.