Fracking for shale gas is not a “great evil” and can act as a bridge to a “green future” in the UK as long as it is properly regulated, according to the energy and climate secretary Ed Davey.
In a major speech in defence of exploiting domestic shale gas he said that Britain can extract the gas without endangering the country’s climate targets.
But the energy and climate secretary’s comments were accompanied by a warning in a report from his department’s chief scientist that exploiting shale gas in the UK will cause global greenhouse gas emissions to rise without an international deal on climate change.
Davey said the debate over shale gas has been marred by exaggeration and misunderstanding. “You would be forgiven for thinking that it represents a great evil; one of the gravest threats that has ever existed to the environment, to the health of our children and to the future of the planet.
“On the other side of the coin, you could have been led to believe that shale gas is the sole answer to all our energy problems … Both of these position are just plain wrong.
“Gas, as the cleanest fossil fuel, is part of the answer to climate change, as a bridge in our transition to a green future, especially in our move away from coal,” said Davey, at a speech at the Royal Society in London. He added the report showed that “with the right safeguards in place the net effect on national emission from UK shale gas production will be relatively small when compared to the use of other sources of gas.”
He added: “UK shale gas can be developed sensibly and safely, protecting the local environment, with the right regulation.”
But in the government report, which analyses for the first time the impact of shale gas on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, David Mackay, chief scientific adviser at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, said that fracking in Britain would lead to emissions going up in the absence of an international agreement on a UN climate deal in Paris in two years’ time. The UN talks have been stalled for several years, after failing to agree a strong deal at Copenhagen in 2009.
The report compared the emissions of shale gas with those from the liquefied natural gas that the UK currently imports, largely from Qatar, and concluded the two were very similar and would have little effect on the UK’s legally-binding climate targets. Both were higher, however, than conventional gas extracted from the North Sea. “It will have a very small effect on the UK’s [climate] targets,” said Mackay. “We think it’s credible were shale gas produced in the UK it would displace LNG imports.”
Davey said that this conclusion should “reassure” environmentalists concerned at shale gas exacerbating global warming.
“This report shows that the continued use of gas is perfectly consistent with our carbon budgets over the next couple of decades. If shale gas production does reach significant levels we will need to make extra efforts in other areas. Because by on-shoring production we will be on-shoring the emissions as well. And, as this report recommends, we will still need to put in place a range of techniques to reduce emissions.
“It should help reassure environmentalists like myself, that we can safely pursue UK shale gas production and meet our national emissions reductions targets designed to help tackle climate change,” he said.
Davey also dismissed concerns over water pollution from fracking in the UK, and the very small earthquakes caused by energy company Cuadrilla in 2009. “It will not contaminate water supplies. It will not cause dangerous earthquakes,” he said.