Fracked gas not so cheap

by Daphne Liddle

ENERGY experts from the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) last week told the BBC that Government ministers have been seriously exaggerating the benefits of using shale gas.

The Government plans to allow shale gas to be extracted on a mass scale by hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, from all over Britain. They claim that it will lower energy prices and provide a secure source of energy for decades. The Treasury said the potential of shale gas was “too big to ignore”.

But the scientists say these claims are were “hype” and “lacking in evidence” and that the process of fracking is so early in its infancy it was impossible to know how much could be extracted and at what cost.

They said it was most unlikely to make a substantial difference to prices or to the security of energy supplies in the Britain.

Fracking is already very controversial and strongly opposed by environmentalists. The process of drilling bore holes into gas-bearing shale and sands and then pumping in water and chemicals at high pressure to cause the rock to fracture and release the gas is risky. The full combination of chemicals used in the process has never been disclosed

It can lead to gas — and other chemicals — contaminating water supplies and it can cause earthquakes. Fracking has led to earthquakes at sites near Blackpool in Britain.

Geological studies published in the New Scientist showed that the earthquakes were caused by the fluid lubricating rocks along a fault line so they slipped past each other. Recent studies show future earthquakes could be more serious than previously thought.

There are extensive plans to open fracking wells all across Britain, including highly populated areas, national parks and flood plains.

The process will increase the use of fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions but in addition will see quantities of methane released straight into the air.

Now the scientists are telling us this dangerous and unpleasant process will not even solve our energy problems.

“It is very frustrating to keep hearing that shale gas is going to solve our energy problems — there’s no evidence for that whatsoever... it’s hype”, Prof Jim Watson, UKERC research director, told BBC News.

“It’s extraordinary that ministers keep making these statements. They clearly want to create a narrative. But we are researchers — we deal in facts, not narratives. And at the moment there is no evidence on how shale gas will develop in the UK.

“Shale gas has been completely oversold. Where ministers got this rhetoric from I have absolutely no idea. It’s very misleading for the public.”

His UKERC colleague Prof Mike Bradshaw cast doubt on plans for a “sovereign wealth fund” from shale gas for the north of England.

“Talk about a bonanza is incredible,” he said. “It hasn’t happened and it might never happen. Even if shale gas does get developed in the north of England, the extra amount of money generated will probably be relatively small — so the fund will be even smaller.”

The group’s report charts a limited future for gas as part of the Britain’s electricity system. It says in order to meet Climate Change Act targets, gas-fired power generation will need to have almost completely stopped by 2030.

But there are dangers that climate change protection laws and planning laws may be undermined by the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership — a trade agreement that will affect most of Europe and North America.

This agreement contains Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clauses that would allow corporations to sue governments for damage to profits as a result of measures taken to protect the environment, public health, etc. This could mean the over-turning of fracking bans or allow giant international countries to sue governments that tried to ban fracking for preventing them from making a profit.

So campaigners against TTIP and against fracking are joining forces in an effort to raise public awareness of the dangers. And the campaigns are having some success in other countries.

Dart Energy, which is about to start drilling on the former site of a large explosives factory at Daneshill, was forced to suspend all of its mining activities in Australia due to community resistance there.

Fracking is now banned in France and Bulgaria, and there are moratoria in Romania, Ireland, the Czech Republic and Denmark. France’s highest court has just defended the ban from a legal challenge from an American company, Schuepbach Energy.