Gas fracking: Ministers approve shale gas extraction

 

Cuadrilla CEO Francis Egan: "The country is running out of gas, our choice would be to develop our own shale gas resources"

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The government has given the go-ahead for a firm to resume the controversial technique known as fracking to exploit gas in Lancashire.

The company, Cuadrilla, was stopped from fracking after two tremors near Blackpool.

Conditions have been imposed to minimise the risk of seismic activity.

In fracking, a mixture of water, sand and some chemicals is pumped into a well under high pressure to force the gas from the rock.

Energy Secretary Ed Davey said shale gas was a promising new potential energy resource for the UK. It might contribute significantly to energy security and substitute for imports which are increasing as North Sea gas is decreasing.

But he warned against over-excitement: "We are still in the very early stages of shale gas exploration in the UK and it is likely to develop slowly.

"It is essential that its development should not come at the expense of local communities or the environment. Fracking must be safe and the public must be confident that it is safe."

He said the government had uncovered management weaknesses in Cuadrilla following the minor earthquakes. These had been put right, he said.

He said impacts on water and local air pollution were already covered by the UK's existing "stringent" rules on oil and gas.

'Better solution'

Mr Davey said the advent of shale gas would not weaken the UK's legally binding targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions. He announced a study from the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) chief scientist David McKay on the impact of shale gas on climate change.

But he asked: "Is it not better that we produce gas in this country than gas shipped half way across the world?" He said his view was that, overall, greenhouse gases from shale gas in the UK might only be slightly greater than importing gas exploited in the conventional way.

In the US, exploitation of shale gas boom has sent energy prices tumbling, and the Prime Minister has expressed hopes that the UK can enjoy a similar boom.

But government advisers warn today that shale gas may be unlikely to bring down energy prices much in Britain.

In fact, the Committee on Climate Change warns that relying heavily on gas for future electricity supplies would leave households vulnerable to higher bills in the long run as the price of gas on the international market is volatile.

The UK won't benefit from substantially lower prices unless the rest of Europe decides to back shale gas too, as Europe has a gas grid that allows gas to be traded to the highest bidder.

The CCC has examined the potential impact on bills of different energy systems and predicts that subsidies to renewables and nuclear would put about £100 on household bills by 2020, but that by 2050 a gas-based electricity system might cost people as much as £600 extra.

Infographic

Today's fracking decision has created political excitement as the Prime Minister the Chancellor and some business leaders have spoken enthusiastically about shale gas.

Environmentalists are more cautious following incidents in the US in which fracking has been associated with pollution of water through the chemicals involved in the process, as well as leakage of methane - a powerful greenhouse gas as well as a local air pollutant.

Analysis

Nobody has ever attempted hydraulic fracturing near Westminster. But it has caused several tremors during the past year. To the surprise of many, the Conservative energy minister Charles Hendry was sacked in the autumn reshuffle. He said it would be unwise to "bet the farm" on shale gas. In his stead came John Hayes, who promptly told the Conservative Party conference that shale gas represented a "huge opportunity".

The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have matched the rhetoric. David Cameron has said he wants the UK to join the "gas revolution taking place across the world". George Osborne announced a consultation on tax breaks for the industry last week -- well before today's moratorium was lifted.

But their keenness to see fracking in the UK has come up against a hard rock, in the shape of the Liberal Democrat Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Davey. He has agreed to the lifting of the moratorium, but only with the addition of controls on seismic risks. "I don't think anyone would describe me as a frackhead," he told MPs this morning.

They say fracking will generate much more opposition in the UK than it has in the US as it involves turning green fields into industrial sites.

They also worry that an abundance of domestic gas will tempt politicians to abandon targets for cutting greenhouse gases, which are rising inexorably globally to the alarm of scientists.

A poll suggested that people would prefer to have wind turbines on the horizon than gas rigs.

Steve Radley, Director of Policy at EEF, the manufacturers' organisation, said the UK should do whatever possible to keep energy costs down: "This is a major threat that needs to be addressed now as we cannot continue to load industry with costs which are in excess of our competitors.," he said.

Caroline Flint MP, Labour's Shadow Energy Secretary, said: "Labour has always said that fracking should only go ahead if it is shown to be safe and environmentally sound. If the Government believes that this is the case then we will look carefully at their proposals.

fracking graphic

"But the idea that this form of gas extraction can have the same impact here in the UK as it has had on gas prices in the United States is considered wishful thinking by most experts."

 

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 576.

    Now I'm being down-rated for expressing my observations that in the SE 90% of RnD scientists were from regions other than the SE.

    570.mr_market

    I guess the vested interests need to keep the housing market bouyant by pretending the SE a hub for research.

    Anyone who disagreed with my comment please do share your experiences living in Lancashire and the SE.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 575.

    Are the environmentalist commentators aware that by volume the most unfriendly gas loosed in to the atmosphere comes out termites bums? (Not many people know that) Termite farts posses a bigger threat to global warming after cows and bullock farts than any amount of fracking. So perhaps these people should purchase lots of cotton buds go to Africa and stick em up the termite’s bums as a priority

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 574.

    Apparently fracking injects thousands of gallons of fluid into the ground and it is claimed that only a small percentage of it is toxic.

    However, given that each fracking 'event' requires about 9 million gallons of water, that small percentage would actually work out at around 10,000 gallons of carcinogens, neurotoxins, endocrine (hormone) modulators & toxic agents.

    How is fracking safe?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 573.

    Alec Rawls - IPCC Expert Review
    "The admission of strong evidence for enhanced solar forcing changes everything. The climate alarmists can’t continue to claim that warming was almost entirely due to human activity over a period when solar warming effects, now acknowledged to be important, were at a maximum... the public needs to know now "

    http://tiny.cc/IPCC_AR5

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 572.

    "It is essential that its development should not come at the expense of local communities or the environment."

    It is uncanny how this government always manages to say one thing, while doing the opposite.

    Another choice phrase they often trot out...

    "I want to be absolutely clear..."
    (true meaning: I want to make the following sentence as opaque as humanly possible)

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 571.

    I wonder if this new industry would be seen so favourably if it were affecting the Tory heartlands?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 570.

    561.Matthew
    Indeed, as a Lancastrian scientist who moved to the SE to work in RnD (all big Pharma RnD is in the SE except AZ in Cheshire) I'd say 90% of the scientists were from the North/Midlands/Scotland. Nothing special about the SE, yet the SE is the "engine" of the UK economy. No it's not, we could have done that research near Manc, airport handy etc.

    The SE is a self-fulfilling fallacy.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 569.

    Look at the Arkansas democrat april 2010, Hydrofracking, earthquakes, water cotamination and health concerns raised. If poor you are led to believe it will create new jobs, iif inbuissness you are led to believe it will bring customers to you and your town, If rich, such an idea would be absurd. This surely would not happen..? Look after the future of our children do not be blinded by persuasion.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 568.

    @561.Matthew

    What makes you think any money will be spent in the S.East?

    It'll end up in a few peoples offshore accounts ;-)

    Anyway you could always come and join us down here - it's not like we've got over population, high property prices or anything else that'll put you off!

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 567.

    I don't drink water. Fish do naughty things in it. Bring on cheap gas.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 566.

    Do we know what Prince Charles' views on 'fracking' are? I was wondering whether, being a keen environmentalist/conservationist he might have some view on the matter...? Would it be important in any way if he did?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 565.

    Apparently air pollution is an unavoidable outcome from fracking - methane (can asphyxiate humans), radioactive radon & hydrogen sulphide (toxic).

    It appears radon is the second global cause of lung cancer & methane can cause asphyxiation /death (replaces oxygen in the body).

    Hydrogen sulphide causes damage to the brain & other organs leading to dementia /ADHD-like symptoms & even death.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 564.

    Whilst they say other energy is costly, 40 million wasted on failed train bid, 1 million on failed flood pump, paying for these people to have 2 houses when they do no good. You want to talk of wasted resources-open your eyes. Do we love our children yes, then give them a hope of a future, not pictures of what was once beautiful. Time we made some rules, no to genocide.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 563.

    To all of those people in favour, feel free to move to a place of fracking and let the rest of us, that don't want to bury our heads in the sand, move away from these areas until more evidence has been gathered.

    I have no idea why people would vote my last post down, when all I did was ask what would happen to the water and chemicals pumped out. Obviously you're all experts on the matter.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 562.

    The question is is the "possibility" of providing a few years of gas, some jobs & a big profit for a foreign company (& probably friends of the government) worth the gamble of the potential cost to clean up up any accidents/"unforeseen" events that damage the environment, peoples health, their homes & the food chain?

    I'm not convinced & the consequences of this gamble on a fast buck could be dire

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 561.

    Looking at the map of Britain used to show the areas of the UK where this type of extraction will take places, I noticed zero and I mean zero areas in the S East, comming from an effected area my attitude is that we’re the ones taking all the risks, so we’re the ones that should get paid, I do not want one penny spent in the S East, or should we "Frak" parliament for gas it produces enough.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 560.

    Seems to me that it would be far more sensible to forget fracking and return to coal mining.
    We have hundreds of years of experience, we've learnt how to do it safely and we know exactly what the environmental risks are and how to minimise them.
    Plus it would provide many much needed jobs.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 559.

    @549
    The Fracking process seems very energy hungry. Are we actually getting a net gain from doing this activity?

    If you ignore the costs, yes. If you factor in 5 to 10 million gallons of water per well, then the need to remove toxins and carcinogens from what comes back out of the well plus pollution of the natural water table and siesmic damage to the ground, then no.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 558.

    Let's get started and forget the wind turbine nonsense.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 557.

    Short-term profiteering for some useless leeches?

    Tories must be in.

    Or New Labour.

    Hard to tell the difference these days.

 

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