Shale threat to carbon target


Widespread exploitation of the huge reserves of shale gas under Lancashire could force the Government to scrap its targets for reducing carbon emissions, a report suggests today.

Even if 20 per cent of the amount located this year in the Blackpool area – 11,000 bcm, or billion cubic metres – were to be extracted and burnt, this would result in emissions of over 2bn tonnes of carbon dioxide, representing around 15 per cent of the Government’s greenhouse gas emissions budget through to 2050, according to the report, written by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change at the University of Manchester, and sponsored by The Co-operative.

The suggestion that shale gas use might be a climate-change “target-buster” is only the latest criticism of the “unconventional” fuel, which has boomed in the US and may be on the point of taking off in Britain.

It is termed unconventional from the way it has to be extracted: the gas is locked inside shale rock formations deep underground, which have to be blown apart to release the gas by hydrological fracturing, or “fracking”, a process which involves pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the rock at very high pressure.  

However, this process is controversial, as it has side-effects: it may cause earth tremors, and three weeks ago a report said that the fracking carried out near Blackpool by the energy firm Cuadrilla Resources had caused fifty separate seismic movements. There are also concerns that the process allows dangerous chemicals to pollute groundwater supplies.

The suggestion that widespread exploitation of shale gas may make the UK miss its climate targets will only increase the controversy. “Evidence is now emerging which indicates that gas derived from shale may have a significantly greater carbon footprint than previously thought, seriously questioning whether it can play any role in the transition to a low carbon economy,” said Paul Monaghan, Head of Social Goals at The Co-operative. “This authoritative report shows that a new dash for gas is incompatible with the UK’s carbon reduction targets and that a complete re-appraisal of approach is needed.”

Kevin Anderson, Professor of Energy and Climate Change at the Tyndall Centre, University of Manchester, said: “As the Government’s Committee on Climate Change make clear, for the UK to meet its binding carbon targets, electricity needs to be decarbonised by 2030 with domestic heating having moved from high carbon gas to low-carbon electricity.”

 “With so little time to meet these commitments, there is no meaningful emissions allowance available for shale gas. Moreover, pursuing shale gas electricity risks displacing urgently required investments in genuinely low carbon energy supply. Consequently, the Government faces a difficult choice; to lead a new and low-carbon energy revolution or stick with high carbon fossil fuels, forgo its emission targets and relinquish its hard won international reputation on climate change.”