Tom Bawden: Cheap gas – the benefits and dangers

Monday 16 January 2012 01:00

Every week somewhere in the world new evidence surfaces that confirms our worst fears about the environmental dangers of fracking.

In the UK, the sole fracking operation was found to have been responsible for earthquakes in the Blackpool area and it was suspended. In the US, the technique has been linked to earthquakes and water pollution. (In a scene from a documentary called Gasland, a resident near one fracking site claims it has filled his water with methane and proceeds to light his taps as proof.)

But the potential for fracking to drive down energy bills at a time of high prices and concerns over security of supply means the Government is keen to capitalise on the UK's shale gas reserves. Enough shale gas is thought to be in the Blackpool area alone to satisfy Britain's demand for 11 years.

In the US, where fracking is more advanced, households are paying 21 per cent less for their gas than they were in 2006, while bills in the UK have soared.

Perhaps a few small tremors don't really matter – after all, there are problems associated with most resource extraction – and that the water pollution that seems to be following fracking activity in the US is merely down to bad workmanship. Perhaps with proper regulation, shale gas can help to solve the looming energy crisis. But the Government needs to engage – and be seen to engage – fully with the issues if it is to shake off accusations that it is turning a blind eye to the environmental consequences in its quest for a cheap and secure supply of energy that would play well with voters.

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