Shale gas find 'threatens' the UK environment

14th October 2011



The discovery of huge reserves of shale gas in Lancashire has heightened fears that its extraction may pollute water sources, worsen greenhouse-gas emissions and choke off investment in renewable energy.

Cuadrilla Resources, which has been exploring the potential for commercial shale gas extraction in the Fylde coast region, says that its test drilling reveals that up to two trillion cubic feet of gas lies underground – enough to supply Britain’s current demand for the next 50 years. Only a small proportion is likely to be recoverable, however.

Shale gas is natural gas that is found trapped underground in shale rock and is extracted using a technique called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”, which involves pumping millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into fractures in the shale under high pressure.

The process is widely used in the US, but is controversial, with some states banning the process following allegations that it causes water pollution.

The WWF wants a moratorium on shale gas exploration in the UK until the risks to groundwater have been properly explored.

“There has still not been enough research into the issue of water contamination by shale gas extraction,” says Jenny Banks, energy and climate change policy officer at WWF UK.

Another fear is that the discovery of shale gas will fuel a second “dash for gas”, with more gas-fired power stations built. Although gas stations using conventionally sourced natural gas emit roughly half as much CO2 per kWh as coal-fired plants, research published earlier this year found that shale gas releases more methane into the atmosphere, thus potentially leaving a larger greenhouse-gas footprint than coal.

Support for gas-powered stations may also impede development of renewable energy projects. In June, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned that a dash for gas could undermine demand for renewable energy.

“While natural gas is the ‘cleanest’ fossil fuel, it is still a fossil fuel. Its increased use could muscle out low-carbon fuels, such as renewables,” warned IEA executive director Nobuo Tanaka.


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