UK lawmakers back shale gas but warn renewables may suffer

A UK parliamentary committee has backed shale gas drilling, but warns that the controversial process could divert investment away from renewable sources.

An inquiry by the House of Commons' Energy and Climate Change Committee found “no evidence” that the hydraulic fracturing process involved in shale gas extraction – known as ‘fracking’ – poses a direct risk to underground water aquifers, provided the drilling well is constructed properly.

However, the committee warns that while emissions from gas are lower than from coal, it cannot match the low-carbon credentials of sources such as solar and wind power which may suffer a knock-on effect if shale gas extraction became widespread.

Committee chair Tim Yeo says: “Shale gas could encourage more countries to switch from coal to gas, which in some cases could halve power station emissions.

"But if it has a downward effect on gas prices it could divert much-needed investment away from lower carbon technologies like solar, wind, wave or tidal power.”

Reporting its findings, the committee urges the UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to monitor any drilling activity closely in its early stages in order to assess its impact on air and water quality.

But it concludes "on balance that a moratorium in the UK is not justified or necessary at present.”

Yeo says: “There has been a lot of hot air recently about the dangers of shale gas drilling, but our inquiry found no evidence to support the main concern – that UK water supplies would be put at risk.”

The committee also claims another major concern –- the risk of methane emissions from shale – should not be a problem in the UK because regulations are stronger than in the US, where methane leaks through the water supply are common.

However, critics claim the dangers posed by shale gas extraction need further investigation, and any dash to exploit new sources of fossil fuels risks undermining moves to a genuinely clean-energy economy.

Keith Allott, head of climate change at environmental group WWF-UK says: "Shale gas is a dangerous distraction from the urgent need for us to tackle climate change."

The MPs claim shale gas could reduce the UK’s dependence on natural gas imports, but that it is unlikely to have a “dramatic effect” on domestic prices.

The British Geological Survey estimates that the UK’s onshore shale gas resources could be as large as 150 billion cubic metres, equivalent to roughly one and a half years of total UK gas consumption and worth approximately £28bn ($45bn) at current prices.

The UK’s potential offshore reserves of shale are expected to be much larger than onshore supplies, and the committee calls on the UK government to encourage the development of the offshore shale gas industry.

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