The UK must start fracking “as soon as possible” to find out the economic impact of shale gas.
That’s the suggestion from the industry-funded Shale Gas Task Force, which was launched in September last year to provide an impartial, transparent and evidence-based assessment of the potential benefits and risks of fracking in the country.
It says the UK needs to find out how much gas is available and “what sort of industry might be possible”.
The report states: “The EU’s Joint Research Centre estimates Europe’s technically recoverable unconventional gas resource at 11,700bcm, about 25% of America’s. However, a lack of drilling and exploration mean that European shale reserves are, as yet, untapped.”
The UK currently produces enough gas from the North Sea and the Irish Sea to meet almost half its needs (43%) while the rest is imported from European and Norwegian pipelines (44%) as well as from LNG tankers (13%).
However as Britain’s gas fields are depleting, it means the shortfall of supply will need to be made up elsewhere, the Task Force says in its fourth and final report.
Fracking involves the controversial use of drilling and injecting water, sand and chemicals deep underground at high pressure to fracture the rocks and release gas or oil.
The Task Force insists it could be done “safely and usefully” and contribute to the decarbonisation of the UK economy provided the strictest environmental standards are in place.
It said: “The risk from shale gas to the local environment or to public health is no greater than that associated with comparable industries provided, as with all industrial works, that operators follow best practice.”
It believes a shale gas industry in the UK has the potential to create “thousands of jobs directly” and support a wider supply chain indirectly.
The news follows Chancellor George Osborne’s announcement to support the creation of the shale gas industry and ensure communities benefit from a Shale Wealth Fund, worth up to £1 billion.
Some of the recommendations of the Task Force include the need for operators to be transparent and agree to fully disclose the chemical content of materials used in exploration and production, to commit to using only the “very best” materials and techniques as well as allow independent monitoring of the site.
They must also outline exactly how they intend to provide £100,000 of community benefits for exploratory well pads.
The Task Force sees a need for “greater clarity” about tax incentives such as halving the rate of tax applied to profits of shale gas.
It adds local residents should have a direct role in monitoring any operations in their area and calls on the government to explore the possibility of creating a bespoke regulator to oversee the developments if a shale gas industry does develop.
It believes gas has a role to play as an interim energy source in the short and medium term however it insists it must not restrict or prohibit the ongoing development of a renewables and low carbon energy industry to meet the UK’s mid to long term needs.
The report also suggests the government must commit to providing skills training in areas in which shale gas production will occur. If the industry is created, it could provide a “clear means of strengthening the UK’s energy security and mitigating against potential risks to energy supply”, the Task Force adds.
Lord Chris Smith, Chair of the Task Force on Shale Gas said: “The size of the UK industry’s impact will depend on its (as yet unknown) potential output. We recommend that a number of exploratory wells should be allowed to go ahead, under the very strict environmental safeguards that we have outlined in our previous reports, in order to establish a much clearer picture of where and how much recoverable gas there is in the UK.
“Only when we have a better understanding of how much gas could be recovered in the UK will the public be able to make an informed decision as to whether they support it.”
Last month the government said it would make the final decision on whether fracking in Lancashire should proceed or not.