Never mind earthquakes – a top geologist has told reporters at a scientific briefing held by DECC it’s actually climate change which should be the issue that decides the fracking debate.
The briefing is part of an effort from the DECC to demystify the process of shale gas extraction after a month of attention-grabbing anti-fracking protests.
Professor Zoe Shipton of Strathclyde University said: “I wouldn’t be too worried about fracking under my house but I certainly am worried about the effect of long term climate change. I really want the debate to steer away from earthquakes.”
Professor Shipton claimed damaging seismic activity could be abated by careful monitoring, something that was inherent to the process of hydraulic fracturing.
She also emphasised the depth at which fracking takes place – usually thousands of feet beneath the bottom of the water table – and downplayed worries over water contamination: “Most of the instances of contamination in the [United] States have been down to bad practice. And we have the regulators here that will come down on any company in the UK that practises that badly.”
Her confidence was tempered slightly by fellow panel member Dr Rob Ward, Director of Groundwater Science at the British Geological Survey.
He said: “Because we are looking at activity that’s going to take place deep in the subsurface it requires penetration through the near surface which is the critical zone in terms of supporting life, up to groundwater extraction. We really need to understand the implication of the activity… so we can properly manage the risks.”
The British Geological Survey has been taking baseline water measurements around the country so instances of water contamination will be easier to pick up if fracking goes ahead.
The panel also touched on the conclusions of a new DECC report released today looking at the potential impact of shale gas on greenhouse gas emissions.
It found shale gas would have a lower carbon footprint than both coal and imported liquefied natural gas (LNG) and a similar one to that of conventional gas extraction in the UK.
The report estimates UK shale gas would have a carbon intensity of 200-253g of CO2 emissions per kWh (g CO2e/kWh). That compares to 199-207 g CO2e/kWh for conventionally extracted gas and 233-270 g CO2e/kWh for imported LNG.
When used to generate electricity the figure for UK shale gas was estimated at 423-535 g CO2e/kWh, significantly less than 837-1130 g CO2e/kWh for electricity generated from coal.
Responding to the report in a speech to the Royal Society Energy Secretary Ed Davey took it as a green light to push on with shale gas extraction in the UK: “Gas, as the cleanest fossil fuel, is part of the answer to climate change, as a bridge in our transition to a green future, especially in our move away from coal.”
Professor David Mackay, DECC’s Chief Scientific Advisor Professor and the report’s lead author was more reserved when summing up the conclusion of the report. He said at the briefing: “We think the effect on the UK’s own target is likely to be small because the footprint of the shale gas and the liquefied natural gas its likely to be displacing is so similar.
“As for the global targets we view it as essential that shale gas use should be accompanied by continued strong global climate change action.”