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Durham University

Durham Energy Institute

News

MPs call for a suspension on fracking in the UK – CeREES / DEI response

(26 January 2015)

Today the Environmental Audit Committee will call for a moratorium on shale gas fracking and an amendment to the Infrastructure Bill. They cite climate targets as well as ‘huge uncertainties around the impact that fracking could have on water supplies, air quality and public health’.

The report warns that only a very small fraction of our shale reserves can be safely burned if we are to keep global temperatures below 2 degrees. And that considerable uncertainties remain about the hazards fracking poses to groundwater quality, air quality, health and biodiversity. It points out that continually tightening carbon budgets under the Climate Change Act will have significantly curtailed the scope for fossil fuel energy by the time shale gas is likely to be commercially viable on a large scale.

The Chair of the Committee, Joan Walley MP, says, “Ultimately fracking cannot be compatible with our long-term commitments to cut climate changing emissions unless full-scale carbon capture and storage technology is rolled out rapidly, which currently looks unlikely. There are also huge uncertainties around the impact that fracking could have on water supplies, air quality and public health.”

Professor Andy Aplin, director of CeREES (Centre for GeoEnergy at Durham University) and member of DEI Energy Policy Group, whose work includes research into shale gas potential in the UK, responded to the report:

"Some poor industrial practice in the US has led to understandable concerns over the production of shale gas in the UK. However, geological and environmental risks associated with shale gas production can be minimised within a tight regulatory framework.

 This report highlights how the mix of local opposition and global concerns on climate change will inhibit the development of a shale gas industry in the UK.

 The development of new fossil fuel resources such as shale gas is broadly incompatible with the UK's stated commitment to major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. However, any moratorium on shale gas exploration must go hand-in-hand with an equally strong commitment to reducing imports of coal, oil and gas. Given that fossil fuels dominate current energy consumption, this also implies a massive increase in nuclear and renewables, which will be both challenging and expensive.

 Whatever the UK does to reduce its carbon footprint is of little consequence if there is no global agreement on emissions. There has been little progress over many years, so all eyes are on Paris next December, at the UN Climate Change Conference."