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Gas fracking in Europe

Here’s a good piece by a journalist I know, Ben Schiller, on the spread of gas fracking in Europe.

As many of you will know, the UK, Poland and other states are increasingly keen on the idea. France is, typically, more concerned. (our new France briefing is here)

Gas executives claim fracking cannot be proven to have contaminated groundwater. And politicans are keen to reduce their foreign gas dependency from places such as the Middle East.

But environmentalists and scientists remain concerned. (For an alternative view on the US proposals to expand fracking, take a look at this article)

Aside from the chemicals used and the risk to water supplies, here’s a couple of quotes from the article that lay out some of the worries:

“There are going to be thousands of drilling towers and lots of new roads and pipelines, and that could cause social problems”

“A study by Florence Gény, a research fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, finds that Europe will not see “significant” levels of shale gas production before 2020. In other words, if shale gas is to be transitional, it will be in the next decade rather than this one.”

“Experts also disagree about shale gas’s role in cutting carbon emissions. Though industry officials say that burning natural gas emits just over half the CO2 per unit of energy, compared to coal, several researchers say “fugitive” methane emissions from shale gas production offset the benefits. (Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas.) Cornell professor Robert Howarth has argued that the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of shale gas are worse than coal and fuel oil when considered over a 20-year period.”

“Energy companies are rushing to develop unconventional sources of oil and gas trapped in carbon-rich shales and sands throughout the western United States and Canada. So far, government officials have shown little concern for the environmental consequences of this new fossil-fuel development boom, journalist Keith Schneider writes.”

“The Tyndall Centre, meanwhile, says there is a little evidence from the U.S. that shale gas has been used as a substitute for coal. Instead, it has been burned in addition to it. The same thing is likely to happen in Europe, according to Tyndall.”

“Kevin Anderson, who leads the Tyndall Centre’s research on energy and carbon emissions, also is worried about the effect on renewable energy development. “Shale gas might help with energy security and help meet climate change targets in the short-term,” he says. “But then we have the problem that we haven’t developed the renewables which we have plenty of potential for in the UK.””

So is gas fracking, at least in the UK, simply another short term energy solution that is not, in fact, that short term?

It may not be as ‘sustainable’ as claimed.

I would expect more studies to reveal that the carbon gains are not as significant as the industry may once have claimed.

Most worryingly, as the article notes, gas fracking may provide a substantive distraction from renewable energy, or even nuclear, when we can least avoid to waste time.

If the industry grows as expected, companies involved can expect major protests and social unrest.

Look at the opposition to onshore wind turbines from NIMBY types in the UK (Not In My Back Yard).

With gas fracking you can imagine the public debate becoming that much more heightened, more quickly, than with wind.

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