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Fracking could be 'bridge' to low carbon future, shale gas task force says

Published 16/09/2015

Fracking has proven to be a divisive issue
Fracking has proven to be a divisive issue

The Government should invest revenues from UK shale gas production in research and development of renewables and low carbon technology, it has been urged.

Shale gas, which is extracted through controversial fracking, could play a role as a "bridge" to a low carbon future, Lord Chris Smith said as the task force on shale gas he chairs published a report on the climate impacts of the fuel.

But to minimise its impact and to ensure it does not hinder the development of renewables, the Government needs to invest the revenues it received from energy taxes and royalties into research and development of low carbon technology.

The money could give more of a push to areas such as battery storage, which allows power from intermittent renewables to be stored until it is needed, and to technologies including wave and tidal power which need to be developed, he said.

And the Government needs to speed up the development of carbon capture and storage technology, which can be fitted to power stations to capture their emissions and store them permanently underground, to ensure gas power is cleaner.

Although the future will be focused on renewables and low carbon technology, gas will play a role in the mix for electricity, heating and industrial use for several decades.

Exploiting shale gas has around the same carbon footprint as conventional North Sea gas, as long as steps are taken to prevent fugitive methane gas emissions escaping during the extraction process, the report said.

And it was a cleaner alternative to importing liquefied natural gas (LNG) which is shipped from Qatar, and requires extra energy to turn it into a liquid, transport it and return it to gas.

Lord Smith said: "Shale gas can provide a sensible part of the mix but it has to be seen as a bridge to a low carbon and renewables future.

"In order to make sure its impact is minimised and that it is genuinely a bridge not a substitute, the Government needs to get on with carbon capture and storage (CCS), because that is absolutely crucial in the use of gas over the course of the next 30 years or so.

"And we recommend the Government should commit itself to using the energy derived revenues for a shale gas industry to investment in research and development and new technology in renewables, in CCS and in things like energy storage and distribution.

"We think that if they were to do that, it would send a very strong signal that yes, shale gas is going to be useful but it's not a long term proposition, it's something that is a way of moving towards a low carbon future."

He acknowledged that shale gas faced an uphill struggle, amid environmental protests and local opposition driven by fears that fracking can pollute water supplies, damage the countryside, cause earthquakes and undermine efforts to tackle climate change.

But he said the task force's recommendations could mean "it's possible to ensure that shale gas is not just something that will help us tide over the next 30 or 40 years, but it could actually help to ensure development of renewables and low carbon technologies rather than hindering them".

Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom said: "I completely agree with Lord Smith's conclusion that shale could play a role as a "bridge" to a low carbon future.

"We are completely committed to securing a low carbon future, however we are not yet at a point where renewables can fully meet our current energy needs. Shale gas provides a lower carbon alternative to coal, helping us to reduce our carbon footprint.

"Shale also has huge potential for Britain through creating growth and jobs that will give working people and their families more financial security. This home-grown energy source will improve energy security whilst keeping the bills down and the lights on."

Greenpeace UK energy and climate campaigner Hannah Martin said: "Fracking is not a bridge to a low-carbon future but just another cul-de-sac in our efforts to ditch dangerous fossil fuels.

"Energy analysts say that if fracking gets started at all in the UK, it still won't be fully developed for another decade, by which time we should be well on our way to a fossil fuel-free energy future.

"And this is before considering the climate impacts of any methane leaking from wells and pipes, a problem which the US shale industry is still grappling with."

Tony Bosworth, Friends of the Earth energy campaigner, said: "Rather than focus on finding new sources of gas, the Government should be cutting how much gas we need by expanding, not cutting, energy efficiency and renewables.

" That could cut gas imports by up to 30% and would be better for climate change, better for energy security, better for the local environment and better for jobs."

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