Shale gas: a provisional assessment of climate change and environmental impacts (report)
Dr. Ruth Wood, Dr. Paul Gilbert, Maria Sharmina, Professor Kevin Anderson, Anthony Footitt, Dr Steven Glynn, Fiona Nicholls, The Tyndall Centre, University of Manchester
This report, commissioned by The Co-operative, provides a provisional review and assessment of the risks and benefits of shale gas development, with the aim of informing The Co-operative’s position on this ‘unconventional’ fuel source.
The analysis within the report addresses two specific issues associated with the extraction and combustion of shale gas. Firstly, it outlines potential UK and global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions arising from a range of scenarios building on current predictions of shale gas resources. Secondly, it explores the health and environmental risks associated with shale gas extraction. It should be stressed that a key issue in assessing these issues has been a paucity of reliable data. To date shale gas has only been exploited in the US and, while initial estimates have been made, it is difficult to quantify the possible resources in other parts of the globe, including the UK. Equally, information on health and environmental aspects is of variable quality and only now is there any systematic effort being undertaken to better understand these issues. Therefore, while every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information in the report, it can only be as accurate as the information on which it draws.
It is clear however, that while shale gas extraction, at a global level, does not involve the high energy and water inputs at the scale of other unconventional fuels, such as oil derived from tar sands, it does pose significant potential risks to human health and the environment. Principally, the potential for hazardous chemicals to enter groundwater via the extraction process must be subject to more thorough research prior to any expansion of the industry being considered. Additionally, while being promoted as a transition route to a low carbon future, none of the available evidence indicates that this is likely to be the case. It is difficult to envisage any situation other than shale gas largely being used in addition to other fossil fuel reserves and adding a further carbon burden. This could lead to an additional 11ppmv of CO2 over and above expected levels without shale gas – a figure that could rise if more of the total shale gas resource were to be exploited than envisaged in the scenarios. This would be compounded if investment in shale gas were to delay the necessary investment in zero and very low carbon technologies.
Key conclusions: general
…Evidence from the US suggests shale gas extraction brings a significant risk of ground and surface water contamination and until the evidence base is developed a precautionary approach to development in the UK and Europe is the only responsible action.
…There is little to suggest that shale gas will play a key role as a transition fuel in the move to a low carbon economy.
…Without a meaningful cap on emissions of global GHGs, the exploitation of shale gas is likely to increase net carbon emissions.
…Rapid carbon reductions require major investment in zero-carbon technologies and this could be delayed by exploitation of shale gas.
Key conclusions: specific to the UK
Requirements for water in shale gas extraction could put considerable pressure on water supplies at the local level in the UK…
Exploiting shale gas within the UK is likely to give rise to a range of additional challenges. The risk of aquifer water supply contamination by the hazardous chemicals involved in extraction is likely to be a significant source of local objections. Additionally, the UK is densely populated and consequently any wells associated with shale gas extraction will be relatively close to population centres. The proximity of such extraction will give rise to a range of local concerns, for example: drilling will require many months if not years of surface activity leading to potentially intrusive noise pollution; high levels of truck movements during the construction of a well-head will have a major impact on already busy roads; and the considerable land-use demands of shale gas extraction will put further pressure on already scarce land-use resources…
Shale gas moratorium in UK urged by Tyndall Centre
Roger Harrabin, BBC News
The UK government should put a moratorium on shale gas operations until the environmental implications are fully understood, a report says.
The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research report comes amid reports a firm has found reserves in Lancashire.
In the US, officials are investigating claims that shale gas drilling has polluted water supplies.
However, UK ministers have rejected a moratorium, saying that drilling for shale gas does not pose a threat.
“We are aware that there have been reports from US of issues linked to some shale gas projects,” a spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) told BBC News.
“However, we understand that these are only in a few cases and that Cuadrilla (the firm testing for shale gas in Lancashire) has made it clear that there is no likelihood of environmental damage and that it is applying technical expertise and exercising the utmost care as it takes drilling and testing forward.”
‘Play it safe’
The Tyndall report was commissioned by The Co-operative, an institutional investor in oil firms.
It is pressing firms not to invest in shale gas until further studies have been carried out into the effects of pumping chemicals underground to help release the gas trapped in shale rocks.
The Co-operative is concerned that Decc pronounced shale gas safe last week before the end of a consultation into the technology by MPs on the Commons energy and climate change select committee…
(17 January 2011)
Warning over UK shale gas projects
Terry Macalister, the Guardian
Ministers are being urged to halt controversial projects to drill for shale gas over fears that it poses significant risks to public health and the environment.
A new report prepared for the Co-op warns that the full impact of drilling for shale gas — an energy resource that has sparked a frenzy of exploration in the US — should be assessed before the go-ahead is given projects in the UK.
The warning comes as mining company Cuadrillo Resources prepares to begin more drilling at a find near Blackpool, Lancashire, which it says is the first true shale gas find in Europe.
Cuadrilla Resources, which includes former BP chief and Whitehall non-executive director Lord Browne on its board, said preliminary drilling confirmed and “possibly exceeded” its expectations.
Cuadrilla is planning more extensive drilling later this month which could involve a controversial technique needed in shale gas extraction called “fracking” – when the rock is fractured using chemicals.
The demand to halt shale gas drilling comes amid rising concerns about the chemicals used in fracking causing ground water contamination and which has led to a temporary ban imposed in New York state.A new film, GasLands, which includes clips of homeowners turning on their taps and igniting gas in areas where shale reserves are being extracted, has heightened campaigners’ concerns…
(17 January 2011)
Opponents to Fracking Disclosure Take Big Money From Industry
Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica
Congress isn’t going to regulate hydraulic fracturing any time soon. But the Department of Interior might.  For starters, Interior is mulling whether it should require drilling companies to disclose the chemicals they use to frack wells drilled on public lands, and already the suggestion has earned Interior Secretary Ken Salazar an earful.
On January 5, a bipartisan group of 32 members of Congress, who belong to the Natural Gas Caucus, sent Salazar a letter imploring  him to resist a hasty decision because more regulations would “increase energy costs for consumers, suppress job creation in a promising energy sector, and hinder our nation’s ability to become more energy independent.”
A week later, 46 House Democrats followed up by signing a letter to Salazar  urging him to at least adopt the disclosure requirement because, as Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., said, “communities across America have seen their water contaminated by the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process.”
“The public has a right to know what toxins might be going into the ground near their communities, and what might be leaking into their drinking water,” said the letter , which was sent by the three initial sponsors of now-stalled legislation to regulate fracturing, Hinchey, Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.
In the context of today’s roiling political and energy debates, it’s not at all clear who will win. But if money is an indicator, the anti-regulatory group has the upper hand.
A back-of-the-envelope analysis of campaign finance dollars contributed to the members of Congress who are speaking out on the issue shows that the Natural Gas Caucus received 19 times more money from the oil and gas industry between 2009 and 2010  than the group who signed Rep. Hinchey’s letter.
(14 January 2011)