Cameron shale gas visit image via number10gov/flickr. Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Fracking has finally arrived in the UK, eight years on from Cuadrilla’s approved licence for shale gas exploration in Lancashire.

Last week the government released details of new areas for drilling applications (including 53 Sites of Special Scientific Interest, backtracking on an earlier promise) and made a surprising announcement to “call-in” local decisions that were taking too long.

But a lot has changed over the past eight years and opponents should still feel hopeful.
 
The most dramatic change for the energy sector has been a fall in natural gas prices. From a peak of 73p per therm (a unit of heat from gas) in December 2013, the price halved last summer, and now sits at 41p.
 
At such a price, it is entirely possible that few, if any, fracking sites in the UK will be profitable (see this week’s graph). In the US, shale projects are operating at a loss and capital markets are abandoning the technology they had recently been so aggressively funding.
 
The supposed environmental case for fracking has also taken a hit.
 
Estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from fracking continue to be revised upward with another study published this week on methane leakage, while a recent study on US greenhouse gas emissions found fracking’s suspected impact on carbon cuts non-existent: it was economic recession, rather than a switch to fracking, that lowered emissions.
 
The development of fracking has displaced investment in renewables, too. Instead of bridging the gap between coal and a low-carbon future, gas may lock-in the US’ existing fossil fuel infrastructure and higher emissions pathway (p11).
 
The current line from the UK government is that fracking would reduce energy dependence, which may be true to a degree. But it doesn’t square with recent decisions to scrap other programmes that do the same thing, such as support for renewables and home energy efficiency.
 
Nor does it seem to be making such headway outside of Westminster. Awareness of fracking might have increased, but public support is at an all-time low. Repeated surveys from the Department of Energy and Climate Change have shown a strong preference for renewables like wind and solar.
 
By now, fracking’s cheerleaders expected the dash for gas to be crossing the finish line. But a substantive, reasonable and hugely successful protest movement continues to block the home straight.
 
The case against fracking is stronger than ever. Now is the time to make it.
 
 
Don’t miss these:
Estimated costs of fracking outstrips current gas prices 
  • “Clean energy is inherently more local, more distributed, more accountable.” Bloomberg New Energy Finance CEO, Michael Liebrich, pens a letter about significant changes in the world of clean energy and calls for greater diversity in the energy sector workforce – especially more women.
     
  • The exceptional has become the unexceptional. What was an extraordinarily hot year for the global climate in 1998 now looks rather cool as recent years have continued to break temperature records. 2015 is currently on track to do it again.