Natural gas prices in the US have dropped by almost two thirds since they started ‘fracking’ for shale gas. Could we see a similar boost to the UK economy any time soon?
Shale Gas – probably the only hope we have of producing a significant amount of useful, home-grown energy in the next decade or two.
Some say it is a gift we should be making the most of right away, just as we did with our coal reserves and North Sea oil. Some say it is a catastrophe waiting to happen. In this article we explore the possibility of shale gas exploration being ramped up in 2013, having been given the go-ahead by Chancellor George Osborne late last year.
Why is shale gas important?
Gas is the cleanest fossil fuel we have, and the most versatile. Gas can be used directly for heating and cooking, and burned in gas power stations to create electricity. Compared to coal, gas emits half the amount of CO2, and burns twice as efficiently, reducing the amount of carbon emitted significantly.
Natural gas from shale is also being seen as a way to national energy security (not being at the mercy of Russian imports or French nuclear power as we are at the moment) and the only real alternative to our current sources of energy:
- Nuclear is too expensive to build, operate, and dispose of the waste, and takes 10 years minimum to build.
- Coal is too dirty, and already provides half of our electricity consumed.
- Wind power is too inefficient and costly – we have over 4,000 turbines but they only supply 0.4% of our total.
- North Sea gas and oil – seriously dwindling in recent years, which has also made it more costly to extract as wells are emptier.
- Imported gas and oil – becoming increasingly expensive and makes us reliant on other countries to run our economy.
- Other Renewables such as wave, solar and biomass are simply not worth thinking about on any national scale.
The US Energy Revolution
Shale gas has been part of an energy revolution in the US, which has seen it use new technologies to extract oil and gas from it’s own territories, decreasing its reliance on imported oil from the Middle East so significantly that many say the US could be totally self-sufficient in terms of gas and electricity by 2035.
This would mean a significant change in the political and economic systems on the world, as oil and gas producing countries would no longer be able to hold western superpowers to ransom over their energy. It has also, unexpectedly, lead to the US actually lowering their carbon emissions, due to replacing oil with their own gas.
States such as North Dakota, which sit on top of significant shale reserves, have seen massive boosts to the economy. Thousands of real jobs have been created, and the lower costs of fuel mean everyone has more disposable income left in their pockets each month – money they spend with businesses, boosting the economy overall. It’s a ripple effect when the price of energy comes down.
But aren’t there dangers involved with ‘fracking’?
There have been many scare stories, but no significant dangers have been proven. Here we discuss the main ones:
- Water Contamination – In 2010 a film called Gasland was released by Josh Fox, which contained sensationalist footage of people claiming their water has been contaminated by fracking, and then lighting their water on fire was it comes out of the tap. This has since been thoroughly debunked as green propaganda – there was a 1976 study by the Colorado Division of Water stating that the water contained naturally occurring methane.
- Earthquakes – In April and May 2011, two minor earthquakes were detected near Blackpool, and the cause was immediately suspected to be the recent fracking by Cuadrilla Resources. Reports have since concluded that they were most likely caused by the hydraulic fracturing, but since they were of the intensity that occurs naturally “the risk from these earthquakes is low, and structural damage is extremely unlikely.” There are tens of thousands of shale wells in the US and no significant damage has yet been caused.
So will we see a 2013 Shale Gas Revolution?
Unlikely, although hopefully some significant progress will be made. Richard Davies, Director of Durham Energy Institute has written an excellent article citing two main barriers: ‘social acceptance’ and the regulatory nightmare that is the UK planning system.
Unlike in the US, landowners in the UK do not own the resources contained below their land, so the planning system is much more complex. This added to the fact that people are generally very wary of energy companies, regulators and politicians means that it could take many years until we see a significant amount of gas generated from our own lands, if at all.
Join the debate!
What do you think? Do you think Shale Gas will be good or bad for Britain? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below…