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Shale gas - why the Government's approach is flawed

Michael Bradshaw is Professor of Global Energy, Warwick Business School, and one of the authors of a report on the Future Role of Natural Gas in the UK for UKERC. He comments on the Committee on Climate Change’s three tests for a future shale gas industry.

Professor Bradshaw said: “The tests reveal a failure of Government policy to develop an approach to gas by design and in the current situation we are likely to end up with more gas by default. Whether that gas is shale gas or not will not be determined by these three tests, but by popular opinion and the ability of the industry to gain a social licence to operate with local communities.

“The UK’s nascent shale gas industry is unlikely to feel challenged by these tests. They are always at pains to stress that the shale gas development model in the UK will be very different to that of the US and that tight regulations and so-called ‘green completions’ will minimise fugitive emissions – methane leakage - as recommended by the Task Force on Shale Gas.

“The Infrastructure Act 2015 does require baseline monitoring and a consortium involving the British Geological Survey and several Universities is currently conducting environmental monitoring in the Lancashire and the Vale of Pickering in Yorkshire. The industry will also argue that allowing gas to leak does not make sense as it is a potential loss of revenue. Those who protest shale gas are unlikely to be convinced, but we will only know the true situation if drilling and hydraulic fracturing takes place and is closely monitored.

“The second test is not an issue for shale gas alone as it relates to the overall role of natural gas in the UK’s future energy mix. The issue of import substitution is unlikely to be a constraint as conventional offshore gas production is declining at a rate that won’t be compensated for by shale gas any time soon.

“The UK is already well across the coal to gas emissions reduction bridge and there will be limited opportunities for ‘new gas’ in the 2020s. In the 2030s the decarbonisation of domestic heat presents the greatest challenge to the Carbon budget.

“The third test highlights the need for a whole systems approach to assessing the role and impact of any future shale gas industry in the UK. The danger here is not so much that shale gas will unleash a so called ‘second dash for gas’, but rather failures elsewhere will result in increased use of gas, particularly in power generation. For example, if coal is removed by 2025 - as proposed by the Government - there are further delays in the construction of new nuclear and the growth of renewable power generation stalls then the obvious stop gap is to build more gas fired power generation capacity and use it for longer.

"This would undoubtedly compromise the Carbon Budgets, but the cause of such a situation cannot be laid at the door of the shale gas industry. Rather, it highlights the perilous state of the UK’s energy strategy - such that it is - a situation that is bound to be aggravated by Brexit."