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Shale Gas and Fracking – is there a future in the UK?



The increasing demand for energy when combined with diminishing reserves have forced the world to focus on an unconventional source of energy, shale gas. The shale gas boom has introduced lower energy costs and created new jobs within the US, boosting domestic manufacturing  whilst delivering measurable environmental benefits as well. The success had by the US with shale gas could be emulated by the UK in the future to secure an alternative supply source and create jobs and tackle environmental issues within the industry.

The Energy Policy is an international peer-reviewed journal addressing the policy implications of energy supply and use from economic, social, planning and environmental aspects. The policy has to balance three key objectives - price, security and climate change. In order to deliver all three of these objectives, there needs to be a diverse energy mix, and in a world where rapid innovation is challenging all past certainties, it makes no sense to back a single energy source or technology in a constantly evolving industry, particularly one that is sometimes subject to unforeseen disruptions to supply.

Shale gas will not compromise investment in boosting renewables, nuclear and other low carbon technologies, and should have a limited impact on the environment. If explored in the right way, shale gas could be an alternative to coal, which emits high carbon emissions, and be the much cleaner option. It could provide the UK with an important new source of gas.

This new supply of gas could be a solution to climate change; it was suggested by the Fifth Assessment Report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that gas has a central role to play in cutting carbon emissions in the fight against climate change. 

It could be argued that the UK should be exploring shale gas to establish whether it could join the North Sea gas as part of a lower carbon energy mix. A report by Chief Scientists at the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC), Professor David MacKay and Dr Timothy Stone, examines the carbon footprint of UK-produced shale gas. They found that, with the appropriate safe guards, emissions from production and transportation of UK shale gas would likely be lower than that of imported liquefied gas. It is thought the net effect of national emissions from UK shale gas would be relatively small compared to other sources of gas. 

Along with a reduced impact on the environment, shale gas and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) could benefit the UK oil and gas economy. DECC and the Technology Strategy Board are providing £2million worth of funding for improved or new techniques that could reduce the environmental impact of shale gas exploration. This will open up opportunities for UK business to innovate and lead the way in green energy technologies.

The Energy Minister, Michael Fallon, has suggested that the use of fracking techniques could be worth £33billion to the UK economy; creating up to 64,500 jobs over the next 15 years and bringing 4,000 wells into production. Cuadrilla - an independent UK energy company - is currently bidding to drill for shale gas in Lancashire, raising the prospect of potential contracts and jobs for local residents.

There is a school of thought that the UK would benefit from following in China’s footsteps when it comes to shale gas exploration. PetroChina - the largest oil and gas company in China - plans to spend more than 10 billion Yuan (£950million) this year on shale gas fracking, in a bid to emulate the success of the US shale boom.

The question that needs to be asked is, if shale gas development can be conducted in an environmentally friendly manner and will potentially benefit the UK by boosting energy output and strengthening the economy, should we explore this means of energy?

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