Test-drilling for shale gas gets green light in UK
Test-drilling for shale gas in Lancashire can go ahead with safeguards to ensure that they do not cause earthquakes, British energy secretary Ed Davey has decided.
Drilling, better known as fracking, in lands near Blackpool stopped last year after a number of small tremors, which caused concerns amongst locals, but no damage.
Fracking sees water, chemicals and sand blown through drills at high pressure into shale rock between 5,000 and 10,000ft underground, freeing up the gas held within.
The energy secretary has given permission for the test-drills to resume, even though he is less convinced of the potential of shale gas to meet some of the UK’s energy needs.
However, the Conservative chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, believes shale gas could cut gas prices, as it has done in the United States.
Environmentalists argue that, besides earthquake fears, fracking threatens to pollute aquifers, destroy the landscape and significantly increase truck traffic in rural areas.
Before MPs in the Commons, Mr Davey said UK safety regulations were “much tougher” than in the US.
However, Prof Jim Watson, director of the Sussex Energy Group at the University of Sussex, rejected that shale gas would improve the UK’s energy security.
‘Not as cheap’
“It is unlikely that UK shale gas will be anywhere near as cheap as it is in the US, and any price difference between UK gas and continental European gas will quickly disappear as a result of demand from other countries.”
The British government should instead pay “more attention” to the UK’s ability to store large supplies of liquefied gas to cope with emergencies.
Prof John Loughhead of the Institution of Engineering and Technology said shale gas offered the potential “dramatically” to increase the UK’s gas reserves, describing it as “an economic opportunity that cannot be ignored”.
The exploitation of shale gas would not hinder the development of renewable energies, such as wind, wave and tidal, because, on their own, there is no way that they will be able to replace coal-burning over the next 25 years, he argued.
The company involved in the Lancashire drilling, Cuadrilla, has been criticised by the British government for some of the methods it used in the tests.
However, the company insists drilling can happen safely, arguing too that it could supply a quarter of the UK’s gas needs – a claim that is strongly disputed. Some studies have argued that shale gas will not cut gas prices because drilling in Europe will be more expensive to carry out than in the US due to higher population densities.
Under the new rules, Cuadrilla will have to get clearance for all chemicals to be used in the Lancashire tests, while details about them will have to be published.
Opponents of fracking were criticised by Prof Peter Styles of Keele University, who said the UK could not continue “happily” to import supplies from countries where safety standards would be lower. Currently, half of the UK’s gas supplies are imported, he said.