The discovery of enormous resources of readily exploitable shale gas, as well as other ‘unconventional’ sources of energy, seem to have transformed the previously pessimistic discussion of looming energy crisis. Already in the US, the ‘shale gas revolution’ has slashed prices and opened-up the prospect of energy self-sufficiency. While in the UK, with a fifth of the UK’s existing energy capacity expected to close over the next decade, Chancellor George Osborne has declared that “gas would be the largest source of electricity in coming years”.
Those in favour of embracing the ‘dash for gas’ argue that it is a flexible fuel that can provide plentiful supplies of cheaper energy for decades into the future. They also argue that gas, which produces lower carbon emissions than coal, can act as a bridge fuel while cheaper low-carbon and renewable energy sources are being developed. However, while gas is seen as abundant and ‘clean’, the process of getting at it through ‘fracking’ has met with hostility from environmentalists and local residents who fear the adverse effects of its widespread use in the UK.
Opponents of fracking argue that it risks groundwater contamination, methane gas leakage and seismic activity; as well as destroying the landscape. In addition, for those who believe that time is running out to minimise the effects of catastrophic climate change, exploiting new gas reserves will not only add directly to the problem of man-made global warming, but could also further delay decarbonisation by distracting energy firms and governments from investing in renewable energy sources.
So should the UK embrace the ‘dash for gas’, or concentrate on developing a low carbon economy? And does the process of fracking represent “real and substantial risks to people and the environments”, or are those risks manageable, and even “exaggerated”?