Shale-gas drilling unlikely to affect energy security, say MPs

Shale-gas drilling could be given the go-ahead in the UK but is unlikely to have a major impact on energy security or domestic prices.

A report by the Energy Select Committee of MPs found no evidence that the hydraulic fracturing process involved in shale-gas extraction — known as ‘fracking’ —  poses a direct risk to underground water aquifers, provided the drilling well is constructed properly.

‘There appears to be nothing inherently dangerous about the process of fracking itself and, as long as the integrity of the well is maintained, shale-gas extraction should be safe,’ said committee chair Tim Yeo MP, adding: ’Regulatory agencies must of course be vigilant and monitor drilling closely to ensure that air and water quality is not being affected.’

The British Geological Survey estimates that the UK’s onshore shale-gas resources could be as large as 150 billion cubic metres — equivalent to roughly 1.5 years of total UK gas consumption and worth approximately £28bn at current prices.

‘Onshore shale-gas reserves in the UK could be quite considerable and will certainly help us increase our energy security — although not, unfortunately, very dramatically,’ Yeo said.

The report also said that onshore reserves were unlikely to have a dramatic effect on domestic gas prices.

However, the UK’s potential offshore reserves could ‘dwarf’ onshore supplies and the report calls on the government to encourage the development of the offshore shale-gas industry in the UK.

‘While more costly to recover, [offshore reserves] could potentially deliver self-sufficiency in gas for the UK at some point in the future,’ Yeo said

On the topic of emissions, the report confirmed that shale gas has a lower impact than coal, but still much higher than nuclear, solar or wind power.

Concern over shale-gas drilling has led to calls for a moratorium on UK operations, but the company bringing the controversial technique to Britain says its methods are much safer than those coming under scrutiny in the US and such a ban is not needed. Click here to read more.