Two recently published reports seriously question the viability of the UK shale gas industry.
The late and long awaited report from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) was finally made public on 7 July. Make no mistake, despite the spin put on this report by the BBC and other media outlets, this is a damning report that warns the government that the UK’s fracking regulations may be inadequate to prevent environmentally damaging methane leaks from shale gas production, ie fracking is not compatible with UK climate targets.
No wonder the government sat on it until the Planning Inspector Wendy McKay had made her recommendations to Secretary of State Greg Clarke; no wonder its publication was delayed until North Yorkshire Council had made a decision to give the go-ahead to fracking in Ryedale. If this information had been made available beforehand, it may very well have influenced both decisions.
Its deliberate delay is another example of our government’s attempts to manipulate decision making in favour of the UK shale gas industry.
The CCC report concluded that shale gas production on a significant scale would breach the nation’s targets for emissions cuts unless three tests are passed.
First, strict regulations are required to ensure leaks of methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, are kept to a minimum. Second, shale gas must replace imported gas – not be burned in addition and, third, emissions from the production of shale gas itself must be offset by more carbon cuts elsewhere.
Current fracking regulations are inadequate to meet the first test. There are currently few regulations and little inspection – this is largely a self-regulating industry with all the pitfalls that involves. Offsetting the emissions from fracking will be difficult and expensive especially without carbon capture and storage (CSS). Meeting the UK’s legally binding climate targets will be challenging enough without accounting for the emissions of a shale gas industry – a factor the government hasn’t added to the equation as yet. The government cancelled a £1bn CCS programme in November last year, and without CCS, the nation’s gas use will have to fall 80% by 2050, compared with 50% with CCS, as as the government have no policies in place to meet more than half the emission cuts required by law by the planned date.
Labour’s Barry Gardiner, the shadow energy and climate change secretary, said: “The CCC report lays out three fundamental tests [but] the government has decided to do precisely nothing to increase protection for the public or to deliver security for our climate targets. On this basis, it is currently neither safe nor reasonable to approve any fracking in Britain.’
Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace, said: ‘The idea that fracking can be squared with the UK’s climate targets is based on a tower of assumptions, caveats and conditions on which there is zero certainty of delivery. The government now faces a clear choice between promoting this climate-wrecking industry or backing clean, homegrown, reliable renewable energy and smart technologies instead.’
More evidence that fracking is bad for health
The health charity Medact has published an updated report on the public health impacts of fracking. This new report, Shale Gas Production in England – an updated public health assessment reaches broadly the same conclusions as Medact’s 2015 report Health and Fracking, however it is now supported by a much larger body of evidence published in the year since the first report was produced. In the last year over 350 academic papers of various sorts have been published, examining the impacts of high volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF) for shale gas on air and water quality, health, climate change, social wellbeing, economics, noise and light pollution, and seismic events.
You can download he whole report here
David McCoy, the report’s lead author also provided expert witness testimony at the Lancashire planning public inquiry earlier this year. He states: ‘The biggest threat posed by shale gas is via global warming, but there are also direct risks to the health and wellbeing of local populations. What is striking is the lack of an integrated social, economic, environmental and health impact assessment of fracking’.
Medact’s own summary says:
‘Hazardous pollutants are produced at all stages of the shale gas production process. The range of pollutants are outlined in the report. Based on current evidence it is not possible to conclude that there is a strong association between shale gas related pollution and negative local health effects. However, there is clearly potential for negative health impacts. In particular, there are risks of (i) adverse reproductive outcomes due to exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals, (ii) risk of respiratory effects resulting from ozone and smog formation, (iii) stress, anxiety and other psycho-social effects arising from actual and perceived social and economic disruption.
‘A special consideration in England as compared with the US is that there may be a greater risk of well integrity failure due to the heavily faulted nature of the geology.
‘Evidence is strongest regarding the risk that shale gas will accelerate climate change. Recent evidence of a rise in global atmospheric methane concentrations, which poses a global warming threat, points to recent oil and gas production in the US as one of the causes.
Climate change has been described by the Lancet journal as the greatest threat to health of the 21st century. Dr. Nick Watts, Executive Director of the Lancet Countdown to 2030: Global Health and Climate Action says, “it is clear that rapid decarbonisation of the energy sector is an important first step in protecting the health of the British public from the impacts of climate change. In the short term, a swift phase-out of unabated coal-fired power from the national energy mix will work to reduce the burden of disease from cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses. In the longer term, investment in solar and wind energy must be the ultimate goal in order to meet our international climate change commitments.”’
Here we have expert opinion from two bodies – the Committee on Climate Change and Medact, both warning of the effects of fracking on climate change and public health. On the other side we have a government with no long-term strategy in place, no desire to improve regulations and little regard for public well being. A change of leadership is unlikely to bring much solace. Current Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom is a huge supporter of shale gas. She said: ‘Shale gas is a fantastic opportunity, which could create thousands of jobs and a secure homegrown energy source that we can rely on for decades to come.’ Theresa May has been largely silent on the issue of climate change but her voting record mirrors that of the government. You can read more about both’s attitudes, statements, pay-offs and the like here.