Wednesday, 27 July 2016

How Politics rules out Fracking

In March the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC), a body established by Parliament, produced a report on fracking. The report - The compatibility of UK onshore petroleum with meeting the UK’s carbon budgets - is rather sceptical. (And it does not consider most of the objections to fracking, eg pollution of water supplies, since the CCC is not charged to do so.)

The main conclusion is that:
"exploiting shale gas by fracking on a significant scale is not compatible with UK climate targets unless three tests are met:
  • Test 1: Well development, production and decommissioning emissions must be strictly limited. Emissions must be tightly regulated and closely monitored in order to ensure rapid action to address leaks.... Production should not be allowed in areas where it would entail significant CO2 emissions resulting from the change in land use (e.g. areas with deep peat soils); The regulatory regime must require proper decommissioning [and] ensure that the liability for emissions at this stage rests with the producer.
  • Test 2: Consumption – gas consumption must remain in line with carbon budgets requirements. ....This means that UK shale gas production must displace imported gas rather than increasing domestic consumption.
  • Test 3: ..... .Additional production emissions from shale gas wells will need to be offset through reductions elsewhere in the UK economy, such that overall effort to reduce emissions is sufficient to meet carbon budgets.
The obvious questions are whether these conditions can be met and, if so, whether they will be. The report is clear that the conditions can be met, but will they be?

Test 1
The government's obvious enthusiasm for fracking is based on US experience so its useful to look at that experience. In 2011 Robert Howarth of Cornell Uni. estimated that methane losses during fracking were so large that burning fracked gas was worse for the climate than burning coal! Of course, US regulation is notoriously lax and the UK would doubtless do better but is shows the vital importance of actually doing much better. The committee says that the 'minimum necessary regulation' should reduce methane emissions to 0.5% of gas produced. That's 4-20 times better than the US situation.

Since regulation increases costs and given that a mixture of political and geological factors is undermining the viability of large-scale fracking its obvious that the industry will resist strict regulation. The government's general approach to fracking which includes over-riding local opposition, makes it unlikely that it will be robust in this area.

Test 2
To ensure that fracked gas replaces imported gas would be easy for a government that was prepared to intervene in the economy in order to safeguard the climate. In 2015 the Cameron government backed away from a number of such commitments. It's possible that the May government will be different but early signs, and the inevitable emphasis on BREXIT and protecting the economy make this look unlikely.

And even this assumes that the UK is in track to meet its obligations - which it isn't.

Test 3
It's worth quoting the report directly here: "... accommodating additional emissions from shale gas production of 11 Mt/year may be possible, although it would require significant and potentially difficult offsetting effort elsewhere."

When an official body says "significant and difficult"it genesally means 'probably won't happen'.

The bottom line here is that the use of fracking is only compatible with the UK's carbon budgets if associated with resolute efforts by successive UK governments. Nothing in the recent behaviour of the UK government makes that seem likely.

So the conclusion is obvious and unoriginal - No fracking here!

1 comment:

  1. So many companies are working on carbon foot print reduction to make their environment sustainable and green for the healthy life.