Shale gas ‘less damaging’ than coal new report says

A fracking rig at the Preese Hall site near Blackpool
A fracking rig at the Preese Hall site near Blackpool
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A pro fracking group has welcomed a study from the US which says that electricity from fracking gas is cleaner than generating it from coal.

The Onshore Energy Services Group said the report from scientists at the University of Berkley shows problems of escaped methane from the fracking process may not be as bad as some environmentalists feared.

The research suggests that leaks of methane from deep lying shale rock fractured by high pressure water and chemicals, would have to exceed an implausibly high 12 per cent before shale gas could be considered worse than coal for greenhouse gas problems.

Professor Robert Muller of the University of Berkeley California and Elizabeth Muller, co-founder and Executive Director of Berkeley Earth, a non-profit research organisation, say that because methane is broken down in the atmosphere much more quickly than carbon dioxide released into the environment by burning coal, it would be necessary for huge quantities of it to escape uncaptured for shale gas to be considered worse than coal.

Lee Petts, Lancashire-based chief executive at the Onshore Energy Services Group, and an environmental consultant, said: “Methane is acknowledged to be a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and it has previously been suggested that any leaks during extraction could undermine the climate change benefits of using shale gas as a substitute for coal in power generation.

“But according to this research, earlier attempts at understanding the climate impacts of fugitive emissions have not properly taken into account a variety of factors, including the way in which methane is broken down in the Earth’s atmosphere, which mean it actually has a much lower global warming potential.”

He said it was likely that any energy company would work hard to avoid wasting 12 per cent of the gas as that would be equivalent to £60bn worth of the Bowland Shale natural gas resource.

But anti-fracking campaigners said the report missed the point. Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Tony Bosworth said:“The academic jury is still out about how much methane escapes during shale gas production.

“But the bottom line is, if we want to avoid the worst impacts of climate change then we have to leave 80 per cent of known fossil fuel reserves underground.”

Barbara Richardson, from Roseacre Awareness Group, said: “As public opposition grows significantly against fracking in the UK, especially in this areas where licenses have just been granted, the industry and the government are doing everything they can to make fracking seem more palatable to the general public.

“However they fail to take into account of the many other adverse impacts this industry would have on communities such as industrialisation of our precious countryside.”