A government report released today by the United Kingdom finds shale gas extraction won’t adversely affect efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The research by David Mackay and Timothy Stone was published after anti-fracking protesters disrupted drilling by Cuadrilla Resources Ltd. in Balcombe, England. It’s a rebuke to critics of fracking who say greenhouse-gas emissions may be exacerbated by the technique that extracts gas and oil by grinding underground rocks with water and chemicals.
Prime Minister David Cameron is pushing to exploit Britain’s shale resources after fracking reversed oil and gas output declines in the U.S. and made it the world’s biggest natural gas producer.
“This report shows that the continued use of gas is perfectly consistent with our carbon budgets over the next couple of decades,” Energy Secretary Edward Davey said in a statement. “U.K. shale gas production must not be at the expense of our wider environmental aims –- indeed, if done properly, it will support them.”
The authors of the report examined other studies conducted mainly the the United States.
Although natural gas is much cleaner burning compared to other fossil fuels, like coal, there have been questions raised about the climate change benefits of gas– primarily due to uncertainty over how much methane escapes during the production and transportation process. Methane is the primary component of natural gas.
Compared to carbon dioxide, methane is about 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas, although it stays in the atmosphere for a much shorter time period.
The report’s authors say with the right safeguards in place, the overall greenhouse gas emissions from shale production in the U.K. will be “relatively small.”
They also say more data and direct measures are needed and call for a “detailed scientific programme of methane measurement.”
“It is important to note that there has been little measurement of direct or indirect methane emissions from shale gas exploration and production anywhere in the world,” they write, “Outcomes of [life cycle assessment] therefore carry some uncertainty.”The U.K. report also repeatedly references a controversial study from Cornell University by professor Robert Howarth. His 2011 paper found that from a climate change perspective natural gas is dirtier than coal due to methane emissions.
The U.K. report’s authors calls his findings an “outlier” that may be “unrealistically high.”
“[Howarth's] findings have been strongly criticised by other experts,” they write.
As StateImpact Pennsylvania recently reported, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection attempted to remove a single reference to Howarth from a forthcoming report about how climate change will affect the state. The U.K. report mentions Howarth more than a dozen times.