Sunday, October 14, 2012

Fracking seems to have the green light in the UK, but there is a serious lack of discussion of their climatic implications

Rarely a day goes by, it seems, when the "fracturing" is not in the news. Ok be considered a miracle energy source, or is condemned as another fossil fuel pollution.

headlines today focus primarily on the findings of a joint report (pdf) from the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering, which concluded that the hydraulic fracturing of shale gas - "fracking" - is to be allowed to continue in the UK, but only with the regulation and close supervision. Published before the government planned "green light" to fracturing later this summer, the report recommends a long parade of checks and balances, as one might expect:

monitoring should be carried out before, during and after the operations of shale gas to inform risk assessments. Methane and other contaminants in groundwater must be controlled, as well as leaks of methane and other gases into the atmosphere. The geology of the sites must be characterized and identified defects. Monitoring data will be submitted to regulatory agencies in the UK to manage the potential risks, improve local planning process and to address broader concerns. Monitoring of methane leaks provide data to assess the carbon footprint of shale gas extraction.

But what is missing in most of the media coverage today said - at least for me - the most important paragraph of the entire report:

This report has discussed the technical aspects of environmental risks to health and safety risks associated with shale gas extraction to inform decision making. And risks associated with the future use of shale gas and climate risks were analyzed. Decision making would benefit from research on climate risks to both the extraction and use of shale gas. Additional benefit is also derived from research on public acceptance of these risks in the context of UK energy, climate and economic policies.

Yes, there are many concerns about the potential environmental impacts of localized fracturing, such as earthquakes, pollution of aquifers and surface leakage. As the report concludes, they need constant evaluation and strictly regulated, if reference must be implemented on a commercial scale. But it is a salad from the picnic basket of unanswered questions hanging over the fracturing yet when it comes to their potential contribution to climate change.

To frack, frack or not, is probably the most pressing decision environment facing the "greenest government ever" today. Obviously there is a great temptation to do this: its supporters say it is a cheap and abundant source of energy that could help revive our economy tremble. voices And, as James Lovelock says the fracked gas is a lesser evil than coal, it should be used as a transition technology that we "save time".

But there are plenty of legitimate environmental concerns, too, not least climate risks that have not yet been fully analyzed or face democratic elections. And there is concern that fracking likely to injure or damage the renewable energy sector in the decision.

Visit the Department of Energy and Climate Change website on shale gas and there is no mention of climate risks. The only direct reference I can find is an article filed by former Energy Secretary Chris Huhne's last November:

Every national academy of sciences in the world agree: climate change is a real and growing threat. We are faced with carbon emissions and legally binding and ambitious renewable energy targets. Yes, gas will help us to know. But do not bet everything on the board.


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