The climate benefits of switching from coal to shale gas have been called into question by leading investor in gas Scottish Widows Investment Partnership (SWIP).
According to SWIP
, the use of shale gas
as an alternative to coal
and fossil fuels is not delivering the climate
benefits it should do because 'fracking
’ companies are failing take action to capture methane
, a powerful greenhouse gas
released during the process of extracting gas from shale. Methane is 25 more potent than carbon dioxide when contributing to climate change.
A 'dash for gas’ in the US and other countries is being largely driven by shale gas because it is a cheap, plentiful and a supposedly clean form of energy compared to coal. In the US, coal generation has fallen 10 per cent in the last 12 months largely because of a switch to shale gas.
And a new report published today by the International Energy Agency (IEA), predicts that world production
of 'unconventional gas’, largely shale gas, could triple over the next 25 years to 1.6 trillion cubic metres.
However, shale gas remains controversial because of its environmental impact. Aside from the release of methane, it has been linked to earthquakes and water pollution. In the UK, shale gas drilling was suspended following earthquakes near Blackpool in Lancashire last year associated with the activity.
SWIP said that while shale gas could be good news for climate change, because gas power stations produce 50 per cent less carbon emissions than coal power stations, it warned these climate benefits are being lost because the gas industry is not employing technologies to capture the large amount of methane that leaks or is vented during gas production, processing and distribution.
"Our research indicates that technologies exist to eliminate most methane emissions from natural gas production quickly and at low cost, but these technologies are not widely used," Dr Craig Mackenzie, SWIP’s head of Sustainability, said. "By failing to control methane, the gas industry is letting much of the benefit of switching from coal to gas slip away."
released last year by scientists at New York's Cornell University, found that up to eight per cent of methane makes its way into the atmosphere from producing shale gas – about twice as much as escapes during traditional gas extraction.
Today’s report by the IEA hails a 'golden age of gas’. However, it also sets out some "golden rules" in order to address what it describes as "legitimate public concerns about the associated environmental and social impacts" of shale gas.
"The technology and the know-how already exist for unconventional gas to be produced in an environmentally acceptable way," said IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven. "But if the social and environmental impacts are not addressed properly, there is a very real possibility that public opposition to drilling for shale gas and other types of unconventional gas will halt the unconventional gas revolution in its tracks. The industry must win public confidence by demonstrating exemplary performance; governments must ensure that appropriate policies and regulatory regimes are in place."
In, the UK, Ministers were recently advised by scientists to give shale gas the greenlight
, but have said they will only proceed if they are satisfied the strictest regulations are met.
But today Friends of the Earth warned that shale gas was the wrong course to take.
"Drilling for shale and other unconventional gas would put the world on course for catastrophic climate change – incomprehensible when we have clean energy solutions at our fingertips like wind and solar power," Energy Campaigner Tony Bosworth said.
"There’s no guarantee the IEA's golden rules will eliminate the risk of earthquakes and water pollution – no wonder people are worried."
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