>We all need energy. But as prices rise, anthropogenic climate change continues, and conventional reserves of oil and gas diminish, the pressing question is, ‘Where will our energy come from?’ Today, as consumers, we all face a choice that will affect us and generations to come. Should we continue to look to big energy companies and power stations for our supply and support the increasingly risky search for ‘unconventional’ sources of fossil fuels in fragile environments, or take direct responsibility for the generation of our own energy?
There is some urgency here. A new dash for gas is on the verge of unfolding. Oil and gas companies are working themselves into a frenzy over the potential bonanza that a new source of energy called shale gas offers. So far unexploited in the UK, shale gas occurs at depth in shale beds and, thanks to techniques developed in the US, is now accessible and more importantly, seemingly commercially viable. The British Geological Survey (BGS) reports the UK shale gas reserve potential could be as large as 150 billion cubic metres – equivalent to roughly 1.5 years of total UK gas consumption and worth approximately £28 billion at current prices. But this would come at a cost.
Exploratory drilling has occurred near Blackpool and already caused some controversy. Cuadrilla Resources, the company operating the rig, recently suspended operations after suspicions that two recent earthquakes in the vicinity were triggered by test ‘fracking’ – the process by which shale rock is fractured to release gas using high pressure fluid. More worryingly, in the US, as the Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland reveals, many water sources may have been contaminated by chemicals used or mobilised in the fracking process. As if that weren’t enough, Cornell University recently reported that shale gas could be worse than coal for the climate because wells may leak a substantial amount of methane – a potent greenhouse gas.
A recent Green Alliance briefing argues a second dash for gas is not in our long-term interests. Far from being a stepping stone to a low-carbon future and route to energy security, shale gas could actually deter investment in renewable energy and new technologies and commit us to decades more gas use.
Because the UK has already cut its emissions by switching from coal to gas, a second dash for gas could in fact prevent us from meeting our carbon budgets.
The BGS report states that communities have ‘very little vested interest’ in a successful shale gas industry. But this doesn’t stop the industry claiming they will benefit. As Michael Meacher MP points out, “the lengths to which the fossil fuel industry will go in its own self-interest to block what is patently best for the world’s energy needs deserve an anti-Nobel prize.” No surprise then that with the 14th round of onshore oil and gas exploration licenses underway, local communities around the UK are voicing concern. The Vale Says No in Glamorgan are leading the charge, anxious that their community, wildlife and water may be contaminated if fracking goes ahead.
The Co-operative is calling for a moratorium on shale gas exploration, and
encouraging community-owned renewable energy through The Co-operative Bank’s commitment to invest £1 billion
in the sector. In contrast to shale gas and other unconventional fossil fuels, not only can community-owned renewable energy put power in our hands, it also has the potential to bring added benefits
to communities in the shape of jobs, affordable warmth, and community cohesion. When you stop to think about it, the choice for future generation is clear. It is, as they say, a no-brainer.