Shale gas exploitation by fracking on a significant scale is not compatible with the UK’s climate change targets unless three key tests are met, according to new analysis from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).
The CCC said that its report, The compatibility of UK onshore petroleum with meeting the UK’s carbon budgets, was the result of a new duty under the Infrastructure Act 2015. The duty requires the CCC to advise the secretary of state for Energy and Climate Change about the implications of exploitation of onshore petroleum, including shale gas, for meeting UK carbon budgets.
The CCC’s report found that the implications of UK shale gas exploitation for greenhouse gas emissions are subject to considerable uncertainty – from the size of any future industry to the potential emissions footprint of shale gas production.
It also found that exploitation of shale gas on a significant scale is not compatible with UK carbon budgets, or the 2050 commitment to reduce emissions by at least 80%, unless three tests are satisfied on methane leaks, gas consumption and carbon budgets.
The CCC said that at this early stage, it is not possible to know whether the tests would be met easily or not. The Committee added that it would closely monitor steps taken by Government and other relevant agencies to satisfy these tests. It will also report publicly on performance against the tests.
In addition, the Committee said that it would assess the Government’s forthcoming emissions reduction plan – which will set out how the Government will meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets – in light of the possible development of a UK shale gas industry.
“Under best practice, UK shale gas may have a lower carbon footprint than much of the gas that we import. However, gas is a fossil fuel wherever it comes from and is not a low-carbon option, unless combined with carbon capture and storage,” commented CCC member Jim Skea.
“This report sets out the tests that must be met for shale gas development to be consistent with UK carbon budgets.
“Existing uncertainties over the nature of the exploitable shale gas resource and the potential size of a UK industry make it impossible to know how difficult it will be to meet the tests. Clarification of the regulation of the sector will also be needed. The Committee on Climate Change will provide ongoing, independent assessment of whether these tests are being met.”
Three key tests:
- Emissions must be strictly limited during shale gas development, production and well decommissioning. This requires tight regulation, close monitoring of emissions, and rapid action to address methane leaks
- Overall gas consumption must remain in line with UK carbon budgets. The production of UK shale gas must displace imports, rather than increase gas consumption
- Emissions from shale gas production must be accommodated within UK carbon budgets. Emissions from shale exploitation will need to be offset by emissions reductions in other areas of the economy to ensure UK carbon budgets are met.