UK Task Force on Shale Gas green-lights shale development

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The UK Task Force on Shale Gas – an advisory body launched in September 2014 to provide an impartial and transparent assessment of the potential benefits and risks of shale gas extraction to the UK – released a report on Wednesday saying that shale gas “should be explored as a potential gas resource to meet UK energy needs.”

In its third report to date, the Task Force – which is funded by the UK’s shale gas industry but operates independently – argues that shale gas needs to play a large role in energy generation in the UK over the medium term.

The report has found that the relative impact of shale gas on climate change is similar to that of conventional gas provided so called “green completions”, which capture any methane that could escape shale wells, are mandatory. Also, the carbon footprint of shale gas, it has argued, is also smaller than that of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and significantly smaller than that of coal.

The Task Force made a point of stressing that support for shale gas does not mean abandonment of renewables. The report stated that measures should be taken to ring-fence Government energy revenue streams for investment in R&D and innovation in renewables and low carbon energy generation, storage and distribution. Much more effort must be put into carbon capture and storage technologies, which have tended to lag behind in the UK.

The chairman of the taskforce, former Labour cabinet minister Lord Smith said of carbon capture: “The government must get a move on. I don’t think the reason for the slowness lies in problems with the technology. It is a lack of political will.”

The report also made clear that shale gas should not receive public subsidy or tax breaks, and the tax revenues arising from its exploitation should be redeployed to develop renewable energy and other low-carbon innovations.

“I can’t see any reason why the shale industry needs tax breaks,” said Lord Smith. “If the gas is there and is recoverable – and that’s still a big ‘if’ – the industry can derive revenue from extracting it.

“Shale gas is not the answer to climate change. That is a mixture of renewables, nuclear and energy efficiency and other low-carbon sources of energy. But we can’t simply wave a magic wand and say that will happen tomorrow. Shale gas provides a bridge,” he added.

Despite Lord Smith’s green credentials earned in the 1990s, when he pushed the Conservative government to take carbon reduction more seriously, the Task Force’s report has been unanimously rejected by anti-fracking groups as biased.

Chris Redston of Frack Free Ryedale told The Guardian newspaper: “We are not surprised the taskforce recommends a future that depends on gas production from fracking, given that this consultation is being funded by the shale gas industry. It would be impossible for anyone to conclude that this report is in any way independent or impartial.”

Tony Bosworth, energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “It would be no surprise if a task force funded by the shale gas industry said that fracking could help tackle climate change.”

He added: “There is no guarantee that UK shale gas would have lower emissions than current gas imports, or that it would be used here.”

In response, Lord Smith assured the Financial Times that the report would have come to the same conclusions if it had been funded independently, saying: “In an ideal world this would have been funded by the government. But they haven’t, so when a group of companies from the industry approached me and asked if I would take on this role, I said yes, as long as the companies themselves have no say over what goes into the reports.”

The Task Force will publish its final report in December 2015 covering economics, together with its final conclusions and recommendations.

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