Green groups have slammed a new report by the International Energy Association (IEA), which set out a set of “golden rules” that could help the world’s fledgling shale gas industry triple the supply of unconventional natural gases to 1.6 trillion cubic metres per year by 2035.
The IEA launched a new report today to help shale gas companies address key environmental concerns about the controversial extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”.
However, WWF and Friends of the Earth, warned that a boom in shale gas would prevent countries from reaching the globally agreed goal of limiting the temperature rise to 2°C.
They also highlighted a paragraph in the report predicting an increase in shale gas supply could derail efforts to develop other forms of low-carbon energy, including renewables.
A number of countries including the UK are seeking to expand their supply of shale gas, emulating the success of exploration in North America, where shale supplied 23 per cent of total gas production in 2010.
While the UK’s reserves are nowhere near the size of America’s, it is still estimated to have 200 trillion cubic feet of shale gas in Lancashire alone. But a report by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research last year warned burning a fifth of this would use up 15 per cent of the UK’s carbon budgets to 2050.
Many green groups are also concerned that the process of fracking can contaminate water, while injecting wastewater in deep disposal wells has caused earthquakes.
The IEA’s rules require gas companies to measure and disclose any environmental impacts such as on water quality, as well as restricting venting and flaring to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
If these rules were adopted, the IEA predicts the industry could triple its supply by 2035, allowing gas to overtake coal as the second most important fuel in the energy mix.
IEA chief economist Fatih Birol said adopting the rules could push up the price of energy by seven per cent, but it would also earn the industry a “social licence” to operate.
“If this new industry is to prosper, it needs to earn and maintain its social licence to operate,” he said. “This comes with a financial cost, but in our estimation the additional costs are likely to be limited.”
By contrast, in a case where the rules were not adopted, a lack of public acceptance would allow unconventional gas production to rise only slightly above current levels by 2035.
Significantly, the report warned this scenario would push up carbon emissions by 1.3 per cent compared to a “golden rule” scenario, as gas would be replaced by heavy emitting coal.
However, in both cases emissions would be well above the trajectory required to reach the globally agreed goal of limiting the temperature rise to 2°C, meaning shale could only play one part in reducing global temperature rises.
WWF criticised the IEA’s report for promoting shale gas while at the same time acknowledging that it would fail to reduce the impacts of climate change.
“A golden age for gas is clearly very far from a golden age for the planet. Buried in the depths of this report is the bombshell that a global dash for unconventional gas will condemn us to warming of at least 3.5°C,” said Keith Allott, head of climate change at WWF-UK.
“Those who claim that shale gas is some sort of wonder fuel that can tackle climate change are seriously misleading the public – the reality is that it is a dangerous distraction from energy efficiency and clean renewable energy.
Friends of the Earth’s energy campaigner Tony Bosworth also urged governments to focus their efforts on growing renewable supplies.
“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,” he said.
Source : Business Green