The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has given a cautious green light to fracking in the UK, saying that it may go ahead as long as three important test conditions are met.
Fracking is the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into underground rocks, boreholes, etc. so as to force open existing fissures and extract oil or gas.
The practice has been controversial because it uses huge amounts of water, which must be transported to the fracking site at significant environmental cost.
Environmentalists also claim that chemicals used may escape and contaminate groundwater around the site. The industry suggests incidents such as this are the result of bad practice rather than an inherently risky technique.
The three tests the CCC requires to be met before fracking can go ahead are:
– Emissions should be strictly limited during gas development, production and the decommissioning of wells. This will involve tight regulation, close monitoring of any emissions and swift action to address any leaks, the CCC says.
– Total gas consumption in the UK must remain in line with UK carbon budgets – it is important that UK shale gas must displace any gas imported instead of increasing overall gas consumption.
– Any emissions from UK shale gas production must be included within carbon budgets, and so emissions from another part of the economy may need to be cut to allow for fracking to take place.
The UK has no shale gas production currently, and there is uncertainty about the true potential of fracking in the UK.
Professor Jim Skea of the CCC says that with best practice, UK shale gas may have a lower carbon footprint than much of the gas currently imported, which has to be compressed at great energy cost.
Talking to the BBC, Skea said: “The CCC accepts that the government plans are mostly on track but wants more detail. Our recommendation is to monitor what government does because we are making the assumption that we have a very well regulated industry and we need some details filled in on that.”