166. The process of hydraulic fracturing has
been described as "old as Moses" and certainly has been
used in the petroleum industry for decades. However, it is only
in the last decade that we have seen the effects of shale gas
exploration and production on a large scale, as the combination
of hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling have made the
resources economically viable. Unconventional gas is just "natural
gas" from a different type of rock. Whilst the term "unconventional"
refers to the type of reservoir in which the gas is found, the
techniques for accessing it are the same as you would used for
a conventional well. Shale gas exploration is still in its infancy
in the UK and the rest of Europe, which gives us the opportunity
to learn from US experience and make regulations that are evidence-based.
While hydraulic fracturing itself poses no direct risk to underground
water aquifers, there is a risk of contamination through a failure
in the integrity of the well, but these risks are no different
than those encountered when exploiting oil and gas from conventional
reservoirs. We are, however, concerned about the large volume
of water and chemical additives required for hydraulic fracturing
each well, and the large volumes of waste water generated, especially
as commercial shale gas production requires so many more wells
than conventional gas.
167. As shale gas exploration progresses in Poland,
the UK needs to work with the rest of Europe to ensure that shale
gas policy and regulation is not driven primarily by concerns
about energy security. In regions already experiencing water stressthe
number of which might increase as a result of climate changethe
water required by hydraulic fracturing could exacerbate the situation.
The volume of waste water generated must not outpace the capacity
and capability of treatment facilities to deal with it nor with
the availability of disposal sites. The industry should recycle
as much of the waste water generated as practicable.
168. The UK could have a large amount of shale
gas offshore, and we encourage the Government to incentivise exploration
of this potential resource. However, estimates of the UK's onshore
shale gas resources suggest that there will not be a "shale
gas revolution" in the UK based on domestic resources alonenevertheless,
they could make us more self-sufficient by reducing our reliance
on imported natural gas. If significant amounts of shale gas enter
the natural gas market it will disincentivise investment in renewables
and other lower carbon technologies. The UK Government needs to
manage this risk in order to achieve its aim of generating more
electricity from renewable sources.
169. The Government needs to be cautious in its
approach to natural gas as a transition fuel to a low carbon economy.
Although emissions from gas power plants are less than from coal,
they are still higher than many lower carbon technologies. The
main component of natural gas is methane, which is a greenhouse
gas far more potent the carbon dioxide. However, the main source
of this methane would be through leaks (or so-called "fugitive
emissions") from the well and/or pipelines, which can be
easily minimised through appropriate regulation and enforcement.
Furthermore, the emergence of shale gasand the likelihood
that it will lead to the increased use of gas in power plantsmeans
that we need to pursue with increased urgency the development
of carbon capture technology suitable for gas as well as coal.