Memorandum submitted by the Campaign to
Protect Rural England (CPRE)|
We welcome the opportunity to submit evidence to
the Energy and Climate Change Committee on the future of shale
gas in the UK. As a leading environmental charity, the Campaign
to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has worked to promote and protect
the beauty, tranquillity and diversity of rural England by encouraging
the sustainable use of land and other natural resources since
our formation in 1926. We are concerned to ensure that any shale
gas extraction in England does not cause unacceptable damage to
the countryside. Our comments are therefore focused primarily
on the environmental impact of domestic exploitation of shale
1. The majority of oil and gas production in
the UK has taken place offshore, which has meant that the immediate
environmental impacts of the industry have had limited visibility.
At present, most industry expertise is in onshore shale gas production,
and much of the near term UK shale gas resource, if developed,
is likely to be exploited in the East of England, Surrey, Hampshire
and Lancashire. The landscape implications of onshore shale gas
production are likely to be visually and ecologically intrusive.
Experience from the United States suggests that drilling "pads"
- land which must be completely cleared and flattened, destroying
topsoil and the immediate environment - vary from two to six acres,
with pads being spaced between one every four and one every sixteen
hectares, depending on the shale in question and drilling method
used. Each pad also requires roads and gas capture facilities.
As such, large scale exploitation could lead to unacceptable,
sprawling, low density industrial development in the countryside.
This is likely to face significant opposition on the grounds of
landscape and wildlife conservation and rural character and amenity.
2. CPRE is also concerned that "hydrofracking"
- the technique used to fracture rock to release gas from shale
- is extremely water intensive and may pose risks to groundwater
supplies. Large shale gas resources potentially exist under the
South West and South East of England, areas which already suffer
from water stress. In some areas, surface water consumption is
already above environmentally sustainable levels. At a time when
Defra is considering whether or not a national policy statement
enabling a large scale water network is required to serve existing
domestic and commercial water consumption, and at least six large
reservoirs are planned in the South East of England to cater for
existing water demand, fostering a water intensive industry which
is likely significantly to increase demand for a scarce resource
is highly questionable. Moreover, experience from the United States
suggests that in the absence of effective regulation and enforcement,
fracking leads to groundwater contamination.
CPRE suggests that the UK government pay close attention to a
new study by the US EPA on the issue of fracking and groundwater
3. In addition, there is some evidence, though
it is contested, that methane leaks from shale gas production
substantially increase the CO2e emissions from shale gas compared
with conventional UK Continental Shelf gas.
Evidence from Canada shows that the majority of existing wells
in Quebec leak methane, despite industry claims of low leak rates.
Much of the appeal of shale gas rests on the idea that it will
enable the UK to continue to reduce emissions in the short term
by substituting gas for coal. If the overall emissions from shale
gas are high, however, this removes the justification for investing
in shale gas over and above other alternatives. This argument
applies equally to foreign and domestic shale gas production.
4. CPRE believes that gas has a role to play
in balancing renewables and in supplanting unabated coal fired
power plants in the short to medium term. However, significant
domestic exploitation of onshore shale gas poses risks to the
ecology and character of rural England. Overreliance on gas also
risks locking the UK into high carbon infrastructure which may
need to be shut down prematurely if the UK is to meet its carbon
budgets. Shale gas should not be seen as an environmentally beneficial
panacea for declining conventional gas production in the North
2 A useful, relatively conservative overview of the
current evidence can be found in: Manuel J 2010. EPA Tackles Fracking.
Environ Health Perspect 118:a199-a199. doi:10.1289/ehp.118-a199,
Howarth, Robert 2010. Preliminary Assessment of the Greenhouse
Gas Emissions from Natural Gas obtained by Hydraulic Fracturing,
See, for example, http://www.cbc.ca/money/story/2011/01/05/shale-quebec-bape.html Back