Shale Gas - Energy and Climate Change Contents

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 gas.


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.[2] CPRE suggests that the UK government pay close attention to a new study by the US EPA on the issue of fracking and groundwater contamination.

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.[3] Evidence from Canada shows that the majority of existing wells in Quebec leak methane, despite industry claims of low leak rates.[4] 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 Sea.

January 2011

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, available from  

3   Howarth, Robert 2010. Preliminary Assessment of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Natural Gas obtained by Hydraulic Fracturing, available from  

4   See, for example, Back

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Prepared 23 May 2011