A Parliamentary committee has said there is no current justification for a moratorium on onshore shale gas development in the UK after assessing its impact on water supplies, energy security and greenhouse gas emissions.
In a report published this week, the all-party Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee found no evidence that the hydraulic fracturing process involved in shale gas extraction – known as ‘fracking’ – posed a direct risk to underground water aquifers provided the drilling well was constructed properly.
The report noted that the British Geological Survey (BGS) estimated that the UK’s onshore shale gas resources could be as large as 150 billion cubic metres – equivalent to about a year and a half of total UK gas consumption
However, BGS has also suggested that the UK’s potential offshore reserves could “dwarf” onshore supplies. The MPs urged the Government to encourage the development of an offshore shale gas industry in the UK.
Their report suggested that, worldwide, shale gas could add 40 per cent to recoverable natural gas resources, mostly in China and the United States.
Committee chair Tim Yeo MP said: “There has been a lot of hot air recently about the dangers of shale gas drilling, but our inquiry found no evidence to support the main concern – that UK water supplies would be put at risk."
He added: “Onshore shale gas reserves in the UK could be quite considerable and will certainly help us increase our energy security – though not, unfortunately, very dramatically.
“Offshore reserves may be much higher and, while more costly to recover, could potentially deliver self-sufficiency in gas for the UK at some point in the future.”
But countryside campaigners have warned the widespread development of shale gas poses risks to valued landscapes.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England has highlighted that potential shale gas reserves underlie the Peak District National Park, the Forest of Bowland and Nidderdale. Other potential locations include the Weald and Wessex basins, which underlie the South Downs National Park, the New Forest, the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), the Dorset AONB, Cranbourne Chase, and the High Weald AONB, among others.
26 May 2011