No 293 Posted by fw, October 7, 2011
“In a couple of weeks’ time, a company exploring for gas in Lancashire is going to find out if it will be allowed to continue. Cuadrilla Resources is hoping to extract natural gas, just like the gas in the North Sea, from a layer of shale rock. The rock is buried 2 miles below farmland in Southport. There’s a huge amount of gas to be had – ten times more than we got from the North Sea. But with the government promising to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent before 2050, some people think that this Lancashire gas should be left where it is.” Winifred Robinson
The preceding passage is the opening of my transcript of a sound clip from BBC Radio 4’s popular consumer news program, You and Yours: more precisely, it is item 4, Shale Gas and Renewables, broadcast on Wednesday, October 5, 2011. Click on the title to hear this 10-minute segment, which will continue to be accessible on this link until October 11. Alternatively, you can catch the segment on the You and Yours Archive.
Winifred Robinson, co-host of You and Yours, facilitates a discussion between climate scientist Kevin Anderson and energy management consultant, Andrew Morris.
My partial transcript of the broadcast focuses on a discussion of the pros and cons of exploiting shale gas versus developing low-carbon energy technologies. I did not transcribe a part near the beginning of the segment that briefly covers the shale gas fracking process.
The shale gas issue — mine it or leave it in the ground?
Winifred Robinson — In a couple of weeks’ time, a company exploring for gas in Lancashire is going to find out if it will be allowed to continue. Cuadrilla Resources is hoping to extract natural gas, just like the gas in the North Sea, from a layer of shale rock. The rock is buried 2 miles below farmland in Southport. There’s a huge amount of gas to be had – ten times more than we got from the North Sea. But with the government promising to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent before 2050, some people think that this Lancashire gas should be left where it is.
Andrew Morris is from Pöyry Management Consulting. They advise European governments, banks, regulators and energy companies on how to make the energy market work well. Professor Kevin Anderson is from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester.
Professor Anderson, I said at the beginning that some people think this Lancashire gas should stay where it is. I know you’re one of them. Why do you think that?
Case against: the scientific and mathematical case is clear – to mitigate CO2 emissions, don’t burn natural gas
Kevin Anderson – Well if the government is to stick by its commitment internationally and indeed its own national policies on climate change, you simply cannot, mathematically, reconcile the emissions from additional gas with the government’s commitments on climate change. It’s a simple scientific and mathematical case that if you want to deal with climate change in the way the government says it wants to then you cannot be burning gas.
Winifred Robinson — But we are burning gas. And we’re burning gas that we’re having to import from elsewhere in the world, sometimes from places where the supply is not secure. So why not, if we’ve got gas in Lancashire, have our own supply?
Case against: the idea to build natural gas power stations that will close down in 5 to 10 years is foolish
Kevin Anderson – It’s really a timeframe issue. The government’s own committee on climate change has already said that the electricity system in the UK needs to be completely decarbonized – in other words, zero carbon electricity by 2030. So even if we get shale gas out of the ground now and we build new power stations for that shale gas to go into, they will not really be operating in any significant number before 2020, 2025, and would need to be closed down according to the government’s own advisory committee by 2030. So the idea you spend the money building these power stations to then close them down in 5 to 10 years would be foolish and would displace money that could be spent on real low-carbon energy technologies.
Winifred Robinson — Andrew Morris, I know you think we so need to explore for more sources of natural gas. So you put that case of you would.
Case for: Gas power stations aren’t going away before 2050 and home and industrial clients will continue to use natural gas
Andrew Morris – The main thing is that the gas power stations are still going to be there right through until 2040, 2050, whether they are capturing that carbon and storing it elsewhere, creating a zero carbon emissions will be one of the factors. The other side is that we’re going to still use gas for domestic heating and industry. So it’s not just the power generators that are going to be using this gas.
Winifred Robinson — This decision, Andrew Morris, on whether to extract gas, it’ll be a commercial one, won’t it? It will depend on what it costs.
Andrew Morris – Exactly.
Winifred Robinson — But if we use the gas as part of our energy mix, instead of say coal, what effect would that have on greenhouse gas emissions?
Case for: Natural gas uses 45% less CO2 than coal and other fossil fuels
Andrew Morris – The gas uses about 45 percent less CO2 than coal generally and it’s 20 percent less that say diesel. So it will bring down the emissions if we’re using gas by power stations rather than coal-fired power stations as backup to the renewables that are coming along in the next 20 years.
Winifred Robinson — So, Professor Kevin Anderson, it’s cleaner than other fossil fuels, and if the government has made a promise that it’s going to drastically reduce carbon emissions by 2050, won’t that happen whether we use this new gas or we don’t?
Case against – if we use less coal the price of coal will drop, coal use globally will rise and so will CO2 emissions
Kevin Anderson – This is quite a complicated argument. You can’t see the UK in isolation from the globe on this. So the UK may make a transition of course to the shale gas, and I agree that shale gas is likely to be better than coal per unit of energy that we use. However, if we use less coal, coal is in a world market, so if we and the rest of the Europeans use less coal, the price of coal will drop on the world market. If the price of coal drops on the world market, other people around the world would buy that additional coal. So the climate doesn’t care about emissions form the UK, it doesn’t care about emissions from shale gas, it concerns itself only with the total carbon going into the atmosphere. So what we will see is an improvement from the UK, but globally increases in CO2 emissions as you burn the coal and the gas. And this is the big difference. We are not really at a global level substituting coal for gas, we’re burning gas as well as coal.
Winifred Robinson — Andrew Morris, will the price fall, energy prices fall in the UK, if we manage to tap another enormous resource of natural gas, ten times the size of what we manage to get from the North Sea?
Andrew Morris – Uh, maybe. It depends on lots of other factors. Our gas prices at the moment are the cheapest in Europe, although people don’t necessarily believe that when they see their gas bills. The fact is that gas prices at the moment are being held up by other factors – regulatory factors and competition factors across Europe, whereby we’re not seeing gas on gas competition rolled out right across Europe. So that influence is keeping our prices up. So that could see our gas prices fall even quicker than bringing in new resources in ten years’ time or so.
Winifred Robinson – Professor Anderson, everyone wants low energy prices. As individuals we certainly do. And we all know that renewables are expensive. If there is a gas reserve to be exploited, you can see if you were a politician it is pretty irresistible. We just had an email here from Kathleen Dixon-Donnelly. She says: “I spent most of the summer back home in Pennsylvania and it was the topic in the news. Rural farmers discovering they’re sitting on gold. Towns overrun with company workers, environmentalists with placards in their front gardens. Stay tuned. This shale gas is going to be a rocky ride.”
Case against: a) money spent on exploiting natural gas will displace investment in renewables; and b) making heating, lighting, vehicles and energy-using goods cleaner and more energy-efficient is a more economically effective way to proceed
Kevin Anderson – I agree. If you parked all the issues on climate change, then I’d probably agree with a lot of Andrew’s comments. Then gas would be a viable option to consider. If, however, we are serious about climate change – from my own research and from many people’s research, we think this is a very major issue. We simply cannot get more fossil fuels out of the ground. So if we’re serious about climate change, we have to keep these fossil fuels in the ground. And as Andrew points out, and as you already mentioned, the price of gas may well go down. If the price of something goes down, we normally consume more of it. This will mean it will displace investment on additional renewables. And even to come back to this idea that we all want cheaper energy, actually what we really want is cheaper energy services. So we’re not really interested in the price of energy, we’re interested in the price of lighting or driving our car. And that means you can make things more efficient. It doesn’t really matter if the price of energy goes up.
Winifred Robinson — Andrew Morris, briefly if you would, the fracking has stopped pending a government report on the process. What’s going to happen now?
Morris asks — Is fracking safe? Read the Related Reading post for one person’s answer to this question
Andrew Morris – As you said, there’s a government report to come out. I think the government are being quite sensible about this doing a steady as you go approach to it. There’s a lot of fear-mongering going on across the States and so a lot of thoughts are wondering whether it’s safe in terms of the fluids that come out. It’s a good idea to go steady as you go.
So, who’s the winner, Anderson or Morris?
- “What we love we must protect because that’s what love means.” Let Sandra Steingraber’s words ring out across this continent. “On May 2, 2011, Sandra Steingraber delivered an emotionally inspiring plea to a crowd of several hundred attending an anti-fracking protest rally in Albany. The rally on the Capitol lawn called on state leaders to safeguard public health and the environment from dirty gas drilling called hydraulic fracturing or fracking.”