David Cameron and George Osborne have recently declared that the government is “going all out for shale” with councils & homeowners to be effectively bribed in order to shore up support for fracking despite concerns about the use of high-pressure water and chemicals and the effects on our countryside, communities and of course Climate Change.

Even Labour’s Tom Greatrex, the shadow energy minister, said:

“Gas will remain an important part of our energy mix in the future, and if shale gas can replace our rapidly depleting North Sea reserves it could help improve our energy security. It is right that any communities that host nationally significant energy infrastructure are able to share in its rewards.”

My concern is that many of the arguments for fracking have been discredited, whilst the environmental concerns remain.

One argument for fracking is that it will bring down energy prices. However, Lord Browne, the former BP boss who is now chairman of Cuadrilla as well as a non-executive director inside the civil service, has said:

“We are part of a well-connected European gas market and, unless it is a gigantic amount of gas, it is not going to have material impact on price.”

Meanwhile, analysts at the City firm Brewin Dolphin also poured scorn on Cameron and George Osborne for over-hyping the potential impact of shale in Britain.

“We believe the shale industry is unlikely to produce commercial volumes of gas until the end of this decade and that it is unlikely to have a meaningful impact on gas prices…”

“This is due to two reasons; first, commercially available volumes are likely to be significantly lower in the UK than in the US, and second, if UK shale is successful, exploration companies could export the gas to achieve higher prices…”

Another argument is that it will create jobs. The Institute of Directors has predicted that the shale industry could create 74,000 direct and indirect jobs within 15 years, but the Civitas thinktank points to the mistakes made in the development of the UK’s offshore wind industry with some 90% of contracts for prestige projects such as the London Array – the world’s largest offshore wind farm, close to the Kent coastline – being placed abroad. It’s owned by a consortium without any British involvement.

The scope for a repeat exists with shale. There are 2,000 onshore land rigs with 500 trained shale teams working in the US, while there are only 77 rigs and 10 fracking crews in Europe. The North Sea oil industry is already suffering from soaring wages and other costs owing to skill shortages and it is not clear who would be on the front line of any British shale revolution.

Environmentalists remain solidly opposed to extraction on the basis of safety. Test drilling by Cuadrilla produced the Blackpool earthquakes and there are still concerns about fracking chemicals leaking into water supplies.

Friends of the Earth says the UN environment programme has warned that…

“…fracking may result in unavoidable environmental impacts even if [gas] is extracted properly”.

Dave Timms, energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth says:

“We should not be encouraging the further extraction and burning of oil and gas when what we need is the rapid deployment of new low-carbon technologies”.

He’s right.

Greenpeace climate campaigner Lawrence Carter says:

“Total, a French company who can’t frack in their own country because the French government has stopped the French countryside being ripped up, have now turned their sights on the UK countryside, where the UK government seem happy to allow the industrialisation of our green and pleasant land. The UK government seem deaf to the risks fracking poses to our environment and local communities and are pushing ahead with selling off two-thirds of Britain for drilling without a public mandate.”

This brings me to the piece in The Guardian yesterday, which focuses on the really big issue of Climate Change. It starts by telling us that global greenhouse gas emissions are set to rise by nearly a third in the next two decades, putting hopes of curtailing dangerous climate change beyond reach, and this is from a new report by BP!

It goes on to say that shale gas will account for a rising proportion of the growth in energy in the years to 2035, but its use will not cause a decline in greenhouse gases.

This pours cold water on proponents of shale gas who have argued that its use will cut emissions. Burning gas produces much less CO2 than burning coal, but the effect of a huge rise in shale gas exploration will not ameliorate the increases in emissions that scientists say will take the world to dangerous climate change.

Proponents of the fuel have argued that shale gas can counteract dependence on coal. But while shale gas use has increased dramatically, particularly in the US, global emissions have continued to rise as the coal that would otherwise have been used has been exported elsewhere.

Christof Ruehl, BP chief economist, said that fuel switching had little impact on overall emissions. Coal use globally had risen to record levels, even as shale gas had risen.

This news that such a move will not cut overall emissions takes away a key plank in the arguments put forward by David Cameron, George Osborne and the shale companies.

BP in its global energy outlook said gas would take a 27% share of global energy consumption by 2035, with a similar share for coal, oil, and an amalgamated low-carbon sector including nuclear, hydro, wind and sun.

BP predicts that global emissions will rise 29% by 2035. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that emissions must peak by 2020 to give the world a chance to avoid a further two degrees of warming, beyond which the effects of climate change become catastrophic and irreversible.

Tony Bosworth, Friends of the Earth energy campaigner, said:

“The case for shale gas is crumbling. Experts say it won’t lead to cheaper fuel bills, and now BP says it won’t cut carbon emissions either. Follow the PM’s logic and we’d be punching thousands of holes in our countryside only to further add to climate change and continue with sky-high bills.

Instead of going all out for shale, the prime minister should focus on the real answers to the energy challenges we face: energy efficiency and renewable power.”

Finally, politicians must consider the views of the public. A new opinion poll for the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME) found that 47% of people would be unhappy for a gas well site using fracking to open within 10 miles of their home, compared with just 14% who said they would be happy.

The biggest concerns for the people polled included fears of damage to the local environment, the associated noise and disruption, fears over the chemicals used and health risks, as well as fears that drinking water might be contaminated.

Tim Fox, head of energy and environment at the IME, said:

“These poll results suggest that simply offering money to local councils and communities is not enough to convince the public about the benefits of fracking for gas.”

The Guardian carried out the first UK nationwide poll on shale last summer and found people split down the middle, 40% in favour of shale drilling in their area, 40% against, with 20% unsure. The IME poll suggests attitudes to shale are hardening rather than softening.

Originally posted on on 16 January 2014