Fracking and climate change
New: Fracking and climate factsheet.
The Committee on Climate Change has concluded that exploiting shale gas by fracking on a significant scale is not compatible with UK climate targets unless three tests are met. Read more about why we believe not only that the tests will not be met, but also that the government is not even taking them seriously.
The government's localism rhetoric seems to be wearing thin when councils fail to endorse fracking in their area. David Cameron gave reassurances last summer that "decisions must be made by local authorities in the proper way, under the planning regime we have," but a few months later the Secretary of State announced that he was prepared to overrule Lancashire council on fracking. And a leaked letter revealed plans to remove decision-making powers from local councils, putting them in the hands of planning inspectors instead.
This follows previous measures to fast-track fracking planning applications. These are in stark contrast to restrictions placed on local authorities to make it much more difficult for them to approve onshore wind. It seems that only one of these industries is deemed 'in the national interest' - unfortunately it is the one which is a threat to our climate.
Locals in Lancashire are furious after Sajid Javid, current Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, gave the green lights for Cuadrilla to frack in its Preston New Road site, overruling the local council. Preston New Road is one of two areas Caudrilla is seeking to drill in, the second being Roseacre. The plans to frack at the Preston New Road site have been approved, despite many protests and unresolved legal challenges.
In May North Yorkshire county councillors approved plans to carry out hydraulic fracturing at Kirby Misperton, near Malton. The eleven-member Planning Committee voted 7 votes to 4 to grant planning permission to Third Energy to frack just ½ mile from the picturesque North Yorkshire village. Over 1,000 people attended an anti-fracking rally outside the meeting at County Hall on Friday 20th at Northallerton and many returned on Monday to hear the councillors make their ruling.
The application was opposed by the Ryedale District Council, every Ryedale Town Council, 15 Parish councils (including all those near the well), Flamingo Land, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, the Castle Howard Estate, and dozens of other groups and local businesses. The NYCC received 4,375 objections against only 36 letters in favour, yet still approved the plans. A legal challenge is likely.
Find out more about fracking developments
A bridge to nowhere
Fracking (hydraulic fracturing) is a means of extracting natural gas from shale rock by pumping water in at high pressure. It has been responsible for serious local pollution, including poisoning drinking water supplies, in the US.
It has been argued that as a lower-carbon fuel than coal, shale gas can act as a 'bridge' to low-carbon power, allowing more time for renewable energy to become more efficient. However, the counter-argument is that developing fossil fuels makes it more difficult to switch from a high-carbon future to a low-carbon one.
The UK’s commitment to make our fair contribution to reduce emissions in line with keeping global warming below a 2°C rise gives a very clear global carbon budget – and hence a UK budget – i.e., how much carbon we can put into the atmosphere over this century. Here the maths is unambiguous – we have insufficient budget for the carbon we are already emitting. By the time shale gas is produced in any quantity (five to ten years) there will be no emissions space left for it.
In the absence of a stringent limit on total carbon emissions shale gas will not substitute for coal - certainly not on a global level.
Shale gas directly competes with investment in renewable technologies vital for combating climate change.
The US has seen an increase in the release of methane gas as a direct result of fracking. This is important because methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. Substituting gas for coal only benefits the climate if leakage can be kept below 2%. Evidence on methane emissions from fracking in the US suggests it is significantly higher than this. The Scottish government has released a series of reports highlighting the damages, and risks, of fracking. The Scottish Parliament voted supporting an outright ban on fracking earlier this year.