Fracking and climate change

  • Does shale gas make global warming worse?
  • Do “renewable” energy schemes make global warming worse?
  • Do marine wind turbines make global warming worse?
  • Do we need more energy?
  • What is the least damaging option?

By Bill Butterworth

10 January 2015

Sunset, power line,canal

A power pole against the sunset. Will our lights go out?

Will shale gas contribute to global warming? Of course; the burning of any hydrocarbon gas necessarily produces the so-called “greenhouse” gas, Carbon dioxide.

Question is; what does common sense tell us about shale gas?

There is no doubt that burning shale gas will advance global warming and that is potentially serious, maybe, even probably, very serious. However, burning shale gas is much less damaging to the atmosphere we breathe and live in than burning coal or oil. To that extent, it is certainly the least evil of a number of hydrocarbon option. So, why have any of them? Why not just move to “renewable” energy, right now?

The problem is that many, if not most, of the renewable energy forms which the UK government is subsidising are not sustainable. What does that “not sustainable” mean? Quite simply that the energy you get out in the entire life of the installation will never reach the energy cost of manufacture, packaging, transport to site, construction, commissioning, maintenance and de-commissioning at the end of its life. Many will argue with that statement. However, the evidence to support their positive acceptance of renewables is just not there in many of the “renewables” that the EU and UK governments subsidise.

Look at the research evidence for windfarms. There is some good evidence to support wind turbines and some of that is quoted in this blog. (29 December 2014) Despite that good evidence, there are many wind turbines which are badly designed, placed and/or badly maintained and will never give back all the energy used to put them there, That “badly placed” probably applies to all, yes ALL, wind turbines placed at sea. They will almost certainly produce more electricity than those on land (because they are not sheltered from the wind) but putting them there and servicing them costs around three times what it costs to put them on land. That is because of the foundations in the sea bed and the power lines to get the electricity back to land. Cost is a useful guide to energy cost. Wind turbines at sea cannot, in nearly all circumstances, ever give back the energy cost of putting them there. That energy to put them there almost certainly came from burning fossilised fuels which advanced global warming.

Solar panels are mostly worse in terms of true sustainability. (See this blog for evidence 12 December 2014.).

So why do wind farms and solar panels at all? Well, they make money for the owners because the government subsidises them. Why? Well, some of the reason is misguided thinking by government and some “environmentalists”. (I am allowed to say this because, as a Chartered Environmentalist, I believe it to be true as discussed here.) However, there are good reasons to subsidise these so-called “renewables” and the best reason is energy security. The environmentally sustainability argument is highly questionable in at least some cases of renewables so far subsidised by government. One of the problems is that most of the equipment is made somewhere else – much of it in China where they use a lot of energy to manufacture these things and they get their energy mainly by burning brown coal which is the most polluting of the major sources of hydrocarbon energy. There is another problem; we only produce a tiny proportion of the energy we need from solar and wind power and most of it uses up land – and we are a tiny, over-populated island. The problem with land is they have stopped making it.

That brings us back to shale gas. It is big enough to solve the problem. What problem? Well, we have around 70 million people here already and have a net population increase each year from immigration of over 200,000 (and that is what we are told about). All of us consume energy.

Shale gas is a relatively clean burn and we can build gas-fired power stations relatively quickly. Importantly, it is right here; it is ours and we do not have to pay someone else and import it. However, the critics of shale gas are right; it would be better not to use it but, like it or not, we need it and need it now. Shale is a “transition” energy source; it will buy us time while we sort out a secure energy supply which is genuinely sustainable. Fortunately, British scientists are incredibly inventive and that is where government should throw cash; British industry needs the patents to be developed and registered right here. One other thing; the UK is the most regulated, the most inspected, of any country in the world, ever. We also have the most independent academics. The best set of people in the world to supervise and comment on the safety of what goes down the hole in shale gas exploration and production, and what comes out, is the British Society of Soil Science.