Shale gas – good or bad?

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The mind-boggling beauty of the natural world is just the surface of an even more staggering complexity. There is a constant dynamic destruction and re-building of the environment. there is nothing which is entirely good and nothing which is entirely bad. Neither black, nor white.

There are some who will find it worth some remark, at least, that in a blog which is generally concerned with sustainability and with renewable and sustainable fuels, shale gas is included. There are very few really black or really white situations in the real world – or universe for that matter.   Shale gas is a hydrocarbon fuel. When it is used as a fuel, it burns up the Oxygen we breathe and locks it up as Carbon dioxide and that will increase global warming.  No doubt about it, that is a “black” mark and unavoidable so.

It has also to be observed that shale gas has a number of “white” or plus features.  Firstly it has what chemical engineers call “a clean burn”.  It does produce Carbon dioxide when it is burned but very close to nothing else. Most of the other hydrocarbon fuels are “dirty” burn, i.e. they certainly produce Carbon dioxide but also other materials which are environmentally damaging.  Older diesels do produce much heavy hydrocarbon and particulate (“sooty”) emissions which can and do damage human health.  Diesel engines have had some bad publicity recently but have actually improved enormously since around 2005. The Euro 6 engine is a new EU standard, compulsory on new diesel cars by 2017, will make emissions and performance even better.   Petrol is better but nearly twice as much Carbon dioxide per mile or kilowatt of energy produced. Relating these to other fuels we use (but not usually in cars!) – Coal is generally worse. Brown coal as widely burned in China, worse still.

A “Dash for shale” would mean we could put the gas straight into the gas grid and fill up a car fuel tank and run the engine off shale gas.  That would mean very low emissions harmful to human health and better engine performance and life. So, as ever, there is a trade-off.  Shale gas in vehicle engines would be better in many ways than current fuels but it is still a Carbon dioxide producer.  What that would do is help pay off the national debt (somebody has got to make a proper start), and clean things up a bit while we take maybe a generation to change fuels to truly clean fuels which do not contribute to global warming.

Bill Butterworth – with apologies to regular readers; this post was destined originally for 25 October but was delayed.  The plan remains that every week end, there will be a new post on shale gas.

29 October 2015