There are numerous energy sources in the UK. These range from fossil fuels like coal to renewable sources such as wind and solar power. However, each of these has its drawbacks. Using coal to generate electricity is relatively cheap but produces twice as much CO2 as burning natural gas. Using renewable sources of energy is clean but more expensive and less reliable, and renewables such as wind and solar are intermittent sources of electricity.
Natural gas, as is produced through fracking, is a fossil fuel but is much cleaner than coal. The Department of Energy and Climate Change says that UK shale gas would have a lower carbon footprint than the imported liquefied natural gas it would replace, and a carbon footprint around half as large as that of coal.1 In addition, using coal to produce energy produces significantly more harmful particulates in the air than burning gas does.2
Most experts believe that the UK should have a mix of energy sources but should do more to reduce carbon emissions3. In 2013, renewables accounted for just over 5% of the UK’s overall energy – including heating, transport and electricity – so natural gas will still be needed for some time as the share of renewables grows4.
Stephen Tindale, the former director of Greenpeace, said in May 2014 that climate campaigners should support fracking for shale gas. He says that the reason for this is that the use of shale gas would enable the UK to reduce the burning of coal.5
In a 2012 report, the energy analysts at international investment bank Citigroup questioned assumptions that gas and renewables will compete with each other. They said that the shale gas industry will actually be dependent on the broader use of wind and solar for its future. That’s because gas will be priced out of the conventional and coal-dominated market in the short term, but will then be required to fill in the gaps as wind and solar are used more widely, and coal generation is shut down.6
However, Professor Richard Selley of Imperial College London told us that it is also important to bear in mind that: “Renewable energy, solar, wind and batteries for hybrid cars, etc. all use rare earth minerals. 80% of the world’s supply comes from Northern Mongolia from two huge opencast mines that can be seen from space satellites. These minerals are mined, refined, and shipped all around the world. Some of the elements used in renewables, such as cadmium, are so toxic that when no longer used, have to be disposed of in a manner akin to nuclear waste disposal.”
Another alternative to sourcing our own gas, here in the UK, is to import gas from abroad. However, this means that we will become more reliant on energy from other countries than would otherwise be the case. This will harm our balance of trade and reduce the tax and new job benefits that a shale gas industry would bring.
In truth, there are positives and negatives to all of the potential alternatives. This is why most experts are of the view that the UK should adopt a model where we rely on a range of sources for energy.
Professor Richard Selley told us that: “The Government’s energy policy is to solve the ‘Trilemma’ for providing energy that is economic, that does least damage to the environment, and whose source is secure. It supports hydraulic fracturing for shale gas as part of a balanced mix of diverse energy sources, including nuclear and renewables. All 3 major parties support this solution to the energy trilemma.”
4 DECC, DUKES 2014, Chapter 6 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/337684/chapter_6.pdf (“Progress has been made against the UK’s 15 per cent target introduced in the 2009 EU Renewable Directive. Using the methodology set out in the Directive, provisional calculations show that 5.2 per cent of energy consumption in 2013 came from renewable sources; this is up from 4.2 per cent in 2012.”)
7 US Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Monthly, September 2014, Table 1.1.A. Net Generation from Renewable Sources: Total (All Sectors), 2004-July 2014 http://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.cfm?t=epmt_1_1_a
Thank you to everyone who submitted questions similar to the one above. Questions we have received which are similar are shown below:
- Is there really no other solution?
- Is there really no other alternative?
- Will it be any cheaper?
- I'm not bothered because what is the alternative?
- Are you doing it because its the easiest option? Is there any other alternative methods before you resort to fracking?
- Is fracking the future? Is this the only way forward?
- What other options are there? We need some source of energy.
- What are the other options? Who's telling the truth? There's been problems - don't know who to believe in. The people who are for fracking - is this a short term solution?