Shale gas exploitation by fracking on a significant scale is not compatible with the UK’s climate change targets unless three key tests are met – on methane leaks, gas consumption and carbon budgets – according to new analysis from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).
The Committee’s report ‘The compatibility of UK onshore petroleum with meeting the UK’s carbon budgets’ is the result of a new duty under the Infrastructure Act 2015. This duty requires the CCC to advise the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change about the implications of exploitation of onshore petroleum, including shale gas, for meeting UK carbon budgets.
The CCC’s report finds that the implications of UK shale gas exploitation for greenhouse gas emissions are subject to considerable uncertainty – from the size of any future industry to the potential emissions footprint of shale gas production. It also finds that exploitation of shale gas on a significant scale is not compatible with UK carbon budgets, or the 2050 commitment to reduce emissions by at least 80%, unless three tests are satisfied:
- Emissions must be strictly limited during shale gas development, production and well decommissioning. This requires tight regulation, close monitoring of emissions, and rapid action to address methane leaks.
- Overall gas consumption must remain in line with UK carbon budgets. The production of UK shale gas must displace imports, rather than increase gas consumption.
- Emissions from shale gas production must be accommodated within UK carbon budgets. Emissions from shale exploitation will need to be offset by emissions reductions in other areas of the economy to ensure UK carbon budgets are met.
At this early stage, it is not possible to know whether the tests will be met easily or not. The Committee will closely monitor steps taken by Government and other relevant agencies to satisfy these tests. The Committee will report publicly on performance against the tests. In addition, the Committee will assess the Government’s forthcoming Emissions Reduction Plan – which will set out how the Government will meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets – in light of the possible development of a UK shale gas industry.
Professor Jim Skea, Member of the Committee on Climate Change, said:
“Under best practice, UK shale gas may have a lower carbon footprint than much of the gas that we import. However, gas is a fossil fuel wherever it comes from and is not a low-carbon option, unless combined with carbon capture and storage. This report sets out the tests that must be met for shale gas development to be consistent with UK carbon budgets. Existing uncertainties over the nature of the exploitable shale gas resource and the potential size of a UK industry make it impossible to know how difficult it will be to meet the tests. Clarification of the regulation of the sector will also be needed. The Committee on Climate Change will provide ongoing, independent assessment of whether these tests are being met.”
Notes to editors
• In keeping with the Infrastructure Act 2015, Compatibility of Onshore Petroleum with meeting the UK’s carbon budgets was delivered to the Secretary of State on 30 March 2016. The Act states that the Committee’s report must be laid before Parliament alongside an official response from the Department of Energy and Climate Change ‘as soon as is practicable’ after 1 April 2016. Both documents were laid before Parliament on 7 July 2016.
• In this advice on the compatibility of onshore petroleum with meeting UK carbon budgets, the Committee focuses primarily on shale gas, as this has larger potential implications for emissions than other sources of onshore petroleum (e.g. shale oil).
• It is outside the scope of the Committee’s legal remit to investigate other issues that have been raised in relation to the development of shale gas, such as local noise, traffic, water and wider environmental impacts. The Committee’s advice relates solely to greenhouse gas emissions and the impact on carbon budgets.
• On 30 June 2016, the Committee published its annual Progress Report. ‘Meeting Carbon Budgets – 2016 Progress Report to Parliament’ sets out the criteria the Committee will consider when it reviews the Government’s emissions reduction plan, which it has committed to deliver by the end of 2016.