Could fracking actually be environmentally good for us after all?

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Could fracking be good for us? -Ben Webster in the Times yesterday (£) with an unexpected output from the IPCC…

Shale gas can help the world to avoid dangerous climate change if it replaces coal in power stations, according to a United Nations report.

Global emissions need to fall by at least 40 per cent by 2050 and almost to zero by 2100 to have a good chance of limiting the increase in the average temperature to 2C, above which the UN says there could be catastrophic impacts.

But ominously perhaps, he also adds:

Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, said: “This is the first IPCC report that will be largely ignored by most policymakers. It will have no influence on governments’ energy policies that are now almost completely dominated by energy security and economic considerations. Around the world the climate issue is being pushed to the margins of decision making.”

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  • http://redfellow.blogspot.com Malcolm Redfellow

    The headline is, of course, a valiant attempt to be a John Rentoul QTWTAIN.

  • Mick Fealty

    Oh no it isn’t…

  • Rossbrown

    The IPCC summary report did not mention shale specifically and was very clear: “GHG emissions from energy supply can be reduced significantly by replacing current world average coal‐fired power plants with modern, highly efficient natural gas combined‐cycle power plants or combined heat and power plants, provided that natural gas is available and the fugitive emissions associated with extraction and supply are low or mitigated”

    The qualification is at the end – provided that fugitive emissions are low or mitigated. And the measurements of methane from fracking are not good – http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2013/11/u-s-methane-emissions-far-exceed-government-estimates/

  • Reader

    Rossbrown: And the measurements of methane from fracking are not good
    However, the article lists loads of contributions to the unexpectedly large total, which *actually* suggests that fracking isn’t necessarily the killer-app.
    But thanks for your starter link, from which I went to the following:
    http://www.pnas.org/search?fulltext=methane+emissions&submit=yes&x=0&y=0
    - which overall suggest to me that natural gas is one of the good guys, and that all the fracking industry really needs is a bit of regulation. I am sure Europeans can manage that.

  • Delphin

    The extraction of natural gas from shale in Fermanagh/Sligo and generating electricity in a combined cycle gas fired power plant would significantly reduce the carbon footprint of the island of Ireland. Fact.
    The argument about fugitive methane emission is spurious because:
    Uses American data -is this relevant to Europe?
    Best estimates would indicate these releases are ~ 3%, same as coal and bio-gas. Should bio-gas plants be stopped because of their methane emissions?
    Fossil carbon will need to be burnt for some time to come. This is widely accepted even by the Green Party. His collective buying of home heating oil to help reduce costs to the consumer is a major part of Ross Brown’s election campaign. Fair play, but it’s a bit like being a vegetarian butcher!

  • Rossbrown

    How can you claim it to be a fact when the actual studies which have measured fugitive emissions conclude the opposite?

    American studies are entirely relevant. Some of these studies have examined fugitive emissions in those areas that are described as “Best Practice” by the industry. Just yesterday yet another study was released confirming that methane emissions are much higher from shale gas than initially estimated.

    No bio-gas plants should not be stopped because aside from fugitive emissions because bio-gas is for the most part carbon neutral.

    In terms of the oil buying club – many people including myself are stuck on oil because of the very large upfront costs of changing the central heating system. (My house cant be changed to gas in spite of being connected to the grid). For many people they don’t have a choice because of lack of support from the government.

  • mrmrman

    Despite all the huff and puff of the IPCC, policy makers know what the *real and immediate* threat is – energy security.

    Talking about shale gas helping to mitigate climate change is really nibbling at the edges of this “problem”. Indeed it belies the “threat” of global warming.

    If indeed this was a threat (a real threat like the lights going out) we’d do something serious about it. Our policy makers wouldn’t think twice – they’d do it out of self preservation (literally and politically).

    The only effective means of reducing CO2 emissions is to dismantle our (carbon driven) economic growth – and that would be such a human catastrophe that “extreme weather events” would pale in comparison.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I see the argument for the fracking but the main thing that worries me (some one in the drilling game) is the standard of environmental enforcement in NI.

    I don’t know how strict it is.

    The only thing I remember about it when I lived in NI (well, growing up) was that fish kills were reasonably regular.

    This was not the case anywhere else I moved (at least not deemed newsworthy at any rate).

    If handled well this could be a great shot in the arm for west of the Bann and if handled poorly it could be a clusterf*ck with environmental and social consequences.

    Is there anyway we could do this without having to involve Stormont?

  • Delphin

    A combined cycle gas fired power plant has a efficiency of ~62%. Coal fired plant is ~33%. Therefore to replace coal with gas will reduce the carbon footprint of Ireland.
    Fugitive emissions are notoriously difficult to measure so any figure is going to be subject to significant uncertainty. That aside you seem to think that fugitive methane emissions are unchangeable, but as I have said before, with appropriate regulation, these can be controlled. Below is a link to this
    http://www.epa.gov/methane/gasstar/basic-information/index.html‎

    To me fracking is just another way to produce gas and oil and with appropriate regulation it should go ahead. As I see it it will have distinct advantages
    (1) Carbon footprint. Being local, no energy is wasted in pumping or shipping and gas fired power stations are the most efficient by a long chalk.
    (2) Energy costs. While fracking is not likely to reduce oil and gas prices to the extent it has in the US, it must help stabilise and reduce energy costs
    (3) Energy security. Given the current situation in Russia an alternative gas supply will be very welcome.

  • Rossbrown
  • Delphin

    Very interesting Ross. But are you in a position to say that exploiting the shale gas in Fermanagh/ Sligo will result in unacceptable emissions of methane?
    For example it is suggested in the news article that the cause of the methane emissions was drilling through coal deposits with the borehole at lower than atmospheric pressure. Will this be the case in Ireland?
    As I said before fugitive methane emissions have been identified as a major cause for concern by the European environmental regulatory community, and given their well known risk averse nature, fracking will not proceed unless these concerns are fully addressed.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Am Ghobsmacht, very much on the right track with “Is there anyway we could do this without having to involve Stormont?”

    But I’d add without London, Dublin, New York, the EEC, China, international banking and the oil industry, in which case there might just be something in all this to help us all locally to not bring out the thick coats and fur gloves while sitting at our hearths every winter.

    I’m dubious about just how effective any local enforcement could be. I wrote to an environment minister about a serious environmental issue that was being flouted in the Larne area and at the end of six letters was told that the publicly declared policies were irrelevant to his decisions.

    And after the bizarre Runkerry decision, how can we expect even planning recommendations to stand in the way of “progressiveness” and wealth creation for the few.

  • raftonpounder

    A better question might be “Could shale gas be slightly less environmentally harmful than coal in terms of carbon emissions alone?”
    A hugely caveated maybe; if they are simply swapping gas in for coal.

    Those caveats: figure out how to measure and limit the methane escape. Issues of localised health impacts, local environmental and water impacts, building the infrastructure and locking ourselves into using fossil fuel for 30-40 years, continuation of a centralised energy system whereby the power and access to energy is controlled a small number of actors.

    The larger point is that we need to leave 2/3 to 3/4 of all known fossil fuel reserves in the ground, unburnt, if we wish to have a better than 50-50 chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change.

    We therefore cannot be finding and extracting new sources of carbon.

    You could make a case for fracking if you can get people to put the coal back underground and promise not to burn it.

    So far, from the US experience, fracked gas just displaces coal. The coal gets burnt somewhere else and all goes towards the same climate changing total.

    We simply cannot be trusted with more carbon.

  • raftonpounder

    And the Northern Ireland planning and environmental enforcement system is completely unable to cope with the responsibilities it has currently.

    It cannot regulate what goes on above the ground, be it farming runoff, illegal dumps and quasi-legal quarrying. There is neither the capability or frankly, the political will, to regulate this practice in NI.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    About the IPCC report “It will have no influence on governments’ energy policies that are now almost completely dominated by energy security and economic considerations. Around the world the climate issue is being pushed to the margins of decision making.”

    They are also dominated by the old nation state requirement to centralise energy supply. Hense the low efficency wind turbine option where BIG wind farms produce electricity that requires heavy subsidy, and loose much of what they do produce traveling along miles of wire before reaching central distribution sites from which they travel to the consumer, loosing even more electricity…..

    Local, small scale, even domestic, energy production from photovoltaics, probably the most efficent, consumer friendly way to counter fossel fuel requirements, just does not do it for the big energy producers.

    If even a fragment of the funds going to wind Turbine companies, and the land owners who rent them space, went into actually greening real peoples energy use, we might just get somewhere.

  • Delphin

    We have a very poor standard of heath care administration in NI. This is not an argument to close hospitals but to get rid of Pootsie. Likewise poor environmental regulation is an argument to improve that, not to stop fracking. Secondly when God gave us the gift of shale gas the border did not exist, so much of the potential gas extraction will be regulated by the Irish EPA. They, I believe, have a reasonable reputation.
    Ireland currently generates a significant proportion of electricity from coal, replacing this with gas will reduce the island’s carbon footprint.
    How else does Ireland reduce it’s reliance on fossil carbon? Wind turbines are everywhere and have the potential to generate green electricity – when the wind blows. Tidal power generation is also planned – a lot more predictable than the wind, but stops generating twice a day when the tide turns.Photovoltaics only work during the day – surprisingly!
    These renewables can only be part of a long term low carbon economy and in the meantime fossil carbon will needed.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hi Delphin, the issue with photovoltaics is that they are home-user friendly. And about just working in the day, I can post information on something almost magical called “storage batteries” that you may not have come across. Just let me know.

    And the argument that we cannot regulate effectively is quite a consideration when an report I posted a link to on Slugger some time back DOES link fracking with the north of England “earthquakes.” Its less an argument that parallels ending the National Health Service (that would be the banning of all polluting electricity production, rather) its a regulation argument the could more accurately be compared to issues such as Thalidomide. Poor regulation of fracking could be a threat to life!!!!

    “Wind turbines are everywhere and have the potential to generate green electricity” would more accurate if it actually said “absurdly small amounts of electricity.”
    There are plenty of websites out there with the information regarding the wind turbine scam and the woefully poor performance of wind as a green alternative. Sometimes I think that those vested interests who oppose the whole concept of climate change developed the wind turbine as the Green Energy poster child in order to discredit Green Energy. Even an old Greeny like me can see that wind turbines are just about the least efficient (as well as the most disruptive) means for producing electricity, and the big lobby behind them is powered by the subsidy racket. That, and whatever clandestine anti-bird organisation opposes the RSPB.

    And my concern still stands. Most the methods you mention still waste vast amounts of the energy produced when the power is conveyed over wires to central distribution points. The only effective answer would be micro-production, but this would not produce profits for the big energy companies, and would require a real engagement by any state that seriously wanted its citizens to be using electricity a century from now. As the man said “Small is beautiful.”