Unconventional gas still fails to convince

The public inquiry into plans by Dart Energy to drill for coalbed methane near Falkirk hasn’t attracted the level of attention it might have expected. However, a fierce row has erupted over claims that the process could discharge radioactive pollution three times as much as that at the Rosyth naval base, where seven defunct nuclear submarines are moored. Dart Energy, claims the impact of any radioactivity released would be “insignificant”.

Evidence submitted to the inquiry by Dart says that “predicted annual discharges” of untreated water from the development could contain up to 1.7 billion becquerels of radioactivity. Local authorities have pointed out that this is much higher than the annual discharges from the Rosyth Royal Dockyard. An official report from UK government regulators put Rosyth’s liquid discharges in 2012 at 0.6 billion becquerels of radioactivity.

A spokesperson for the Nuclear-Free Local Authorities (NFLA) said, “This is not a small amount. We should be asking ourselves if this is really a sustainable way to be generating our energy.” NFLA’s Scotland’s convener, Councillor Bill Butler said, “Such levels of radioactive contamination into the local environment are a high price to pay for the methane gas produced”.

Other concerns about safety have been highlighted in new research by Professor Richard Davies of Durham University, who said, “In the UK, wells are monitored by well inspectors but there is no information in the public domain, so we don’t really know the full extent of well failures. There were unknowns we couldn’t get to the bottom of.”

Labour’s Shadow Energy Tom Greatrex has also attacked the UK government’s promotion of shale gas. In an article in Labour List he analyses the recent EY report, he said, “The Tories are once more cranking up the hype for shale as a cheap, abundant and immediately available source of gas that will solve all of our energy problems. The reality is that it is much more complicated than that.”

He concludes that shale gas may have a positive contribution to make to the UK, “But unlocking that potential requires a government that is able to take a proportionate and level-headed approach, guided by the evidence. The problem for the Conservatives is that we can’t power the UK on hype alone.”

On a similar line, but with a focus on the impact on energy price, Anthony McDonnell at the LSE blog argues the UK and US differ in many respects when it comes to shale gas. Importantly, the UK is integrated in the European energy market which would hoover up production in excess of domestic needs, keeping prices high as opposed to in America where logistical difficulties exporting gas has meant that prices have plummeted due to a glut of supply. He concludes, “In short it is almost inconceivable that UK gas production will become so great that it will have a meaningful effect on UK gas prices.”

So, on safety and price the case for unconventional gas in the UK is still looking weak.



  • Posted in: Gas

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