I read an interesting report this week from the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) on the impact that Shale Gas will have on our energy ‘landscape’. And I was shocked by just how long a document could be, while saying nothing and carefully missing the point at every opportunity.
What the document says: The document – dramatically entitled The Shale Gas Shock – says that shale gas is plentiful in the USA and worldwide, and that new drilling technology (‘fracking‘) provides access to an enormous extra source of relatively low carbon fuel. The report:
- favourably contrasts the environmental impact of shale gas installations with that of wind turbines,
- dismisses stories of the contamination of drinking water,
- dismisses stories about the detrimental effect of methane leakage,
and advocates the widest possible adoption of the technology.
What the document doesn’t say: Shale gas is just methane (CH4) – natural gas, and like other sources of natural gas it releases CO2 when burned. The only difference is that shale gas would traditionally have been called irrecoverable because the rocks in which it is trapped are barely permeable. As I have often said, at current hydrocarbon prices, there is likely to be no shortage of hydrocarbon fuel for hundreds of years to come. And the ‘fracking’ technology is just a particular example of people finding tricks to extract the ‘dregs’ of hydrocarbon reserves when the price is high enough to give them an incentive to do so.
So what have we learned?:
- The report is correct when it says it we need to be careful to be sure that ‘the good’ does not become the enemy of ‘the best’. By ‘best’ I mean truly sustainable energy supplies. By ‘good’ I mean the burning of gas rather than coal. And gas (including shale gas) is dramatically more benign than coal, both in its environmental legacy and in its carbon dioxide emissions.
- The report lauds the efficacy of gas over every other fuel source – and it is true – methane is a relatively high energy-density source of energy. But it is not sustainable and it increases rather than decreases carbon dioxide emissions
- But despite this, we should not lose track of the where we are, or where we want to be. Carbon dioxide emissions at the current rate are likely to lead us into very severe problems. The gist of the carbon GWPF report is that carbon dioxide emissions should be ignored as we face up to future energy supply problems. This is because – despite all understanding that we have achieved – the GWPF exists to obfuscate issues around climate change.
- The truth is that the future is uncertain – we don’t know for sure the effect that carbon dioxide emissions will have on the climate, or sea level. But every – and I mean every – model that scientists have ever worked out indicates that carbon dioxide emissions at the current level or higher are likely to create problems – at the civilisation threatening level – in the future. For this reason I find this report pernicious.
“When you are in a hole, stop digging” is good advice. The GWPF advice can be summarised as follows – “Hole? What hole? Just keep digging, but pace yourself so that you can keep going for longer.