Will it make a fracking difference?

Two weeks ago, in his Autumn Statement, Chancellor George Osborne announced changes to the tax regime to support gas and the Gas Strategy provided for an Office of Unconventional Gas to look at enabling fracking to access shale gas. Last week Secretary of State Ed Davey followed this by granting permission for exploratory drilling of shale gas with “stringent” controls to ensure it was safe and protected the environment.

Both announcements were met with horror by environmental campaigners who claim it marks the end of commitments from Government to be ‘green’ and that it is further evidence of encouraging a ‘dash for gas’.

All realistic approaches to our energy mix support a balance of low carbon technologies, renewable energy, new nuclear and a continued role for gas in heating our homes. There are undoubtedly those who favour a greater lean in certain directions. The rationale behind this is extensively documented and the need for an affordable solution that delivers security of supply and meeting climate change targets is obvious.

The US has seen a huge drop in domestic gas prices because of their ability to capitalise on their shale gas reserves. There is, of course, abundant speculation about what this will do for global gas prices but as always plenty of unknowns too. Simple geography will tell you the UK has nothing like the scale of accessible shale gas reserves but even the vastly smaller population doesn’t suggest shale will genuinely be a major game changer for our energy future.

The words from scientists and Ed Davey are chosen carefully, “a promising new potential energy resource…[that] could contribute significantly”. Contribute? Certainly. Significantly? Perhaps, but we mustn’t lose sight of the drive for the right mix and for that mix to come at the right cost – financial and environmental. Whether fracking will make a big difference remains to be seen but if it delivers as part of mix, into our homes to retain an affordable option for heating and cooking then it may serve a short-term gain while other technologies develop too.

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