Government policy towards shale gas, like many things, is split. The PM and Chancellor support extending fracking as it could reduce energy bills, whereas the Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary, Edward Davey seemingly doubts this idea. The ban on fracking was lifted in December and if shale gas lives up to Conservative expectation then the economy would indeed benefit. Shale gas does have the potential to supply the UK with much cheaper energy, but this is just potential rather than guarantee. Davey recently stated “we don’t know whether we will find lots of technically recoverable shale gas in the United Kingdom and the chances that it will affect our gas price I think, most experts think, is unlikely.” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9742662/Coalition-split-over-whether-fracking-will-cut-your-gas-bill.html) Though almost 60% of Britain’s land can be found to host shale reserves, it’s unknown whether this is useful, and the price of the extraction process remains unknown. Therefore, automatic assumptions and comparisons to Shale Gas in America are of little use at present. The idea that energy prices would significantly fall in Britain is unlikely, if not, premature.
Regardless or not of whether shale gas would reduce our energy bills, its environmental impact could be detrimental, especially for a Conservative Party who’s election campaign was based around regaining the green vote (and thrashing Labour, of course). Shale gas is extracted by blasting the shale rock; found thousands of meters underground, with chemicals and water. This is known as hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’. The extension of shale gas extraction could be detrimental for the environment, as it causes Co2 emissions as well as methane and the risk of contaminating the ground water (http://www.bgs.ac.uk/research/energy/shaleGas/environmentalImpacts.html), this occurred in Texas as a result of fracking. The Liberal Democrats proposed a 40% cut in carbon emissions by 2020 which was 6% higher than the recommended target; it will be interesting to see how manageable this target remains now we see the extension of fracking.
Shale Gas is just another fossil fuel and though it is useful in the sense that it will make Britain more self-sufficient and hopefully leave the UK with more oil; the ideas that it’s cheaper and better for the environment are yet to be fully explored. In 2011, the Coalition was off target to meet climate change targets (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-14949188) and the extension of shale gas will do nothing but increase the chances of completely missing Co2 targets because of increased Carbon emissions. In addition to this, the small earthquakes witnessed in Lancashire show that increased production in the British countryside could easily damage land (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-15550458) if not homes. It’s important to understand that just because something has achieved relative success in America; it does not mean that it automatically will here!
Politically, Osborne’s ‘dash for gas’ comes as a result of the Chancellor not wishing to seem like the environment comes above the economy. Public concern about the environment has dipped since 2009 and concern about Britain’s stagnating economy has risen. Osborne vowed that environmental targets would not come at the cost of the economy hence his focus on shale gas. Osborne is becoming known for moving his political goalposts. Firstly with budget forecasts, possibly with the BoE inflation/growth targets and now trying to twist the environment targets to focus on CO2 emissions rather than renewable energy. The argument goes that shale gas can be a ‘transition’ resource however many environmentalists would just like to see the coalition sticking to the original plan.
Shale Gas will be expensive, to begin with at least. The effects on the environment will not fall short of appalling. The Blue Conservatives and the Yellow Lib-Dems will not make a greener environment! (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/dec/13/shale-gas-burning-carbon-fracking)