Fracking is a way to access shale gas. This gas is distributed through a layer of shale rock, and the fracking splinters them in order to allow the gas to escape. A government study was supposed to be published this week but has been delayed.
What should we think?
Well firstly shale gas is gas. In other words, shale gas is still made of hydrocarbons, and burning it still emits large amounts of carbon dioxide – this means that while shale gas would get us around problems with buying it from countries like Russia (I get the wish to stop supporting a government like Putins) however is this true?
There are a range of supporters of shale fracking, for instance the sun has published 14 editorials this year supporting fracking – amounting to 1 a fortnight.
Liz Truss, one of the last two leader candidates for conservatives, has declared that we should lift the ban on fracking as part of the idea of trying to bring down the price of energy. How long would this take? Well, as you might expect, it is not as clear that this would be true. Shale gas is well known to be difficult to extract (this is why we havent extracted it so far).
Another problem is the overly optimistic figures as to how much gas is there and how much is easily extractable. Shale gas supporters have suggested fracking could keep the UK gas self sufficient for 50 years – yet other estimates suggest there is far less. When British Geological Survey had their scientists do a survey (published in a peer reviewed paper) they estimate that the shale gas maximum is 10 times lower (as in there is only 10% of the gas that shale supporters think there is). In other words, if this more thorough survey was correct, shale gas would only supply the UK for 5 years. What is worse, much of this shale gas is so deep that it would likely be that actually not even 5 years of UK demand would be met.
I don’t know about you (dear reader) but I cannot believe that there would be many people who would be willing to invest on a product that will only pay back for 5 years, it would have to be priced very high to pay back investments in just 5 years.
Even if the rosy estimates were correct, it would likely take a significant amount of time -therefore is not the silver bullet required to bring down oil prices now. The rosy projection suggests that in 3 years we might be able to extract about 1% of UK gas requirements. Even with this start it would take till the late 2020s to reach 5% of demand. The decade after 2010 was spent trying to get the shale gas industry off the ground and they have barely got started.
In other words, this solution is not ready to save us from the high cost of fossil fuels; Even if it was ready, the cost is so high, we likely would not save much and even if both of the above reasons prove false the amount of shale gas we have can only support our current needs for about 5 years.