Expert pours cold water on fracking hopes

By Nathan Coyne

Shale gas should not be seen as the answer to Britain's energy production issues "anytime soon", according to a leading academic.

Professor Michael Bradshaw told a meeting of MPs and peers that the circumstances of the US shale gas revolution are not likely to be replicated in the UK and we will not know anything about its competitiveness for some time to come.

Shale gas represented more than 20% of natural gas production in the United States in 2010 – up from one per cent in 2000 – and there is a school of thought that this could be repeated in the UK, offering an alternative to renewable power generation.

Shale gas is a natural gas found within densely packed rock formations such as shale, however the process of extracting it, known as fracking, can be controversial.

Professor Bradshaw, who has conducted research into the gas industry, said: "we really are a long way off knowing the competitiveness of UK shale".

He added: "It's one thing to [drill for] it in Texas – it's another to do it in the Weald of Kent."

Speaking in Westminster at the launch of a report examining the shape of the UK energy industry in 2050, Professor Bradshaw said the starting point for the UK and shale gas was an exploratory drilling programme.

However, "the idea that this will make us energy independent is fanciful at the moment".

He added that use of shale gas would have to be accompanied by carbon capture and storage to offset the emissions caused by its use.

Speaking more widely about Britain's gas industry, Bradshaw played down concerns over security of supply, stating that most supply failures are caused by faults with the transportation of gas.

"We have got a resilient system with a variety of sources of supply," he said.

Fracking for shale gas hit the headlines in May 2011 when two tremors in two months occurred on the north-west coast near Blackpool and were linked to nearby drilling.

Exploratory drilling was suspended pending a review, but in December 2012 the government gave fracking the green light.

Cuadrilla Resources, the company undertaking the tests, intends to resume drilling shortly.