13 Jan 2014

Fracking: truths and myths about shale gas

As the government attempts to win support for the controversial expansion of fracking, Channel 4 News looks at some of the truths and myths surrounding shale gas.

Shale is important for our country. It could bring 74,000 jobs, over £3bn of investment, give us cheaper energy for the future, and increase our energy security – David Cameron

Truth or myth: The Institute of Directors claims that shale gas could create 74,000 jobs. Geologists, engineers, construction workers, business analysts, truck drivers and public relations staff are examples of the people needed by the industry as well as cement and steel manufacturers, equipment manufacturers, drilling services companies.

The US has clearly demonstrated fracking is dangerous, destructive and devastates communities. Despite regulation this will also be the case in the UK. Only one well has been drilled and fracked here and it caused earthquakes that damaged the well so gas and chemicals could leak out – Anti-fracking protester

Truth or myth: A government-commissioned report in 2013 found that drilling had caused tremors and that this was likely to happen again if fracking resumed. But it said that while “such an event would be strongly felt by people within a few kilometres from the epicentre and could cause some alarm”, no structural damage was likely.

Latest estimates suggest that there’s about 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas lying underneath Britain at the moment – and that study only covers 11 counties. To put that in context, even if we extract just a tenth of that figure, that is still the equivalent of 51 years’ gas supply – David Cameron

Truth or myth: Government projections only go up to 2030, when natural gas demand is estimated to amount to 78.8bn cubic meters, more than current levels. The BGS on the other hand hasn’t estimated how long our shale gas reserves might last. The UK’s extractable reserves are still an unknown.

The reality is that everywhere in the world, where this process has been put into use, it has resulted in the contamination of the water, of soil and of the air. When the governments and industry are promoting their shale gas agenda, they conveniently leave out the evidence that this is an abomination – Ex-oilfield executive Ian R Crane

Truth or myth: The number of official studies confirming the link between water contamination and fracking are limited. However, high levels of pollution were recently found in and around the Barnett Shale in Texas. Toxic substances, including arsenic, selenium and strontium, were all found at levels higher than the recommended levels in wells. The highest concentration of arsenic was 16 times the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) safety standard for drinking water.

UK shale gas can be developed sensibly and safely, protecting the local environment, with the right regulation. With the right safeguards in place the net effect on national emission from UK shale gas production will be relatively small when compared to the use of other sources of gas – Energy Secretary Ed Davey

Truth or myth: According to the Committee on Climate Change, if production is well regulated, shale gas can have lower emissions than imported liquefied natural gas (LNG). A recent report for the European Commission also reached the same conclusion.

There are large and uninhabited and desolate areas. Certainly in part of the north east, where there’s plenty of room for fracking, well away from anybody’s residence where we could conduct without any kind of threat to the rural environment – Lord Howell of Guildford

Truth or myth: It’s difficult to say but a US report suggests that fracking could have an impact on habitat, water quality, water quantity, noise and air pollution. However, these studies are at an early stages.

If we don’t back this technology, we will miss a massive opportunity to help families with their bills … fracking has real potential to drive energy bills down – David Cameron

Truth or myth: A recent report commissioned by energy regulator Ofgem estimated that if shale gas production meets up to 21 per cent of demand then wholesale gas prices in the UK could be cut by between 2 per cent and 4 per cent between 2020 and 2034 from their current levels. However, a similar report by the Energy and Climate Change Committee suggested that, while UK shale gas production may help to secure energy supplies, this may not lead to cheaper energy bills.

Total, a French company who can’t frack in their own country because the French government has stopped the French countryside being ripped up, have now turned their sights on the UK countryside, where the UK government seem happy to allow the industrialisation of our green and pleasant land – Greenpeace climate campaigner Lawrence Carter

Truth or myth: The French parliament voted to ban the controversial technique for extracting natural gas from shale rock deposits known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in 2011. France’s constitutional court upheld a ban in 2013. The court ruled that in imposing the ban, lawmakers were pursuing a legitimate goal in the general interest of protecting the environment and noted differences between geothermal and shale gas exploration techniques.