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Shale gas no greener than coal

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World Coal,

Fracking contributes both directly and indirectly to greenhouse gas emissions, delaying the transition to a low-carbon future, according to an academic from Xi-an Jiaotong-Liverpool University.

Fracking – or hydraulic fracturing – has resulted in huge volumes of natural gas produced in the US, dramatically reducing the cost of natural gas to levels competitive with coal and transforming the US energy mix in the process.

Writing in an academic opinion piece for journal, Environmental Science & Technology, Dr Philip Staddon warns that the carbon footprint of this gas is actually very similar to that of coal when compared over a period of 100 yr – contradicting the widely held view that shale gas in a clean or environmentally friendly energy source.

“The dangers posed by ‘greenwashing’ shale gas as a route to climate change mitigation are well documented,” wrote Dr Staddon, adding that “it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that expansion of shale gas fracking is inconsistent with climate change mitigation.”

“Lowering greenhouse gas emissions required reduced dependence on fossil fuels, rendering […] the search for new sources of oil and gas particularly perverse,” concluded Dr Staddon.

Dr Staddon’s comments come as criticism to those that promote natural gas as a so-called ‘bridging fuel’ to a low-carbon electricity mix.

For example, the UK government recently outlined its plans for a future energy mix dependent on natural gas sourced from a domestic fracking industry with Amber Rudd, the UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, claiming that “one of the greatest and most cost-effective contributions we can make to emission reductions in electricity is by replacing coal-fired power stations with gas.”

Dr Staddon’s opinion piece, which was co-authored with Prof. Michael Depledge from the European Centre for Environment and Human Health, adds to the chorus of expert voices casting doubts on these claims – particularly following the withdrawal of funding for the UK’s Carbon Capture and Storage Commercialisation Competition.

“The government has outlined plans for the winding-down of coal-fired generation. With just one nuclear reactor currently being planned, the UK looks set to experience a new dash for gas,” said Dr Jenifer Baxter, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers “Without CCS technology, this will mean we are locking ourselves into relying on unabated fossil fuel power for generations to come.”

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