The world’s largest shale-gas field – underneath Lancashire and Yorkshire – could add £7bn a year to the UK economy and create thousands of jobs
In late June the British Geological Survey announced the world’s largest shale-gas field. The Bowland Shale, which lies beneath Lancashire and Yorkshire, contains 50% more gas than the combined reserves of two of the largest fields in the United States, the Barnett Shale and the Marcellus Shale.
The United Kingdom has been reluctant to join the hydraulic-fracturing (or fracking) revolution. Yet tapping the Bowland Shale could reignite the UK economy and deliver huge cuts in CO2 emissions.
At the same time, the UK parliament has approved stringent new measures to reduce carbon emissions by 2020, with the biggest CO2 cuts by far to come from an increase of more than 800% in offshore wind power over the next seven years. But offshore wind power is so expensive that it will receive at least three times the traded cost of regular electricity in subsidies – more than even solar power, which was never at an advantage in the UK. For minimal CO2 reduction, the UK economy will pay dearly.
This is just one example of current climate policy’s utter remove from reality – and not just in the UK. We are focusing on insignificant – but very costly – green policies that make us feel good, while ignoring or actively discouraging policies that would dramatically reduce emissions and make economic sense.
Consider the three standard arguments for a green economy: climate change, energy security and jobs. As it turns out, fracking does better on all three.
Assuming complete success for the UK’s scheme, offshore wind power could produce more than 10% of the country’s electricity in 2020 and reduce its CO2 emissions by up to 22Mt, or 5%, per year. But the cost would also be phenomenal. The UK would pay at least $8bn annually in subsidies to support this inherently inefficient technology.
Compare this with the opportunity of the Bowland Shale. If, by 2020, the UK could exploit its reserves there at just one-third the intensity of the exploitation of the Barnett and Marcellus Shales today, the outcome would be phenomenal.
Natural gas is much more environmentally friendly than coal, which continues to be the mainstay of electricity production around the world and in the UK. Gas emits less than half the CO2 per kWh produced, and it emits much lower amounts of other pollutants like NOx, SO2, black carbon, CO, mercury, and particulates. If the UK sold its shale gas both domestically and abroad to replace coal, it could reduce local air pollution significantly and reduce global carbon emissions by 170Mt, or more than a third of UK carbon emissions. At the same time, instead of costing $8bn (£5.3bn) a year, shale-gas production would add about $10bn (£6.6bn) a year to the UK economy.