A controversial method for extracting shale gas should resume now the potential dangers are better known, the Environment Agency has said.
Exploratory drilling in Lancashire was temporarily halted after the process, known as fracking, was linked to localised earth tremors, prompting the government to launch a study into the possible effects.
The results are not expected for a few weeks, but speaking at a conference earlier this week, Tony Grayling, head of climate change and communities at the Environment Agency, told delegates exploratory fracking should resume after the investigation.
“There are significant environmental risks associated with shale gas as there are with other industrial activities,” he was reported by news agency Bloomberg as saying. “We think those risks can be managed.”
An Environment Agency spokeswoman told BusinessGreen Grayling’s comments indicated he was happy the current regulatory regime would prove sufficient to cope with exploration, but this may be reviewed should shale gas take off in the UK.
“We’re talking about an exploration phase, not a full blown industry at this stage,” she added. “We will continue to keep the situation under review.”
Cuadrilla Resources, a company drilling the UK’s first test wells, claims to have found 200 trillion cubic feet of shale gas reserves in the UK, which could result in up to 800 wells being drilled over the next 15 years.
Proponents argue shale gas has significantly reduced natural gas prices in the US and could provide the UK with a low-cost, secure source of energy for years to come.
However, critics say fracking, which involves injecting water, sand and chemicals into rock formations to free gas deposits, can pollute ground water and cause tremors.
And even if the gas could be recovered safely, burning it could be catastrophic for the UK’s carbon budgets.
A report by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research warned in November that burning just 20 per cent of these reserves would result in emissions of over 2,000 million tonnes of CO2 – around 15 per cent of the UK’s entire emissions budget through to 2050.
For a more balanced assessment of shale gas see Matt Ridley: The Shale Gas Shock