From Mr A. M. Hughes
Sir, - Dr Paula Clifford (Comment, 6
September) is right to draw attention to the theological aspect
of the use of fossil fuels and its implication for climate
I think, though, that we need to distinguish between this
aspect, which applies equally to other forms of energy acquisition,
such as the coal-mining that she mentions and conventional
oil-drilling, and the alleged consequences of fracking that are
peculiar to this process.
Emotive language such as "the sheer violence of the process" and
"snatching of the earth's resources" is common in this debate. Two
aspects in particular have worried people. One is "earthquakes". Dr
Clifford rightly calls them earth tremors, and that is what they
are: the ones near Blackpool in 2011 were of magnitude 1.5 and 2.3,
and Britain routinely experiences tremors of similar magnitude
through natural causes. Other human activities cause larger quakes,
notably the impoundment of water behind a dam.
The other worry frequently expressed is pollution of ground
water by chemicals. The injection of chemicals into the shale
occurs at great depths, typically one or two kilometres down, far
below the level at which water is extracted. Research in the US
found no evidence of fracking chemicals in local water supplies
(New Scientist, 10 August). There is a justified concern
about possible leakage of methane as it travels from deep in the
shale to the surface.
If fracking is to be opposed on environmental grounds, there are
other human activities that should share the scrutiny. The larger
picture is that global energy requirements are such that it is
difficult to see how they can be met without the continued use of
fossil fuels, all of which have environmental impacts.
Do we oppose the use of oil and petrol because there have been
oil spills that harm local sea life and coasts? The problem is that
the number of people on the planet and the standard of living to
which, overall, we aspire are barely compatible with the earth's
resources and the earth's size.
A. M. HUGHES
3 Moody Road
Oxford OX3 0DH
From Mr Richard Murray
Sir, - Part of the "robust thinking" that Dr Paula Clifford
called for concerning the possible exploitation of the UK's
shale-gas resources concerned environmental issues. Reference was
also made to its potential to address fuel poverty.
Those who argue that fracking would bring down UK energy prices
are basing their arguments on a false analogy, namely the US
experience. The fundamental difference is that the US is
essentially an isolated market; so gas producers have no scope to
export to the highest bidder. The UK, however, is part of an
integrated European market, meaning that unless there is a huge
supply of shale gas from the UK and the Continent, and both now
seem unlikely, the world price of gas will be undented.
Unconventional gas may be able to offset the decline in North
Sea production, but not enough to replace our dependence on foreign
imports; so we will still be dependent on international gas prices.
Given that the UK imports half of its gas needs, an exponential
growth of drilling wells would be required. Try to imagine the
Balcombe protests multiplied by 10,000!
The estimates of gas available being touted at the moment do not
mean that these are either recoverable or economically viable. The
lacklustre experience of Poland suggests that they will have to be
revised downwards. And the number of new rigs in the United States
has reached a plateau, not-withstanding the recent rise in gas
prices and US economies of scale (Texas is nearly three times the
size of the UK).
As for the number of jobs that might be supported by a thriving
shale-gas industry, this needs to be put into perspective. This
figure pales to insignificance compared with the potential from the
renewable-energy industry. The Energy and Climate Change Secretary
has claimed that the renewables industry could support as many as
400,000 jobs by 2020.
This figure is not limited to those involved in wind, solar,
hydro, or tidal power; so the employment potential of the supply
chains of supportive industries and research and technology
institutions need to be factored in.
In short, a coherent economic case for fracking has yet to be
made. The truth is that shale gas is nothing more than a
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Kemnay, Inverurie AB51 5RN