Lord Chris Smith, who previously chaired the Environment Agency, has recently released a report on the UK shale gas taskforce, claiming that the government would be mistaken to continue its unilateral support of fracking without also promoting green energy.
Just days before the recent climate change summit in Paris, the government announced that they would be cancelling a £1 billion carbon capture competition – something that not only marks a step backwards in our efforts to fight global warming, but also the breaking of one of Cameron’s election promises.
The competition involved companies making competing bids to come up with and build commercial scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. CCS technology involves capturing the C02 emissions from fossil fuel burning power plants and trapping it, storing it underground to prevent it from having the climate warming effect it would otherwise have.
The cancellation of the competition came just six months before it was due to end and has been variously described as “devastating” and “disappointing”. Industry experts have commented that without this project going ahead, it will not be “almost impossible” for us to meet our latest carbon reduction targets.
Lord Smith has said that while pursuing fracking and the production of shale gas is a good move, and can, in theory, be made viable both environmentally and economically; the cancelling of the CCS competition and various other green initiatives is working directly against this viability.
He claimed that the government should be taking a more “even-handed” approach, and criticised it for “going into reverse on a lot of renewables, whilst at the same time pressing the accelerator on shale gas.”
He argued that the government should be “moving along on both fronts, not just one” if any kind of meaningful progress is to be made in terms of both promoting energy security and tackling global warming simultaneously. Currently, with only support being given to shale gas production, we are giving more import to the former than the latter and in doing so are at risk of working to the detriment of both.
Cancelling the CCS competition was a move he described as “severely disappointing.” Amber Rudd, however, defended the decision, saying: “I don’t think it was a mistake, no. There are some CCS plants that are going forward at the moment. They are still expensive.”
She described the “tight spending commitment” currently driving a lot of government decisions at the moment, maintaining that the cancellation of the CCS competition was “the right thing to do there.”
Shell, one of the companies involved in the competition, said that they remain “committed to CCS” but that they would now be focusing their work in other countries.
The report, whose publishing was championed by Lord Smith, was the result of a year-long assessment of the shale gas and fracking industry that cost in total £900,000. The conclusion of the report (which was funded by companies in the fracking industry, but enacted and produced by independent bodies) was that pursuing fracking could be productive in terms of the UK meeting carbon reduction targets, and could also lead to the creation of thousands of new jobs.
It concluded that fracking was at least as safe, if not more so, than coal burning, and better for the environment.
However, Lord Smith maintained that this was not the end of the story and that in order for us to fully head in the direction we should, we need to stop reversing the progress we have made so far in green energy production.