Large-scale production of onshore shale gas in the UK is not likely until into the 2020s, according to a new UK Government plan backing future gas-fired power generation.
The new Gas Generation Strategy, published alongside the autumn statement, supports the building of new gas-fired power stations and proposes a new Office for Unconventional Gas and Oil, to oversee shale exploration.
However, the support for shale gas, which involves the controversial technique of fracking, was again under fire from green lobby groups last night. The Climate Group said gas should be a mid-term transition fuel to a de-carbonised energy sector and “not at the very centre of our future energy-mix”.
The Institute of Mechanical Engineers, however, said a shale industry could create thousands of jobs, but that more research was needed into carbon capture and storage to make fossil fuel plants cleaner.
Niall Stuart, chief executive of Scottish Renewables, said: “This is not an ‘either or’ – the UK needs more investment in renewables, but it also needs new gas-fired generation to keep the lights on.
“The government remains committed to 30% of the country’s electricity coming from renewable sources by 2020. Today’s announcement is about where the rest of our power will come from.”
Ben Warren, environmental finance partner at Ernst & Young, said: “Like all energy technologies, gas is certainly not the silver bullet. It is imperative that the UK continues to invest in renewables.”
He said the UK should make sure it was at the forefront of renewable energy development, jobs and know-how.
Fracking is the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at high pressure to fracture shale rocks and release natural gas. The government is yet to overturn a ban on fracking after the process caused mini-earthquakes in Lancashire.
The Gas Generation Strategy said there were “very large quantities” of gas beneath the UK, but not enough was known to estimate what fraction of it could be produced.
It added: “If exploration is successful, early production is likely to be seen in the second half of this decade, but any substantial contribution to the UK’s gas supply is unlikely until further into the 2020s.”
There is thought to be shale in the central belt of Scotland, with Australian-owned Dart International and BG Group having exploration licences.