The Government should invest revenues from UK shale gas production in research and development of renewables and low carbon technology, it has been urged.
Shale gas, which is extracted through controversial fracking, could play a role as a “bridge” to a low carbon future, Lord Chris Smith said as the task force on shale gas he chairs published a report on the climate impacts of the fuel.
But to minimise its impact and to ensure it does not hinder the development of renewables, the Government needs to invest the revenues it received from energy taxes and royalties into research and development of low carbon technology.
The money could give more of a push to areas such as battery storage, which allows power from intermittent renewables to be stored until it is needed, and to technologies including wave and tidal power which need to be developed, he said.
And the Government needs to speed up the development of carbon capture and storage technology, which can be fitted to power stations to capture their emissions and store them permanently underground, to ensure gas power is cleaner.
Although the future will be focused on renewables and low carbon technology, gas will play a role in the mix for electricity, heating and industrial use for several decades.
Exploiting shale gas has around the same carbon footprint as conventional North Sea gas, as long as steps are taken to prevent fugitive methane gas emissions escaping during the extraction process, the report said.
And it was a cleaner alternative to importing liquefied natural gas (LNG) which is shipped from Qatar, and requires extra energy to turn it into a liquid, transport it and return it to gas.
Lord Smith said: “Shale gas can provide a sensible part of the mix but it has to be seen as a bridge to a low carbon and renewables future.
“In order to make sure its impact is minimised and that it is genuinely a bridge not a substitute, the Government needs to get on with carbon capture and storage (CCS), because that is
absolutely crucial in the use of gas over the course of the next 30 years or so.
“And we recommend the Government should commit itself to using the energy derived revenues for a shale gas industry to investment in research and development and new technology in renewables, in CCS and in things like energy storage and distribution.
“We think that if they were to do that, it would send a very strong signal that yes, shale gas is going to be useful but it’s not a long term proposition, it’s something that is a way of moving towards a low carbon future.”
He acknowledged that shale gas faced an uphill struggle, amid environmental protests and local opposition driven by fears that fracking can pollute water supplies, damage the countryside, cause earthquakes and undermine efforts to tackle climate change.
But he said the task force’s recommendations could mean “it’s possible to ensure that shale gas is not just something that will help us tide over the next 30 or 40 years, but it could actually help to ensure development of renewables and low carbon technologies rather than hindering them”.