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Fracking and Climate Change

The extraction and use of shale gas or coal bed methane to generate energy results in emissions of greenhouse gases, the gases that are contributing to climate change. This includes carbon dioxide emissions from burning natural gas to generate energy, and leaks of methane and other gases from wells during extraction. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 26 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Excess gases can also be 'flared' (i.e. deliberately burnt) or 'vented' (deliberately released unburnt) during operations for safety reasons.

Under the Climate Change Act 2008, the UK has to reduce total emissions of greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050, compared to 1990 emissions levels. In order to meet this target, electricity generation will have to become fully ‘decarbonised’ by 2050 (produced in a way that does not generate greenhouse gas emissions).

There is much debate about whether promoting fracking would result in the UK failing to meet its legal obligations to address climate change. There are those who argue that the UK must focus its efforts on promoting renewable energy such as solar, wind and tidal. Fossil fuels such as shale gas, oil and coal should be ‘left in the ground’.

Others argue that fracking is acceptable as part of the UK’s ‘energy mix’ in the short and medium term, while the country makes a longer-term transition to renewable and low carbon technology energy sources. They cite evidence about the lower greenhouse gas emissions from burning natural gas compared to other carbon fuels such as coal.

Reports and further information

Information about the UK Climate Change programme

Assessing the Impact of Shale Gas on Climate Change Third Interim Report by the Task Force on Shale Gas Task Force, September 2015

Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions Associated with Shale Gas Extraction and Use. Report for DECC by Professor David J C MacKay FRS Dr Timothy J Stone CBE 9th September 2013

Friends of the Earth – Campaign to keep the UK frack free

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