Tyndall updated report

John Tyndall, the great (Irish born) 19th century physicist

The updated Tyndall Centre report on the environmental and climate change impacts of shale gas extraction has recently been released, and makes for sobering reading (which is why we’ve added a picture of Prof. Tyndall’s whiskers to cheer you up).  The key conclusions of the report are as follows:

1.There is little to suggest that shale gas will play a key role as a transition fuel in the move to a low carbon economy. … At the global level, against a backdrop of energy growth matching, if not outstripping, that of global GDP and where there is currently no carbon constraint, the exploitation of shale gas will most likely lead to increased energy use and increased emissions resulting in an even greater chance of dangerous climate change.

2. UK Government commitments on climate change require major investment in zero and very low carbon technologies; this is likely to be delayed significantly by the exploitation of shale gas.

3. Without a meaningful cap on global carbon emissions, the exploitation of shale gas is likely to increase total emissions. … (I)n this energy-hungry world, with GDP growth dominating political agendas and no effective and stringent constraint on total global carbon emissions, the exploitation of an additional fossil fuel resource will likely feed increased energy use and an associated rise in emissions.

4. Evidence from the US suggests shale gas extraction brings a significant risk of groundwater and surface water contamination and until the evidence base is developed a precautionary approach to development in the UK and EU is recommended… An analysis of substances that have been used in the US suggests a significant number with toxic, carcinogenic, radiological or other hazardous properties.

5. Requirements for water in commercial scale shale gas extraction could put pressure on water supplies at the local level in the UK. Shale gas extraction requires high volumes of water. Given that water resources in many parts of the UK are already under pressure, this water demand could bring significant and additional problems at the local level. Conversely volumes of contaminated wastewater returning from wells will require careful disposal.

6. Exploiting shale gas within the UK is likely to give rise to a range of additional challenges. The UK is densely populated and consequently wells associated with commercial scale shale gas extraction will be relatively close to population centres. The proximity of such extraction will give rise to a range of local concerns for instance, high levels of truck movements on already busy roads and the potential for seismic disturbances, that require meaningful engagement, assessment, regulation and enforcement.

The full report, together with the Tyndall Centre’s earlier report from January 2011, is available on our Documents page.

Co-op report and the precautionary principle

The next piece to be added to our documents page will be the Tyndall Centre’s report on the risks and benefits of shale gas development,  commissioned by the Co-operative.  It’s a very full and detailed report with lots of useful information illustrated by helpful graphics.

Here are some extracts from the executive summary and key conclusions sections of the assessment.

“While shale gas extraction, at a global level, does not involve the high energy and water inputs at the scale of other unconventional fuels, such as oil derived from tar sands, it does pose significant potential risks to human health and the environment.”

“[T]he potential for hazardous chemicals to enter groundwater via the extraction process must be subject to more thorough research
prior to any expansion of the industry being considered”

“It is difficult to envisage any situation other than shale gas largely being used in addition to other fossil fuel reserves and adding a further carbon burden. This could lead to an additional 11ppmv of CO2 over and above expected levels without shale gas – a figure that could rise if more of the total shale gas resource were to be exploited than envisaged in the scenarios. This would be compounded if investment in shale gas were to delay the necessary investment in zero and very low carbon technologies.”

“Evidence from the US suggests shale gas extraction brings a significant risk of ground and surface water contamination and until the evidence base is developed a precautionary approach to development in the UK and Europe is the only responsible action. … An analysis of these substances suggests that many have toxic, carcinogenic or other hazardous properties”

“The risk of aquifer water supply contamination by the hazardous
chemicals involved in extraction is likely to be a significant source of local objections.”

“The proximity of such extraction will give rise to a range of local concerns, for example: drilling will require many months if not years of surface activity leading to potentially intrusive noise pollution; high levels of truck movements during the construction of a well-head will have a major impact on already busy roads; and the considerable land-use demands of shale gas extraction will put further pressure on already scarce land-use resources.”

The “precautionary” approach, referred to above, is the principle:

“that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action.” (Wikipedia)

In other words, if a procedure appears likely to be dangerous, either to our health or our surroundings, we need to explore the risks in full before going ahead with it. It’s not only common sense, but also part of EU law.