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Fracking gets the (not-so) green light

DECC has given the green light for exploratory fracking to restart in the UK. Beyond the controversy, what does this actually mean?

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey said:

“Shale gas represents a promising new potential energy resource for the UK. It could contribute significantly to our energy security, reducing our reliance on imported gas, as we move to a low carbon economy.

“My decision is based on the evidence. It comes after detailed study of the latest scientific research available and advice from leading experts in the field.

“We are still in the very early stages of shale gas exploration in the UK and it is likely to develop slowly. It is essential that its development should not come at the expense of local communities or the environment. Fracking must be safe and the public must be confident that it is safe.

Fracking has been suspended in the UK since May 2011, after it caused two small earthquakes in Lancashire. It can now resume, but with new controls to try and reduce the risk of ‘seismic activity’ as a result. However, only exploratory, rather than commercial fracking is allowed, so you won’t see shale gas making its way into the fuel chain just yet.

However, following the publication of George Osborne’s gas strategy last week (dubbed the “second dash for gas”), which included tax incentives for the shale gas industry and an office for unconventional gas, it seems increasingly likely that fracking and shale gas will become mainstream.

Supporters argue that shale gas has the potential to bring down energy bills, because the UK is likely to have plentiful supplies under the North Sea, which would lead to a glut of gas and decreased dependency on foreign imports. Detractors argue that it is hard to tell exactly what the cost will be and that shale gas could well be very expensive to extract and produce. There is also the carbon cost to consider – shale gas is a fossil fuel, and adopting it will not help to meet decarbonisation targets. There’s also the risk of pollution and more seismic activity.

All eyes will be on the outcome of the exploratory extraction across the country to see who has the right answer.

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