In the past few weeks and months we have been overloaded with the shale gas fracking debate. The British Geological Survey has independently estimated a maximum capacity of 1.3 trillion tonnes, enough for 40 years even if only a fraction can be viably extracted. This seems an unbeatable proposition and there are many bandwagon jumpers who are inflating the economic benefits, and even some who claim that fracking has environmental credentials. But the ‘dash for gas’ is ultimately a short-term fix with a host of immeasurable risks.
The U.S has been leading the way developing best practices for fracking, but with serious teething problems relating to groundwater pollution and earth tremors (you may have already seen this astonishing video). The risks would be expected to intensify in a U.K setting due to proximity to more densely populated settlements. Significantly, Cornell University have estimated that just a 4-5% leakage of methane from the fracking process would undo the benefits of prioritising shale gas over coal. Fracking techniques are in their embyronic stage and need to be improved to get a handle on the risks involved, and this should ideally occur before any major policy commitments are made.
Despite all the fracking hubbub, there was some encouraging news a couple of weeks ago with the official opening of London Array, the world’s largest offshore wind farm. Located in the Thames Estuary, it has 175 turbines, which is enough to power 500,000 homes for at least the next 20 years. Obviously this time frame concerns the life span and maintenance of the turbines rather than running low on wind. This should save 900,000 tonnes of C02 per year. David Cameron was at the opening and was quick to acknowledge the triple win: for the local economy of Kent (120 Kent companies were employed), the development of the renewable energy sector and finally for the esteem of the country. It is heartening that Mr Cameron is at least subscribing to the ‘renewables’ rhetoric and hopefully, London Array will be the first of many renewable energy projects that can demonstrate it is possible to kick the fossil fuel habit.
To progress, the next stage would be to attract British investment; London Array cost £1.5 billion, but was funded by energy companies from Denmark, Germany and Abu Dhabi. Overall, London Array could be a fantastic example for the renewable energy cause as it has an enormous headstart on the British fracking movement.
Phil Aubert, Otesha Volunteer