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Fracking’s potential has been ‘overhyped’ by politicians and shale gas will not reduce energy prices or reliance on gas imports, says UK Energy Research Centre.
The fracking site at Barton Moss, Greater Manchester. “Any talk of shale gas making the UK self-sufficient again … is far-fetched,” says the UKERC report. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA
Politicians have overhyped fracking’s potential and the prospect of shale gas making Britain self-sufficient in gas again is far-fetched, according to government-funded researchers.
The UK became a net importer for gas in 2004 as North Sea production declined, and the coalition has heavily promoted shale gas on the grounds of energy security and economic growth. David Cameron says the UK is “going out all for shale” and on Wednesday the government announced the first ‘national shale gas colleges’.
But a new report by academics at the Imperial College-based UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) says significant shale gas production in the UK is unlikely to get underway until next decade and will not reproduce the American ‘shale revolution’ that has put the US on course to energy self-sufficiency.
Jim Watson, an author of the report and professor of energy policy at the University of Sussex, said that industry and politicians had “overhyped” the impact shale will have on prices and energy security.
“Looking at the evidence base, it’s very hard to support some of the statements made both by industry and some politicians that it’s going to bring down prices, strengthen energy security or create jobs through cheaper energy any time soon. It may have an impact. But a lot depends on how fast shale develops,” he said.
The authors are unambiguous that shale gas will not reduce energy prices or reduce the UK’s reliance on gas imports, which are mostly supplied by Norway and Qatar today.
“Any talk of shale gas making the UK self-sufficient again, let alone allowing significant exports, is far-fetched,” says the report, The UK’s Global Gas Challenge. It also cautioned against “a blind belief that a future UK shale gas revolution will solve all our problems”.
A second report by UKERC warns that by 2025, the time any such shale gas industry is up and running in the UK, global gas consumption must have peaked and begin rapidly tailing off to avoid dangerous levels of global warming.
With the development of widespread technology to capture and store the carbon emissions from those gas plants, that deadline moves back to 2035.
But carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is so far largely unproven at scale and the world’s first major CCS power plant only switched on last month. UKERC’s report says “whether CCS will actually be commercialised or not is currently far from certain”, though Watson says recent developments in North America mean he is more optimistic than two years ago.
The report, A Bridge to a Low-Carbon Future? Modelling the Long-Term Global Potential of Natural Gas, suggests gas’s role as a quick fix to cut carbon emissions – gas emits significantly less CO2 than coal when burned – could be short-lived.
Gas has been hailed by some advocates as a ‘bridge’ or ‘transition’ fuel as economies move to renewable energy and nuclear power to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and tackle climate change.
If CCS doesn’t take off, to keep temperature rises under 2C as governments have agreed to do, the report’s modelling showed “gas consumption peaked in 2025 and declined terminally thereafter: the role that gas can play as a transition fuel was thus substantially reduced”.
However, despite the short window of opportunity, the authors say the amount of coal that could be displaced by gas is significant in terms of cutting emissions.
Dr Christophe McGlade of UCL, who led the modelling work, said: “Gas could play an important role in tackling climate change over the next 10 to 20 years.”
Watson added: “In those countries which a have a lot of coal in their energy systems, China being the prime example, gas has a role to play with or without CCS.” He said ensuring gas consumption peaked and declined rapidly in 2025 or 2035 would “require significant policy intervention” from governments.
Separately on Tuesday, the Department of Energy and Climate Change announced the creation of the UK’s first specialist colleges for training people for the shale gas industry. Headquartered in Blackpool, the National College for Onshore Oil and Gas National College will be linked to colleges in Chester, Redcar and Cleveland, Glasgow and Portsmouth.
Matthew Hancock, the new Tory energy minister, said: “Families, villages and towns across the UK could benefit from this new industry and its supply chain which could create 64,500 jobs. That’s why we are investing in the people behind project. Only by arming people with the skills they need to be shale specialists can we provide career opportunities for thousands of young people, boost the power and competitiveness of our firms and help the UK economy remain strong and competitive.
“To make a world-class cluster of expertise in the North West of England, just as Aberdeen is a world class cluster of expertise for offshore oil and gas.”
Helen Rimmer, Friends of the Earth north west campaigner said in response: “The north west deserves investment in jobs and skills, but this should be in energy sectors of the future such as tidal, wave and solar which the region has in abundance – not dead-end fossil fuels.”
Gas consumption in the UK has already peaked, and development of UK shale gas has been slower than expected. Hydraulic fracturing to extract shale gas will not resume until 2015, the first exploratory fracking in the country since 2011.
Reapers will initially be operating in Syria for surveillance, but will also engage Hellfire missiles in an attack capacity if authorisation is given.
Britain’s Reaper drones, similar to this US version, will be controlled from an RAF base in Lincolnshire.
Kim Sengupta is Defence Correspondent at The Independent.
British aircraft have been readied for flights over Syria in the war against Isis. Armed Reaper drones which have been moved from Afghanistan are going to be used in missions in the heartland of the Islamist extremists, The Independent has learnt.
Last week, the Government announced the redeployment of the Reapers for operations in Iraq, where the RAF is already in action as part of a US-led coalition.
However, senior Whitehall sources have disclosed that they would be operating in Syria as well, initially for surveillance, but also in an attack capacity with Hellfire missiles if authorisation is given.
British air strikes against Isis came after a Commons vote authorising military engagement in Iraq, with David Cameron stressing that he would seek a second mandate from MPs if it was deemed necessary to extend the fight to Syria. But the Government maintains that no such permission is necessary to carry out reconnaissance flights or even armed action – the latter if it is a matter of national security, such as the rescue of British hostages being held by Isis.
The RAF has flown 37 missions and conducted 10 successful strikes over Iraq since Parliament authorised action, the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, told MPs yesterday. The unmanned Reaper drones will be based in Kuwait after their move from Kandahar, The Independent understands. They will be controlled via satellite link from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.
The decision to fly over Syrian territory is certain to lead to charges of “mission creep” and opposition in some quarters of Parliament. Several Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs who voted for the Iraq operation indicated that they would object to moving it on to Syria.
An explosion rocks the Syrian city of Kobani during a reported suicide car bomb attack by Isis on Monday. (Getty)
Some of the MPs have questioned the validity of military action in Syria under international law, pointing out that the Iraqi government has asked for help from the US-led coalition, but Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad, has not. There would also be apprehension that the drones may be followed by fighter-bombers whose pilots would be vulnerable to the air defences of the regime as well as missiles acquired by Isis fighters.
But there is growing consensus among ministers and military commanders that meaningful action against the extremists must include the ability to strike at their bases inside Syria and assistance to “moderate” rebel groups fighting Isis.
The Assad regime has offered only token criticism of Western action and its forces have made no attempt to intercept the flights by the Americans and Arab allies over its territories.
Officials acknowledge that there has been an element of confusion over British military policy in the Isis mission. The Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, declared recently that the UK would not consider carrying out air strikes in Syria. He was forced to backtrack after this was denied swiftly by Downing Street. Mr Hammond also said no rescue attempt could be carried out for British hostages because the Government had no idea where they were held.
Officials in the security field do not want to publicise any preparations being made to free the kidnapped prisoners.
A Whitehall official said: “The Reapers would be very useful for intel on Isis in Syria for ourselves and our allies; that would be their primary purpose. Their use in combat would obviously depend on parliamentary approval – unless we have a need for them to secure the wellbeing of British subjects or prevent a humanitarian crisis.”
The Reapers have carried out more than 4,800 sorties in Afghanistan since 2008. Amnesty International has suggested that their use by the US and UK may, in some cases, constitute war crimes.
Ukrainian Femen protesters prepare to pour buckets of ‘blood’ on themselves before Vladimir Putin’s arrival in Milan. Photograph: Luca Bruno/AP
Lizzy Davies in Milan,
The Ukrainian feminist protest group Femen has staged a two-woman demonstration against Vladimir Putin in Milan, where he is expected to attend a summit of world leaders on Thursday.
The protesters stood in front of Milan’s cathedral and poured buckets of red wine, which they said represented the blood of Ukrainian people, over their bare chests.
The message “Stop ignoring Ukrainian bloodshed” was written on one woman’s torso, while the other made direct reference to the two-day summit of more than 50 European and Asian leaders: “ASEM allies of Putin,” read the message on Femen leader Inna Shevchenko’s chest.
“We believe that welcoming a killer, a person who is killing a whole nation right now – and this Ukrainian blood is right here, is on us – and shaking his hand, is ignoring the big torture, the big killing and the war in Ukraine that is started and supported by Putin,” she told AFPTV.
Although its main purpose is economic, the ASEM summit looks set to be dominated by the security situation in eastern Ukraine, where a fragile ceasefire struck last month has been repeatedly violated. An ongoing dispute over Russian gas supplies to Ukraine is becoming increasingly urgent as winter approaches.
Putin and the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, are scheduled to meet at a breakfast on Friday morning. The Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, will also host David Cameron, Angela Merkel, François Hollande and the EU’s top officials.
It is possible that Putin and Poroshenko may also meet face-to-face in a separate bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the summit. Poroshenko has been quoted as saying the whole world had “high expectations” of his talks with Putin.
Britain’s Tornado jet strikes expected to limit Islamic State advance to aid later, persistent, use of ground forces.
An RAF Tornado jet in Cyprus following air strikes against Isis in Iraq on Tuesday. Photograph: Neil Bryden/PA
Richard Norton-Taylor reporting,
Air strikes by RAF Tornado jets are the least efficient and most expensive way to attack Isis fighters in Iraq. But they are symbolic. They are the most visible evidence of Britain joining military action against Islamic State fighters and have the greatest political impact.
David Cameron, and his foreign and defence secretaries, Philip Hammond and Michael Fallon, have been at pains to stress that bombing would not be enough to defeat Isis, and that the military campaign could last for years.
More accurate missiles and sophisticated radar and infrared night-sight technology should allow the Tornado crews to respect what Fallon has called “very strict rules of engagement, obviously to avoid civilian casualties”, though risks remain.
Yet while bombing from the air is more politically acceptable than “boots on the ground”, a long campaign risks two consequences, analysts warn – public impatience and challenges to the RAF’s resilience.
“This will be a persistent but low intensity campaign waged over a number of years,” said Shashank Joshi, senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute.
He said a comparison could be made with the no fly zones operated by the UK and US over Iraq in the 1990s after the first Gulf war. “They were cautious, low risk, and sustained missions, designed to stabilise the situation rather than drastically change it.”
Joshi added: “I anticipate that the air strikes will become a means of halting [Islamic State’s] advance and softening up their resource base, so that local ground forces can, in due course, take them on with a greater prospect of success. Patience is the key. It is hard to see how the Iraqi army can make significant gains over the next year.”
Isis could collapse much sooner than the government suggests. But if there are no results by Christmas, then the public might, wrongly, said Joshi, assume military action had failed. That was why British ministers, and John Kerry, the US secretary of state, had stressed the long timescale, in previous campaigns not an emphasis normally.
As in any multinational war, such as Kosovo, or the first Gulf war, military strategy would be shaped by the need to keep the countries’ coalition together, analysts, including Joshi, said.
“Air strikes have to be cautious, avoiding high-risk, high-reward targets, because mistakes could compromise Arab and European military support,” he said. “This means that some targets of opportunity will be foregone, even where that comes at the cost of Iraqi army losses on the ground.”
By last weekend American aircraft had flown about 2,500 sorties and hit 270 targets, according to the Pentagon’s central command. But America’s capabilities cannot be compared to those of the UK. In the 1991 Gulf war the RAF had 30 combat squadrons; now it has seven.
The RAF’s latest fighter bombers, the Typhoons, are not equipped with Brimstone missiles, the most accurate and, say analysts, the most suitable weapon to use against Isis. So it is left to the ageing Tornados to pursue what could be a very long campaign.
And just as the campaign of air strikes over Libya in 2011 led Cameron to cancel planned cuts in Tornado squadrons then, a squadron of Tornados due to be axed in April 2015 and replaced by Typhoons, will almost certainly now be saved.