America loves fracking, but other parts of the world are not so crazy about the idea of filling the Earth full of carcinogenic chemicals in order to extract natural gas from shale deposits. The process is banned outright in Scotland. France has announced it will not permit any new fracking operations. In the UK, fracking is being looked at as a possible fuel for new electric generation facilities. The government is “encouraging safe and environmentally sound exploration” to determine the potential for shale gas to provide energy security and create jobs, according to a report in Science Daily.
Researchers at the University of Manchester have conducted their own inquiry. In a study that looks at 11 different parameters — some economic and some social — it ranks shale gas seventh among the nine possible sources of electricity currently available. Published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, the study is the first to consider social as well as economic costs. Those criteria include climate change impacts, environmental pollution, costs of electricity, creation of jobs, and public perception.
In the abstract of the study, the researchers write, “Many countries are considering exploitation of shale gas but its overall sustainability is currently unclear. Previous studies focused mainly on environmental aspects of shale gas, largely in the US, with scant information on socio-economic aspects. To address this knowledge gap, this paper integrates for the first time environmental, economic and social aspects of shale gas to evaluate its overall sustainability.”
Professor Adisa Azapagic of the School of Chemical Engineering & Analytical Science writes that the study “for the first time looks not only at the environmental impacts but the economic and social aspects of shale gas as well.”
“This enables us to evaluate its overall sustainability rather than focusing on single issues, such as water pollution, traffic, and noise, which have dominated the debate on shale gas so far.
“The results of this study clearly show that, assuming equal importance of the environmental, economic and social aspects, shale gas ranks seventh out of the nine electricity options, which means most other options for electricity generation are more sustainable. The results also suggest that any future electricity mix would be more sustainable with a lower rather than a higher share of shale gas.”
To equal the highest ranked electricity sources — wind and solar — shale gas would need to slash its environmental impacts by 329 times and increase its employment opportunities by 16 times. Those are steep hurdles to get over. Biomass and hydro also ranked low in the researchers’ analysis, coming in eighth and ninth respectively.
The report concludes with this thought: “A future electricity mix (2030) would be more sustainable with a lower rather than a higher share of shale gas. These results serve to inform UK policy makers, industry and non-governmental organisations. They will also be of interest to other countries considering exploitation of shale gas.”