Natural gas production using fracking in Europe is likely to result in a significant increase of CO2 emissions, a study has found.
Research led by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam, Germany looked at the greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions likely to come from future shale gas production through fracking in Germany and the UK.
The research, published in the journal Elementa – Science of the Anthropocene, found that CO2 emissions from shale gas production could exceed current emissions from conventional gas production in Germany by over a third.
The findings call into question the environmental viability of natural gas, which is often viewed as a ‘bridge’ fuel between fossil fuels and renewable energy sources.
‘If shale gas becomes a reality in Europe, the risks arising from that will have to be minimised through strict adherence to environmental standards,’ said IASS researcher Lorenzo Cremonese.
Hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’, a process which uses pressurised liquid to fracture shale rock and release natural gas, is starting to be explored more in Europe as conventional gas reserves dwindle and countries look to phase coal out of their energy mix.
However, the process is controversial, especially in the UK, where campaigners have long challenged its introduction for health and environmental reasons.
The researchers estimated the amounts of chemicals that would be released into the atmosphere through fracking through the lens of two emissions scenarios: a ‘realistic’ scenario and an ‘optimistic’ scenario.
These estimates took into account the estimated productivities of shale gas reservoirs, local capacity, and the technologies used.
The team found that while methane leakage rates in the ‘optimistic’ scenario were close to official estimates on fracking, the more realistic methane rates exceeded these estimates by a large margin.
Using shale gas to generate electricity would also be up to 35% more emissions-intensive than current conventional gas production, they added.
While the team found that fracking will have little to no effect on overall national emissions of air pollutants like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, they warned that emissions of these pollutants could still have health impacts locally and regionally.
Cremonese said that the obvious differences between the ‘optimistic’ and ‘realistic’ emissions scenarios highlight the importance of improving existing technologies and practices to reduce emissions.
‘In light of the climate crisis, the environmental risks posed by gas emissions need to move quickly onto the agenda in policymaking and in negotiations with the gas industry in order to keep the adverse effects of a European shale gas industry to an absolute minimum,’ Cremonese said.
The study strikes another blow to the UK’s fledgling fracking industry, which has struggled to get off the ground due to the country’s strict regulations on the practice.
Today the Labour Party urged the government to ban fracking for good, warning that it would ‘eliminate’ the UK’s chance of hitting its target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
Ken Cronin, chief executive of the industry body UK Onshore Oil and Gas, commented: ‘This study ultimately concludes that UK shale gas would have a realistic emissions rate as low as 0.35%, making it one of the environmentally best-performing gas producing nations.
‘It is important to remember that the UK shale gas industry is stringently regulated and we monitor emissions before, during and after operations, a process overseen by the Environment Agency, to ensure our impact on the air and environment is minimal.’
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