Letter to the Independent 26 March, 2012
Published with only slight modification on 17 April, 2012.
Lord Browne, the former head of BP and now head of Cuadrilla, has joined a list of powerful but scientifically illiterate individuals who have been persuaded by the fossil fuel lobby that Shale Gas is the answer to the world’s future energy needs. (“Fracking could bring UK 50.000 jobs”, says Browne 26 March.) In his State of the Union address in January this year, President Obama stated : “We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly one hundred years, and my Administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy. Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade.”
Osborne followed suit in his budget statement last week: “Gas is cheap, has much less carbon than coal and will be the largest single source of our electricity in the coming years”.
The problem with shale gas is that fracking results in atmospheric releases of methane twice that encountered with conventional gas. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 70 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 20 year time frame. In order for shale gas to be environmentally friendlier than other fossil fuels, it is necessary to keep methane emissions from fracking below 2%. Current operations release around 10% and in the US the fossil fuel industry is strenuously resisting methane control legislation by the EPA. It appears that they have the key politicians on their side.
Dr Robin Russell-Jones MA FRCP FRCPath