The UK government has welcomed new developments in "unconventional" gas resources. It is largely a let's-wait-and-see response, which acknowledges the economic, environmental and security benefits of shale gas. Calls from environmentalist campaigners to freeze exploration in the UK have been given the bum's rush.
France, which has a nuclear industry to protect, has slapped a moratorium on shale gas exploration; the Oscar-nominated movie Gaslands purported to show methane-contaminated water caused by "fracking", or hydraulic fracturing. Undeterred, the British government's response to the Energy and Climate Change Committee's report on shale gas concludes that there is "no evidence that the hydraulic fracturing process itself poses a direct risk to underground water aquifers. That hypothetical and unproven risk [our emphasis] must be balanced against the energy security benefits that shale gas could provide to the UK. We conclude that, on balance, a moratorium in the UK is not justified or necessary at present."
The benefits to the economy (and carbon targets) could be huge – and the government worries about the UK falling behind.
"We are concerned that there could be adverse competitive consequences for the UK if Poland unilaterally develops its shale gas resources within the EU, particularly if their energy policy is driven by energy security," the response reads.
And there's an interested aside: "There is substantial evidence that UK offshore unconventional gas resources could dwarf the potential onshore supplies. While these might be economically unviable at present, 'uneconomic' reserves can become economic quickly as technology and prices shift," according to the response.
Currently there isn't any offshore shale gas extraction anywhere in the world: it's all onshore.
The government recommends that the UK watch Poland, the "barometer of Europe", to see what can be learned. It also calls on the Energy Department to revise policy to take account of cheap gas from new sources from now on.
The Gaslands movie showed dramatic footage of householders setting light to the water coming from their taps – which phenomenon director Josh Fox said had been caused by fracking. Fox recently admitted knowing before he started shooting the film that the area had a long history of methane-contaminated water going back decades, but said it had "no bearing" on the decision.