Shale gas reserves in the UK.
A recent review by an independent body for the UK government, has concluded that extracting Shale gas from below the water table can be safe if adequately monitored and regulated. The process of releasing natural gas which has been trapped in hard to extract levels of rock, offers many countries a way to increase their own reserves of gas. The trapped resource can be liberated by using the controversial procedure known as "Fracking". The process involves pumping high levels of water, sand and chemicals into shale rock at high pressure to create fractures and fissures. The gas can then escape and be used for power generation, becoming a cheaper alternative to North Sea gas.
The United Kingdom could be following in the lead of Canada and the United States, both of these countries have increased their interest and investment in this abundant natural resource over the last decade. Analysts believe that one fifth of the United States power generation now comes from Shale gas reserves. By the middle of this century as much as 40% of its energy could be met by this fuel reserve. The exploitation of Shale gas by the North American countries has secured their own gas supplies well into the next century.
Since the end of the Second World War the United Kingdom there has been a continued reliance on dwindling natural gas supplies from old North Sea fields. Recent estimates suggest over half of the usable capacity of oil and gas has already been used, and demand on the resources continues to grow. As an alternative many energy suppliers import more expensive supplies from Scandinavia and the Baltic states into places such as Easington on the North East coast. The cost of importing foreign gas into the UK, runs into tens of billions of pounds. Current progress within the United Kingdom has been hampered in recent years by environmental concerns and caution over the full effects of the tiny explosions used to release the trapped fuel. In 2011 work was halted on extraction due to two earth tremors in the area around the seaside town of Blackpool, the subterranean explosions used in the extraction were suspected as been responsible for the minor seismic events around the Lancashire resort.
The greater concern is over the harmful effects caused by the mining process on the water supplies for the local area. Many of the chemicals used in the process are recognised cancer causing agents, and leakage into the water table is an obvious risk. On top of the danger to local water supplies, many critics of Shale gas believe that it will contribute to further climate change due to its abundance and lower cost. Although Shale Gas represents greener energy than coal, oil or nuclear powered stations, it does not offer the clean renewable energy we see from solar energy or wind turbines.
Shale gas in the United Kingdom maybe a necessary evil, whilst longer term energy solutions are researched and implemented. In the last year alone we have seen delays in schemes such as the European backed North African solar array project by the Desertec initiative. By setting up powerful solar arrays in Morocco, they planned to transport solar produced electricity under the Mediterranean sea using under water power cables. Within the United Kingdom the general public have little affection for nuclear power stations near to their homes and opposition to further inland wind turbines construction is growing steadily.
Is the exploitation of more fuel reserves essential, no matter the environmental cost?
With billions of pounds worth of Shale gas untapped throughout the United Kingdom, the resource offers a viable stopgap resource while other alternative renewable fuels are found or new technologies are perfected to help lower emissions and reduce risks. The exploitation of the reserves would also boost the economies of regions which have never really recovered from the coal mine closures of the 1980's. With tight regulation and good practice, Shale gas could reduce the burden of foreign oil dependency for the next couple of decades.
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