Further to our previous report “On Shaky Ground: Government sets out draft fracking regulations, but is it enough?” from July 2015, the industry-funded Task Force on Shale Gas published its third interim report on 16 September 2015.

This latest report focuses upon the role fracking can play in helping to meet the UK’s climate change targets.

The report concluded that the UK will still need to transition to renewable and low carbon energy sources in the long term, in order to meet its climate change targets. However, in the short and medium term it is not feasible to create a renewable industry that can meet the UK’s energy needs as a whole; so shale gas should be pursued as a “transitional fuel”, replacing coal while the renewable industry grows.

The Task Force also suggested shale gas as a way of reducing the UK’s dependence on imported energy. The report noted that nearly half of the UK’s net energy supply came from imports in 2013 – the highest level of imported energy since 1974.

The report acknowledged studies which had indicated that the climate impact of shale gas is greater than that of conventional natural gas extraction. However, the report went on to explain that these findings were based on US studies, made before the implementation of green completions was mandatory. According to the report, so long as on completion wells are properly closed, methane can be captured rather than flared, mitigating the climate risk. On this basis, the report concluded that “the impact of shale gas on the climate is similar to that of conventional gas and less than that of liquefied natural gas”.

In order to minimise the climate impact of gas extraction in the UK, the Task Force propose pursuing shale gas extraction in a way that is properly regulated, implemented and monitored. It proposes using the government energy specific revenue derived from a developed shale gas industry to invest in R&D and innovation in carbon capture and storage technologies, and low carbon energy generation, storage and distribution.

The Task Force will publish a fourth interim report, which examines the economics of a shale gas industry in the UK, in the next few months, and a final, cumulative report will follow in April 2016. Watch this space for commentary when they come.