Posted in | Biofuels | Sustainability

Study Discovers that Shale Gas is a Least Sustainable Alternative to Generate Electricity

A new study carried out at The University of Manchester indicates that shale gas is one of the least sustainable alternatives for generating electricity.

Considering a wide array of sustainability characteristics, and presuming that they are all equally significant, the study discovered that overall, shale gas is graded seventh among nine electricity alternatives. The research also discovered that:

  • Shale gas is graded from the fourth to the eighth place when compared to other electricity alternatives
  • Making it the most sustainable alternative mandates significant enhancements
  • This involves a 329-fold decrease in environmental influences and a 16 times higher employment
  • An electricity blend with less as against more shale gas is highly sustainable

The crucial research, which is one of a kind, took into account economic, environmental and social sustainability of shale gas in the United Kingdom and contrasted it with other electricity producing alternatives. These were natural gas, coal, liquefied natural gas (LNG), wind, nuclear, hydro, solar photovoltaics (PV) and biomass.

The research, which compares shale gas and the other electricity alternatives as opposed to 18 sustainability indicators, has been reported in the journal Science of the Total Environment. Of the indicators, three were economic, 11 were environmental and four were social. Climate change impacts, creation of jobs, environmental pollution, public perceptions and costs of electricity are the examples of the indicators taken into account.

The Government is convinced that shale gas has the ability to ensure greater energy security, growth, and jobs in the United Kingdom. Moreover, it is “encouraging safe and environmentally sound exploration to determine this potential.”

However, the scientists discovered that if shale gas has to be regarded as sustainable and as the best alternatives, such as solar PV and wind, large enhancements would be mandated.

This involves a 329-fold decrease in environmental influences and 16-fold higher employment in the sector.

The social and environmental sustainability of shale gas should also be enhanced by nearly 100 times as it has to compete with imported LNG and domestic natural gas.

Many countries are considering exploitation of shale gas but its overall sustainability is disputed. Previous studies focused mainly on environmental aspects of shale gas, largely in the US, with scant information on socio-economic aspects.

To address this knowledge gap our research, for the first time, looks not only at the environmental impacts but the economic and social aspects of shale gas as well. This enables us to evaluate its overall sustainability rather than focusing on single issues, such as water pollution, traffic and noise, which have dominated the debate on shale gas so far.

Professor Adisa Azapagic, School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science

Although the prevalent UK Government and industry are eager to enhance shale gas, fracking is banned in Scotland and there is strong resistance in the remaining United Kingdom, from a number of stakeholders, such as local residents, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and activists all over the country.

The harmful influences of fracking on the environment are the main disagreement with the extraction of shale gas. However, its promoters underscore enhanced national energy security and economic development as the important advantages.

The results of this study clearly show that, assuming equal importance of the environmental, economic and social aspects, shale gas ranks seventh out of the nine electricity options, which means most other options for electricity generation are more sustainable.

The results also suggest that any future electricity mix would be more sustainable with a lower rather than a higher share of shale gas.

Professor Adisa Azapagic, School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science

According to the researchers, the outcomes of the study can at present help inform industry, consumers, UK policy makers, and NGOs. They will also be of appeal to other countries looking to extract shale gas.

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