Anglicans see positive role for fracking and gas as bridging fuel

January 20th, 2017

Community groups in a number of countries have been influenced by the international fear campaign against fracking, often lacking resources or determination to undertake their own examination of the facts.

The Anglican Church in the United Kingdom is an exception.

After spending time looking dispassionately at the issues and the evidence it has come to the conclusion that there is a future for natural gas and use of hydraulic fracturing to extract it from underground shale resources.

The Church acknowledges the benefits shale fracking technique has helped deliver in the USA – and while it says it would be unlikely to drive a similar economic watershed in the UK, it could definitely play a positive role for the economy and “as a bridge to a low-carbon energy future”.

The role of natural gas as a bridging fuel to a future of greater use of renewable energy had been embraced by environmentalists before the shale boom in the USA 8-9 years ago.

In the USA, the renewable energy lobby placed considerable effort and funding into changing this acceptance of the “bridging fuel” role when it realised how big a role natural gas could play in simultaneously achieving economic growth and reduced carbon emissions.

This is exactly how it has played out in the USA, with the possibly related consequence of a perceived reduction in need for fast transition to renewable energy.  The shale boom was great news for American industry, particularly manufacturing, which has seen a dramatic  resurgence underpinned by low-price gas energy.

The flipside of that is that Australian manufacturers, such as Incitec Pivot, have chosen to build new manufacturing operations in the US, rather than Australia, for the same reasons of cost and reliability of supply.

In Australia, not only are we missing the boat on new business development and related employment opportunities by blocking natural gas development, we are imposing rising costs and supply uncertainty on tens of thousands of businesses and millions of gas-reliant homes.

The Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull this week told us that South Australia was an example of a State which had too hurriedly tried to make the transition to renewable energy – having moved to about 40% wind and solar power.

The result, Mr Turnbull said, was the highest power prices in the country – and the most unreliable supply – a cause of enormous concern among SA’s biggest industrial employers, all of whom have loudly voiced their concerns to both State and Federal governments.

Back in England, the Anglican church has assessed these dynamics and come to the conclusion that the regulated use of hydraulic fracturing as a technique for economically extracting natural gas and the deployment of that gas in the energy mix could be part of a lower carbon future for the UK.

“Shale gas is a potentially useful element in achieving a transition to a much lower carbon economy,” the Church says.

In addition to the environmental benefits, it also notes the economic potential:

“If UK-produced shale gas is substituted for imported carbon-based energy sources, it would be to the benefit of the balance of payments (the nation’s ledger of imports and exports).  It would also generate an additional tax-take for the Exchequer (the national Treasury),” the Church says.

Addressing the point of activists everywhere, that regulation is not strong enough to protect the environment, the Church concludes the following:

“The UK has one of the most stringent regulatory regimes in the world.

“Having concluded that shale gas may be a useful component in transitioning to a low carbon economy, we are persuaded that a robust planning and regulatory regime could be constructed.”

It notes the need for  “constant vigilance” and “ongoing research and monitoring” to ensure there are no effects on environment and health.

That is an approach everyone  should be able to embrace.

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