Saturday 20 October, 12.15pm until 1.15pm, Garden Room
While headlines have been dominated by financial instability in Europe and the fallout from the Arab Spring, another revolution has quietly taken place: the energy crisis may be over. The discovery of enormous reserves of readily exploitable shale gas and other ‘unconventional’ sources of energy have transformed previously pessimistic discussions around an ‘energy crunch’, with predictions that the US could be entirely self-sufficient by 2030, and the UK and Europe not far behind. Not only might Western nations no longer need to rely on volatile supplies from the Middle East: some leading experts suggest North America could become its rival, even its supplier. The spectres of brown-outs, oil shocks, and fuel rationing could be now banished to the last millennium.
Yet beyond such optimistic possibilities, serious questions remain. Deep-water oil drilling and tar sands are far from allaying fears over the safety practices and sustainability of the ‘dirty’ fossil fuel industry. While shale gas is relatively clean, the process of ‘fracking’ has met with hostility from environmental campaigners, with a forthcoming Matt Damon film The Promised Land joining Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland in opposition. Despite scientific studies stating that the earthquakes caused by fracking are no more dangerous than those regularly caused by conventional mining techniques, there remains considerable opposition to exploiting this resource. The UK government has given the go-ahead to fracking only with the promise of strict regulation, while France, Bulgaria and some US town councils have already issued moratoriums. Inside the industry, there are fears that the massive infrastructural overhaul required to make gas a viable alternative may hamper the potential offered by this abundant and cheap supply. The ongoing controversies over nuclear power, with Germany acting to close all reactors by 2017, offer a reminder of what can happen to an energy industry without strong political and social support. The gas might well be there, the technique might well be safe, but there is no guarantee we will use it.
Is the end of an energy crisis really in sight, or do the problems go much further than supply? What future do other energy sources – such as solar, wind, biofuels and even nuclear – have to play in our energy provision? Will a plentiful energy supply blind us to the need to address the concerns regarding climate change? Are there reasons to be nervous about the long-term strategic impacts that ‘quick fix’ unconventional fossil fuels provide, or should we celebrate a future free from resource shortages? With what has been called a ‘Golden Age of Gas’ now a real possibility, just how should we evaluate ‘breaking the earth’ in return for cheap energy supplies?
WATCH THE DEBATE
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vice president, Statoil (US onshore operations)
environment correspondent, Guardian
|Professor Hywel Thomas|
pro vice-chancellor, International and Engagement, Cardiff University; fellow, Royal Academy of Engineering
associate fellow, Institute of Ideas
The Treasury is consulting on a “generous new tax regime” for the emerging shale gas industry so that the UK is not left out of the worldwide dash for gas, George Osborne told the Tory conference.Jim Pickard, Sylvia Pfeifer and Pilita Clark, Financial Times, 8 October 2012
Letter from climate change committee slams government over comments suggesting unabated gas can play a role in the energy mix after 2030James Murray, Guardian, 13 September 2012
The battle against runaway climate change is being lost. The green movement and the energy industry — while engaged in a furious debate on issues from nuclear power to oil sands — are missing the bigger picture.Alan Riley, New York Times, 13 August 2012
New sources of gas could transform the world’s energy markets, says Simon Wright—but it won’t be quick or easySmion Wright, Economist, 14 July 2012
The health, safety and environmental risks associated with hydraulic fracturing (often termed ‘fracking’) as a means to extract shale gas can be managed effectively in the UK as long as operational best practices are implemented and enforced through regulation. Hydraulic fracturing is an established technology that has been used in the oil and gas industries for many decades. The UK has 60 years’ experience of regulating onshore and offshore oil and gas industries.The Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering, 1 June 2012
There are plans to use more gas in future – not just in the UK but across the world. From the point of view of climate change, this would be a disaster. But given rising gas prices, it also looks like bad news for our energy bills. This briefing sets out why we need to reduce our dependence on gas – not just for environmental, but economic reasons too.Friends of the Earth, 12 March 2012