Shale gas is one of the least sustainable ways to produce electricity, research finds

January 15, 2018, University of Manchester
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Shale gas is one of least sustainable options for producing electricity, according to new research from The University of Manchester.

Taking into account a range of sustainability aspects and assuming that they are all equally important, the research found that overall ranks seventh out of nine electricity options. The study also found that:

  • Shale gas ranks between the fourth and eighth relative to other electricity options
  • To become the most sustainable option, large improvements would be needed
  • This includes a 329-fold reduction in environmental impacts and a 16-fold increase in employment
  • An electricity mix with less rather than more shale gas is more sustainable

The major study, which is the first of its kind, considered environmental, economic and social sustainability of shale gas in the UK and compared it to other electricity generating options. These were coal, nuclear, natural gas, liquefied natural gas (LNG), solar photovoltaics (PV), wind, hydro and biomass.

The study, published in Science of The Total Environment, compared shale gas and the other electricity options against 18 sustainability indicators. Of these, 11 were environmental, three economic and four social. Examples of the indicators considered include , environmental pollution, costs of electricity, creation of jobs and public perceptions.

The Government believes shale gas has the potential to provide the UK with greater energy security, growth and jobs. And it is "encouraging safe and environmentally sound exploration to determine this potential".

But the researchers found that for shale gas to be considered as sustainable as the best options, such as wind and solar PV, huge improvements would be needed.

This includes a 329-fold reduction in environmental impacts and 16 times higher employment in the sector.

The environmental and social sustainability of shale gas would also need to improve by up to a 100 times for it to compete with domestic and imported LNG.

Prof. Adisa Azapagic, from the School of Chemical Engineering & Analytical Science, says: '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.'

Whilst the current Government and industry are keen to develop shale gas, Scotland has banned fracking and in the rest of the UK there is strong opposition. This comes from numerous stakeholders, including non-governmental organisations (NGOs), local residents and activists across the country.

The impacts on the environment from fracking are the main argument against the exploitation of shale gas. But its supporters highlight improved national and economic development as key benefits.

Prof. Azapagic, Professor of Sustainable Chemical Engineering, added: '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 mix would be more sustainable with a lower rather than a higher share of shale gas.'

The research team say these results can now help inform UK policy makers, industry, NGOs and consumers. They will also be of interest to other countries considering exploitation of shale gas.

Explore further: Fracking's environmental impacts scrutinised

More information: Jasmin Cooper et al. Sustainability of UK shale gas in comparison with other electricity options: Current situation and future scenarios, Science of The Total Environment (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.11.140

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Display comments: newest first

1.7 / 5 (12) Jan 15, 2018
When GE can find a way to keep wind turbines from freezing up in the dead middle of winter just when we need them most, then maybe I'll give your criticism about shale gas some serious thought, otherwise stop talking stupid.
4.4 / 5 (7) Jan 15, 2018
Nordex's Anti-Icing System consists of an ice sensor mounted on a nacelle and heating devices built into turbine blades. The sensor continuously monitors conditions and, if an icing event appears likely, the blade's heating elements are automatically activated. There is no requirement to stop or reduce turbine operation while the anti-icing system is at work
From - https://www.windp...-blades/
Thorium Boy
2.3 / 5 (9) Jan 15, 2018
So New York refused to allowing fracking. But thought nothing of using fracked fuel from N. Dakota. Now, New York is suing oil companies. When does New York fully give up the use of fossil fuels? Or are they the usual democrat hypocrites?
2.1 / 5 (11) Jan 15, 2018
Nordex's Anti-Icing System consists of an ice sensor mounted on a nacelle and heating devices built into turbine blades. The sensor continuously monitors conditions and, if an icing event appears likely, the blade's heating elements are automatically activated. There is no requirement to stop or reduce turbine operation while the anti-icing system is at work

Greeno.....the anti-icing system does not work very well, & when it is working it requires a huge chunk of the output energy to be diverted back to the turbine to keep the lubricants from turning back into jelly. I know way more than you as to what these systems can tolerate in extreme cold.....try not pretending to be smarter than this Nuclear/Electrical Engineer, you can't cut it.
2.1 / 5 (7) Jan 15, 2018
"This includes a 329-fold reduction in environmental impacts and a 16-fold increase in employment"

How does raising employment increase the sustainability of an electric power source? Making power more expensive does not help society.
5 / 5 (7) Jan 16, 2018
try not pretending to be smarter than this Nuclear/Electrical Engineer, you can't cut it.

If you'd be half as smart as you think you are, you'd be three times as smart as you actually are. In the field of arrogance, however, you have few serious competitors for the title.
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 16, 2018
The results determined by the study were at least partially determined by the weights the studies authors assigned to each energy production type. While some are pure metrics and easy to compare, others seem designed (social impact?) to allow the authors to insert fudge factors to get any numbers they wanted to.

So in this particular case I just do not trust the study to produce anything productive.
5 / 5 (5) Jan 16, 2018
Even if you don't agree with the summary evaluation the relative positioning of the various energy sources with respect to the criteria they looked at is still valid.

By any measure on this list shale gas/fracking doesn't do well.
not rated yet Jan 16, 2018
Not enough information here to understand how good or bad shale gas is. I'd assume up front that it loses to wind, solar and hydro. The important thing is how it compares to coal and other gas based electricity production. Pity the article has so little actual information.

Edit: According to the Independent, coal is below shale gas in sustainability. Not a lot more information there, but still, I'm disappointed that has less actual information than a general news site.
3 / 5 (8) Jan 16, 2018
.....try not pretending to be smarter than this Nuclear/Electrical Engineer, you can't cut it.

You have that typical smart-and-itelligent-person way of putting things.

3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 16, 2018
The whole conversion of electric plants from coal to natural gas is predicated on shale gas being viable and available in large quantities. If this is not true then there will be severe power shortages without the coal plants. This winter will prove how much we rely on a dwindling supply of gas. As far as I know Mackita is correct when he claims that the shale gas wells have a high depletion rate. We had all better pray that these wells can be drilled at a profit with current gas prices or we will have tremendous energy shortages in the US and very high price increases.
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 16, 2018
The professors idea that domestic natural gas is more sustainable than shale gas is a non starter because shale gas is only drilled when the more productive conventional gas well sites cannot be found. LNG is much more expensive than shale due to compression and transportation costs. Shale drilling is really an omen that predicts an impeding energy crisis. It is just a stopgap measure until other sources of energy are developed.

4.7 / 5 (3) Jan 16, 2018
Despite wrapping themselves in "The Flag" and apple pie (messy!). With a pretension of patriotism, the Carbon Industry are just old fashion smash & grab marauders.

Just another version of 'gold rush fever'. Just as destructive, just as lacking in any civic virtues.

Totally irresponsible and without any redeeming features. Otherwise they'd clean up after themselves. They wouldn't be stealing and wasting other peoples property. They wouldn't be cheating the property owners. They wouldn't be encouraging corruption all up and down the political system.

The amusing part of watching these half-wits bombast? Is knowing that they continue the same stupid mistakes of the 49'ers and other starry-eyed fools.

Pssst! Hey you. Yes, you! Let me tell you a secret. "Fortunes are not made prospecting for gold or oil. No, really! The multi-generational fortunes are made selling supplies, equipment, booze, porn and all the rest the dummy prospector needs.
4 / 5 (2) Jan 16, 2018
RR in as much as the entire US political system, Republicans and equally if not more Democrats, is controlled by the biggest businesses I agree with you about today's greed. But that could be fixed by an informed public voting for a new type of leadership. Now this will frost your A$$ but Trump is a true outsider and we need more like him. But no, you will continue to follow the established parties right over the cliff. Perhaps parties is the wrong word, there is only one party with 2 different masks.
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 16, 2018
So New York refused to allowing fracking. But thought nothing of using fracked fuel from N. Dakota. Now, New York is suing oil companies. When does New York fully give up the use of fossil fuels? Or are they the usual democrat hypocrites?

Best way to refer to NY State is "NYC". NYC has the "2050 Plan" to use 50% solar and wind by 2050. Pure president wanabee Andrew Coumo hyperbole and hypocracy. Its more hypocritical than you think.

At its height you could stand on a high hill here and look over to see fracking rigs making Pennsylvanian's rich. Upstate NY is economically depressed due to the imposition of NYC's tax and spend economics. NYC urban dwellers "green" concerns take no account of its colony of Upstate. Because the gas production is so close its pipelines and low price benefits have spilled over for us. Our economic dependence grows. Absolutely no adverse environmental effects have taken place in this Marcellus shale play.
2 / 5 (4) Jan 16, 2018

Before Coumo banned fracking you should have seen the local parasites salivating for the well-head tax revenues. By 2008 the local public employee unions began extorting exorbitant compensation even before the oil/gas flowed. Coumo's idiotic plan reduces NYC's Upstate colony to a solar panel, transmission line, and windmill plantation. His hypocritical BS plan hinders real progress to green objectives.

Total and complete NYC BS.
1 / 5 (1) Jan 16, 2018
I don't know that much about the geology of UKs shale other than the Marcellus and UK's shales much the same. The geology of the US's and Russia's oil and gas shale is immensely more advantageous than the rest of the world, so this has little applicability to us.
1 / 5 (1) Jan 16, 2018
Typical shale gas well ceases its production by one half http://www.euanme...lls.png.

The decline curves are steep, however, technical changes and economics are mitigating that problem some. One is in order to balance the supply and demand curves the wells are not being drawn down as fast as possible. Additionally, the technology is extending the productive period. If you are relying on Art Behrman for info, it is extremely stilted.
3 / 5 (1) Jan 16, 2018
An example of how the shale gas and oil production is not so limited is the geology. The shale hydrocarbons are typically in a relatively thin layer. A pad can sink one vertical bore and disperse as much as 20 miles of horizontal pipe into one layer. Shale plays have multiple dispersed layers, so the pad well can move up, down, and horizontal for additional hydrocarbons. The Marcellus has 4 or 5 depending where and the big Permian has up to 22. And then there is the Wolffcamp.

Art Behrman is full of it.
3 / 5 (2) Jan 16, 2018
Turgent one can only pray that shale continues to be economically feasible. If not we are really in trouble in the US as far as land drilling goes. Trump is opening up more offshore drilling. Bless him for we need every oz of inexpensive fossil fuel we can muster to avoid financial collapse.
5 / 5 (1) Jan 16, 2018
"A pad can sink one vertical bore and disperse as much as 20 miles of horizontal pipe into one layer."

But the pad is not the expensive part is it? Horizontal drilling has got to be a lot more expensive than vertical drilling so each layer could be as costly as a new well, no?
5 / 5 (1) Jan 16, 2018
Never mind the bullocks as someone screamed out from scenes a lot of years back. Some communities of course welcome fracking as it gives something in return. But it is total folly!
It is as folly as the todays holder of one of the mightiest seats of global power doesn`t believe that global warming depending on human behaviour is a fact. In that case it must be an punishement from the almighty GOD! If you for some reason do not believe in either of these theories - you might be an academic. My advice to all thinkers is that be VERY restrictant to advocate any good from fracking for whatever purpose given. The ordinary (if existing) global inhibitant will have only sorrows from fracking. We are one colony of humans on this planet so why should we prosper on eachother?
1 / 5 (1) Jan 16, 2018
It is getting hard to say now. The technology is mind boggling. I believe a dry hole hasn't been dug in 3 years and a low productivity well in 2. It may be expensive but the return on investment is highly competitive.

Should a top pipe leak when they pressurize it can cut a man in half.

When drilling they are data linked to massive computers which are largely sonar processors.
2 / 5 (8) Jan 16, 2018
Trump's benefit is he is a disrupter.
5 / 5 (5) Jan 16, 2018
.try not pretending to be smarter than this Nuclear/Electrical Engineer
I am not too impressed by a nuclear engineer who can't even use google. The issue on the table is your assertion that we don't know how to "keep turbines from freezing up in the dead of winter." There is plenty of information available through google - I have just spent 30 minutes or so reinforcing my understanding that you are not a very well informed engineer. Here one quote for you
For proof, you only need to look at the cold snap of January 2013, when Quebec wind farms operated at full capacity for many days despite temperatures staying below -25°C
From - http://friendsofw...limates/
1 / 5 (1) Jan 16, 2018
Gotta love Saudi funded 'studies'.
2.3 / 5 (6) Jan 16, 2018
To become "sustainable" requires a 16-fold increase in employment? This tells you everything you need to know about the silliness of this "study". In the real world, efficiency is one of the most compelling reasons to adopt a power generation technology. In the bizarre world of Greenies it's a reason to reject it. Welcome to their Luddite vision of Utopia.
5 / 5 (3) Jan 17, 2018
Just statements no evidence or facts. This study is a joke.

Do you realize the irony of what you just wrote? No? How did you learn how to breathe?
not rated yet Jan 22, 2018
University of Manchester is all you really have to know to realize this is voodoo. Shale gas is cheaper than the competitors which means it is the cheapest electricity source. When the study talks about electricity to be sustainable it needs more workers that means more costs for you. When your power bill is 1000 dollars a week , the study authors would be ecstatic and write how sustainable everything was. In their bizarro world, sustainable means less for you and more for them.

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