Prime Minister David Cameron at an IGas fracking site in Gainsborough on 13th January 2014, Photo: Number 10 (CC BY-NC-ND).
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Forget fracking - efficiency and renewables are the key to energy security
Tony Bosworth / FoE
27th May 2015
Shale gas advocates say we must open up the UK to fracking to reduce our dependence on Russian gas, writes Tony Bosworth. But why not just burn less of the stuff? Energy efficiency and renewables can achieve the same aim without the adverse impacts on land, water and climate.
The best way to reduce the energy security risks associated with the UK's growing gas import dependence is to promote renewable power generation, improve energy efficiency and reduce overall energy demand.
Parents throughout history have used the bogeyman to try to scare children into good behaviour.
Shale gas supporters have seized on Vladimir Putin as their bogeyman, frightening the British public with stories of him cutting off our gas so we'll all be freezing in the dark.
The rhetoric has been cranked up since the start of the Ukraine conflict, and David Cameron has said it's "our duty" to embrace fracking. Put alongside instability in the Middle East, the fracking lobby see an unanswerable case for UK shale gas as a guarantee of our energy security.
With North Sea gas production falling, unless we get fracking, we will become more dependent on unpalatable regimes and unstable parts of the world for our gas.
But there are two things they're not telling you. One - even if the UK succeeded in going all out for shale, it wouldn't reduce our reliance on foreign gas, in part because of the decline in production of gas from the North Sea.
Two - there is a much better way to reduce the amount of foreign gas we import. Use less of it.
Erm ... ever heard of energy efficiency, Mr Cameron?
Friends of the Earth's new report shows that introducing policies to reduce gas use through energy efficiency would succeed in lowering gas imports over the next 15 years. That's something no other avenue can deliver.
The potential is huge, equivalent to more than double the amount of shale gas we could get out of the ground by 2030. The problem is that the Government is starting with the wrong question - asking 'how we can get more gas?' rather than 'how much gas do we really need?'
This ignores the real threat - climate change. Globally, known fossil fuel reserves are already much more than we can afford to burn if we want to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. UK shale gas would just add to this unburnable carbon.
Thankfully, our analysis shows there's a lot we can do. Gas use in homes - for heating and cooking - accounts for about 40% of total UK gas use. A proper programme of energy efficiency, bringing every home up to a reasonable standard - starting with the homes of the fuel-poor - could cut domestic gas use by 40%. Big savings are also possible in industry, commerce and the public sector.
And shifting from fossil fuels for electricity generation, as recommended by the Government's advisors in the Committee for Climate Change would also reduce gas use significantly.
It's the win-win-win option. So why aren't we getting on with it?
On the supply side, we can do much more with bioenergy, generated from sources such as municipal waste and sewage sludge. Our analysis shows that this 'Climate Safe' approach could cut how much gas we need to import by about a third.
And, according to figures from National Grid, we could get virtually all of that from Norway - not, nor likely to become, an unstable part of the world.
Overall, our approach means we import less gas, don't frack the UK, and is far better for tackling climate change.
Energy security expert Professor Michael Bradshaw summed this up well in a prescient report he wrote for Friends of the Earth three years ago:
"The best way to reduce the energy security risks associated with the UK's growing gas import dependence is to ... promote renewable power generation, improve energy efficiency and reduce overall energy demand."
So the fracking lobby's energy security argument is just like the bogeyman - an empty threat that that doesn't really exist.
Tony Bosworth is energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth England & Wales. He tweets @tonybosworth.
This article was originally published on FoE's blog.
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