YES The benefits of developing any source of power need to be weighed against the overall environmental impact, and exploring for shale gas is no different. The potential rewards are enormous. In the US – the only country that has widely developed shale gas production – natural gas prices are now less than a quarter of those in the UK, while energy imports are falling.
A recent report by Citigroup forecast that lower energy costs would lead to a rapid reindustrialisation in the US, creating around three million new jobs by 2020. The environment has also benefited. New gas-fired power stations in the US have tended to replace dirtier coal-fired plants, while American cities are starting to experience the clean-air advantages of buses powered by natural gas.
With an estimated 200trn cubic feet of natural gas lying beneath our rocks – enough to meet our energy needs for 70 years – a similar revolution is possible in Britain. That doesn't mean safety concerns such as earthquakes and water contamination should be ignored. In April, a UK government panel of scientific experts gave the go-ahead for further shale exploration, subject to stringent safety standards.
The report noted that while fracking in Lancashire caused two minor earthquakes last year, coal mining has for years caused earthquakes of a similarly small magnitude.
Lax standards at a few of the 22,000 shale wells in the US have focused media attention, but that shouldn't blind us to the economic and environmental benefits of natural gas. Subject to strong regulation, fracking should go ahead.
Corin Taylor is a senior economic adviser at the IoD
NO Shale gas is not the answer to the UK's energy problems. There are real concerns about the impact on the local environment and on human health. The potential water contamination, the risk of earth tremors and air pollution are serious concerns.
The industry claims to have these under control but evidence from the US, where the sector has grown significantly over the past decade, shows that this is not the case. Water has been contaminated by the shale gas methane and by the toxic fluids being used to frack the wells.
The key problem surrounding fracking is climate change. Supporters of the process might claim that shale gas has lower carbon emissions than coal but the jury is still out. In fact there is peer-reviewed evidence showing that shale gas has a bigger impact on climate change than coal. Methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas, is leaking from the wells and not being captured.
Fracking is not the way to meet Britain's climate change targets or its power needs. The UK must start moving fast to decarbonise the way in which it generates electricity, which is critical if it is going to meet its legally binding carbon emissions targets.
Britain needs to be generating the majority of its electricity from renewable power sources such as wind, wave and solar, which are all forms of clean energy. And gas should be playing a less significant role in meeting demand for electricity than it is now.
Tony Bosworth is climate and energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth