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expert reaction to Truss’ announcement on energy / fracking

Liz Truss has announced her energy strategy for the UK.


Professor Geoffrey Maitland CBE FREng, Professor of Energy Engineering, Imperial College London, said:

“Here is a short comment on the decision to lift the moratorium on drilling and fracturing for shale gas in the UK.  I am also attaching a short document that sets out why the safety and environmental concerns about ‘fracking’ should not be a problem if well-developed engineering practices are adopted and why shale gas can be developed safely and productively, without significant environmental damage, in the UK to give us similar benefits of supply and low cost that has insulated the US from the price excesses of the reduced global das supplies due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and restrictions on their gas exports.

“The UK has plentiful supplies of shale gas, which if exploited to replace the dwindling gas supplies in the North Sea, will give us much greater security of supply and if directed towards domestic use, in a similar fashion to the way the US uses its shale gas supplies, should give reduced price advantages and even the scope for future exports.  Pushing more people towards energy poverty is the unintended consequence of prioritising exaggerated environmental concerns over energy security.  The environmental concerns about ‘fracking’  do not pose significant risks in practice if managed by well-developed best engineering practices (see  attached document) so the lifting of the moratorium is a sensible move in the current circumstances and will bring economic benefits to those regions of the UK where shale gas is produced. Many imply that the only option for UK decarbonised energy security is through sufficient renewables. Since this cannot be achieved for some decades, natural gas for power, heat and hydrogen is an essential part of our energy transition, decarbonised using carbon capture and storage (CCS), now a key part of UK government policy.  Together shale gas and CCS offer an early route to both energy security and decarbonisation.”


Charmaine Coutinho, member of the IET’s Energy Panel, said:

“The situation we are currently experiencing is exceptional, and in this volatile global market, we need to redouble our focus on the resilience of our own energy system. While the announcement today focuses on improving our own energy supply and system, there are some gaps and considerations.

“Renewable energy opportunities are the quickest to put in place in terms of securing our own energy system and this is vital for net zero, however, projections show that the amount required to meet future demand will be significantly higher than current capacity. Almost all of the UK’s existing sustainable power plants are scheduled to retire before 2050 so choices today will be critical to ensure we meet demand through sustainable sources in future.

“The proposed pace and scale of development of new nuclear reactors is likely to be challenging to achieve and needs to be accompanied by a fully joined up approach to cost reduction and supply chain development.

“In terms of the ban on fracking being lifted, there are some key questions that need to be asked, such as how much accessible volume of fracked gas there is, how long will it take to get into the gas network, how prices will be managed, how local support will be gained and how holistically safe it is.

“In tackling the energy crisis, it is not just about energy supply, but also a reduction in demand is needed. The simplest and quickest way to address this, is a focus on energy efficiency, as not only would this reduce our need for energy, and hence energy bills for everyone, but improved standards of home insulation are also an important enabler of transitioning from fossil fuels to heat pumps for domestic heating. Building insulation and retrofitting would give immediate energy reduction – and savings – for the public. We need to be building the capability for improving building efficiency alongside heat pumps etc.

“Throughout this plan, it’s imperative that net zero targets should be maintained – they are part of the solution and not the problem.”


Dr Stuart Gilfillan, Reader in Geochemistry at the University of Edinburgh, said:

“The lack of facilities to safely treat waste fluids produced by the fracking process remains a key showstopper to UK shale gas plans. Other countries have disposed of such waste waters via deep injection wells. Some of these wells have caused seismic activity in the United States and at present such wells are not permitted in the UK.

“This means that the waste fluids from shale gas wells will need to be treated and safely disposed of at specialist treatment facilities, which recent research at the University of Edinburgh has shown are limited in the UK. This will pose serious waste management issues if the shale gas industry develops without a corresponding increase in the capacity of treatment facilities. This research also found that treating wastewater could require a large outlay of the expected revenue from each well, affecting industry profitability.

“In late 2017, we suggested that industry, wastewater treatment plant operators and UK regulatory bodies work together to produce a coherent strategy for managing wastewater from shale gas exploitation in the UK. This would serve to assure the public of its safety and prepare for the expansion of treatment capacity required should a shale gas industry develop in the UK. However, this strategy remains elusive and hence the treatment and disposal of wastewater still poses a major barrier to the development of a UK shale gas industry.”


Prof Jim Watson, Professor of Energy Policy and Director, UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources, said:

“The announcement of a cap on average bills at £2500 a year is welcome. But this is still extremely high by historical standards – and it will therefore be very difficult for some households on low or modest incomes to pay. Specific, additional support for them will be essential.

“The intention to reform the electricity market is also positive, and will help to reduce the amount of government borrowing required. This includes plans to shift some renewables and nuclear generation onto new contracts that reduce the extent of windfall profits they are making. From past experience, we know that directly negotiating such contracts, which seems to be the current plan, can lead to poor value for money. But we also know from UK success with offshore wind that auctions can be used to deliver a much more efficient and low cost outcome for consumers.

“The moves to license new oil and gas fields and to lift the moratorium on fracking are unlikely to have a significant impact on energy bills, especially in the short term. It is essential that any new developments are compatible with statutory carbon budgets and targets. In particular, there is huge uncertainty about the economic viability of fracking, and it may take a long time to produce relatively small amounts of gas.

“The big omission from today’s statement is – once again – a renewed plan for home energy efficiency. Energy efficiency of UK homes is poor by international standards, and means that energy price shocks hit UK households particularly hard. It should be a no brainer for the government to implement an ambitious new programme, and to reverse a decade of failed policies and inaction.


Prof Michael Grubb, Professor of Energy and Climate Change at UCL, said:

There was huge hype about fracking a decade ago, but over the subsequent decade it delivered almost nothing across Europe. 

“It’s one thing to lift a ban on fracking, and quite another to get industry to invest at scale, particularly in a resource which is likely to be slow, contentious and limited.  The government also needs to explain whether or not planning obstacles are to be addressed equally between fossil fuels and renewables, given the de-facto ban in England on the cheapest and quickest energy sources of onshore wind and solar.”


Prof Richard Davies, petroleum geologist and Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Engagement and Internationalisation), Newcastle University, said:

On lifting the fracking moratorium:

“This will not make a significant difference to the price of gas or our reliance on imports. The science question is whether there are areas of the UK that are less risky in terms of generating small earthquakes. What levels of uncertainty will members of the public accept.”

On how much gas could feasibly be extracted:

“There are huge estimates – but wells drilled in the USA produce modest volumes of gas.  Therefore you need 100s drilled each year to make a dent on our reliance on imported gas.”

On seismic effects:

“Yes there could be seismicity – but at least 21% of earthquakes in the UK from 1970 – 2012 were man made. Due to coal mining. The number declined rapidly after 1984 (coal mining strike).  Fracking earthquakes would be small < 3 in magnitude. ‘Chance of occurrence modest, impact low’.”


Prof Stuart Haszeldine, Professor of carbon capture and storage at the University of Edinburgh, said:

“Fracking the UK is very high commercial risk, as the geology is wrong, and almost all of  oil or gas generated has leaked away millions of years ago.

“Analyses of the shales recovered whilst drilling for fracking in Lancashire showed the wrong type of shale and no oil or gas present.

“The UK has no drilling crews with the detailed technical and engineering ability to construct these very complex boreholes.

“The UK has no treatment facilities to clean up waste water produced by fracking drilling.

“Producing more methane gas by fracking sends the UK climate ambition backwards. Whilst one part of UK government is draining CO2 from the atmosphere with a small bucket , another part of UK government will be turning on multiple hosepipes of CO2 into the atmosphere.

“Fracking is a good contribution to climate suicide.”


Honorary Professor Andrew Aplin, Department of Earth Sciences, Durham University:

“Shale gas is not a rational answer to the UK’s energy crisis. Even if exploration were successful, shale would only make a significant dent to UK imports if, over the next 15 years, thousands of successful wells were to be drilled at hundreds of sites across northern England.  This would represent a huge increase in onshore drilling activity and require widespread public acceptance. The price we pay for the gas wouldn’t change – but the increased production would be highly inconsistent with the government’s net zero strategy. Our focus should be reducing demand for gas rather than increasing supply”.


Prof Ben Edwards, Professor of Engineering Seismology at the University of Liverpool, said:

“Fracking comes with an inherent risk of seismic tremors. In rare cases, these tremors can be large enough to cause damage. Scientific advances made in recent years have improved our understanding of seismic activity during fracking and the risks posed by larger tremors, arguably improving its safety. This includes short-term forecasting, which can be used, within a sound regulatory framework, to help mitigate potentially damaging events. However, the scientific community is unlikely to ever be in a position to predict the occurrence of large induced quakes with certainty. Fracking therefore, can only take place after accepting the associated seismic risks (amongst others). If shale gas wells are appropriately planned and located, these seismic risks may be vanishingly small. For this reason, it is vitally important that independent comprehensive risk studies, which consider the vulnerability of local infrastructure, are undertaken prior to considering any fracking site.”



Declared interests

Prof Davies:

  1. I worked for ExxonMobil 1995-2003
  2. The ReFINE (Research Fracking in Europe) research project that I led was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (UK), Total, Shell, Chevron, GDF Suez, Centrica and Ineos.  We no longer have any funders.
  3. I now lead a NERC-ESRC project within the Unconventional Hydrocarbons in the UK Energy System (UKUH) programme

Prof Edwards: funded by UKRI to study induced seismicity.

Prof Haszeldine: no funding from any fossil fuel companies, multiple uk research council research awards

Prof Aplin has in the past received funding from the oil and gas industry.

Dr Gilfillan has received funding from TotalEnergies Exploration and Production to assess reservoir connectivity in a North Sea hydrocarbon discovery and determine the origin of CO2 in unconventional gases in Argentina. He has received funding from the Scottish Government, EPSRC, NERC and the EU in undertaking research to reduce the environmental footprint of shale gas development, through investigation into wastewater management and determining the geochemical fingerprints of UK unconventional gases.

For all other experts, no reply to our request for DOIs was received.

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