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

Source: University of Manchester

Date: January 16, 2018
Source: University of Manchester
Summary: Shale gas is one of least sustainable options for producing electricity, according to new research.

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 climate change impacts, 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 natural gas 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 organizations (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 energy security 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 electricity 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.
Story Source:
Materials provided by University of Manchester.
Journal Reference:
1. Jasmin Cooper, Laurence Stamford, Adisa Azapagic. Sustainability of UK shale gas in comparison with other electricity options: Current situation and future scenarios. Science of The Total Environment, 2018; 619-620: 804 DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.11.140




(2018). Shale gas is one of the least sustainable ways to produce electricity, research finds. Retrieved from

1 Comment

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Cassie McCabe wrote: 01-31-2018 23:25:38

Although this article is based in the UK I think it applies to the situation in the US as well. Fracking for shale gas has been popularized as it has deemed the "cleanest fossil fuel." This concept is completely absurd to me. Being the cleanest of dirty energy is futile. We have real, actual CLEAN energy alternatives, so there is no need to cling to fossil fuels. The article states "supporters highlight improved national energy security and economic development as key benefits." Both of these benefits would be realized with alternative energy options such as wind, solar, and biogas. There is most likely more economic growth available through green energy in the form of job growth, in addition to the decline in healthcare costs due to lower pollution rates. I also find it interesting that "shale gas ranks seventh out of the nine electricity options." Which makes me wonder, what 2 options are ranked worse?