Fracking data gaps limit its impact on wind


August 15, 2014

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Cheap. Fast. Good. The adage goes that customers can get two but not all three.

This also applies to fracking. It may be a fast and cheap source of energy, but the potential harm to the environment means it isn’t good. It is used in regions such as Australia, North America and South Africa, but its impacts aren’t yet well-known.

Now, it is easy for wind investors to worry about fracking. If countries are looking for new sources of energy then the thinking goes that only wind or fracking can win, not both. But this doesn’t appear to be the case.

For example, Australia and North America have developed both industries at the same time, and South Africa is starting to roll out wind power too. Countries under pressure to grow energy resources will rarely stick to just one source. That doesn’t mean we like fracking. We just don’t think most countries see it as ‘either/or’.

There are also plenty of barriers for fracking. Pro-fracking countries see regular protests, and the likes of Bulgaria and France have banned to use of the method. Politicians around the world want to make sure they get re-elected, and fracking is no vote-winner. It will not be easy to roll it out in the face of such public opposition.

Of course, fracking fans say these risks are overstated, but they are yet to prove it.

For instance, a paper in US journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment this week said there was “surprisingly little research” on fracking’s effects on water, air, land or wildlife. Opposition will not abate until evidence like this is produced.

And, while there are still so many unknowns about the risks of fracking, we don’t see that it will grow in popularity at the expense of wind farm projects. There is also the added irony, of course, that if fracking is proved to be safe and clean then it would open up the sector to clean energy investors. We won’t hold our breath.

Fracking fans will still point to the unreliability of wind farms, health ‘risks’, and their up front capital cost. The first point is being addressed with new storage technology, software and weather modelling; the second id largely disproved; and, as for the third, we believe people will pay higher bills for greater perceived safety.

We also see a major information gap here. Pro-frackers need to provide data that fracking is safe but in doing so, they are providing misinformation too.

For example, the UK Onshore Oil & Gas group has claimed that 57% of people in Britain back shale gas production, with 16% opposed. This only shows the power of providing one-sided evidence and asking a leading question; and contradicts an official Department of Energy & Climate Climate Change report that showed only 24% of people back fracking, with 47% neither in favour or against it.

The fracking lobby must produce evidence to settle the argument about whether it is clean or not. If it can’t then its long-term impact on European wind will be limited.

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