Shale gas could create UK jobs boom say engineers

One of the UK’s largest engineering institutions has said that the exploitation of shale gas could create thousands of highly-skilled jobs in Britain over the next decade.

But the Institution of Mechanical Engineers also cautions that shale gas is not a “silver bullet” to rising energy prices and security concerns, and warns that an “over-reliance on gas will render the UK hostage to volatile global energy markets”.

In a policy statement to MPs, the institution claims that 4200 jobs per year would be created over a ten-year drill programme, with 1300 created annually in Lancashire – a region in the northwest of England believed to hold the UK’s greatest reserves of shale gas.

The statement adds that these engineering skills could then be sold abroad, “just as the oil and gas experience built up in North Sea oilfields is now being sold across the world”.

However, the Institution warned that the development of shale gas must be coupled with the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology for use with gas-fired power plants.

The statement recommends that low-carbon gas generation is included in the forthcoming Electricity Market Reform bill.

Dr Tim Fox, the institution’s head of energy and environment, said: “Shale gas has the potential to give some of the regions hit hardest by the economic downturn a much-needed economic boost. The engineering jobs created will also help the government’s efforts to rebalance the UK’s skewed economy.

“UK shale gas could make a helpful contribution to the UK’s energy security for the next two centuries, but it is not the silver bullet many claim it is. It is unlikely to have a major impact on energy prices and the possibility that the UK might ever achieve self-sufficiency in gas is remote.”

He added: “A general over-reliance on gas will render the UK a hostage to volatile global energy markets, with or without UK shale gas. It is vital that the government continues to develop a balanced energy policy, incorporating renewables, nuclear and fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage.”

The institution is calling for the government to adopt three key policies:

● Accelerate the enhancement of the environmental regulatory framework to ensure safe exploitation of shale gas in the UK as soon as possible;

● Develop UK industrial strategy to include a regional strategy for exploitation of shale gas; and

● Prioritise the development of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) with gas-fired power plant.

The institution believes the UK is currently “one of the best-informed countries in Europe on shale gas and has both a robust regulatory framework from which to build an effective system to manage its exploitation and a suitably placed infrastructure for product distribution”.

“With the nation’s indigenous conventional gas reserves in decline and a strong desire across all political parties to rebalance the economy, shale gas provides the government with an opportunity to help attain security of supply as well as deliver on a wide range of other policy objectives, including the encouragement of localism and the development of a UK industrial strategy,” it states.

The institution’s backing for shale gas comes in the wake of French president Francois Hollande stating at the weekend that he had vetoed drilling applications in France on the grounds of environmental concerns.

A report last week from consultancy Frost & Sullivan claimed that there are major uncertainties in the estimates of these reserves, even in regions where development is relatively advanced.

“Even in the US, estimates of recoverable resources are contested and are frequently the subject of radical revisions,” it stated. “But this is eclipsed by the much greater uncertainty surrounding unconventional gas resources in the rest of the world.”

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