Wood G (2014) What lessons can be learned from onshore wind deployment for a developing UK shale gas sector? Feature contribution to good-fit practice activities in the international oil, gas and mining industries. Good-Fit Practice Activities in the International Oil, Gas and Mining Industries, 2014. http://www.eisourcebook.org/2985_FeaturedCEPMLPalumnusDrGeoffWood.html
The United Kingdom Government is pushing for a rapid expansion of shale gas extraction, based on the assumption that it will reduce costly and volatile gas imports and improve energy security, balance of payments and shift current energy use from more polluting coal to gas with resultant climate change benefits. Although the UK has a good record of onshore fossil fuel extraction, exemplified by Wytch Farm in Dorset, the largest onshore oil field in Western Europe and located in a environmentally sensitive landscape in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, including national (SSSI’s), European Union (SPA) and international (Ramsar, World Heritage) protected areas, the characteristics of shale gas are quite different. There is the need for significantly more infrastructure for exploration, appraisal and particularly for extraction (wells) along with associated infrastructure (pipelines, storage, access roads). There is also growing public opposition to shale gas on environmental grounds due to fears of water contamination, earthquakes and industrialisation of the rural landscape by large multinational companies.
Critically, there is little experience of shale gas extraction in the UK and experiences abroad are difficult to translate into the UK context due to differences in mineral rights and environmental legislation amongst other factors. However, there is another energy technology that can offer beneficial lessons to a developing UK shale gas sector and indeed abroad. Despite sitting at the opposite spectrum of energy technologies, there appear to be a number of similarities with the deployment of onshore wind, particularly the requirement of a very large number of installations (turbines contra wells) and associated infrastructure (transmission/distribution cables contra pipelines/storage facilities). Key to delivering ‘deployment’, the shale gas sector urgently needs to address a number of barriers including planning and issues of public participation and engagement to counter opposition. Renewable energy and onshore wind in particular has historically and increasingly continues to struggle to overcome these barriers. As a result, experience from ongoing onshore wind deployment could aid the shale gas sector from avoiding some of the pitfalls that have plagued wind power over two decades. It should be pointed out though that shale gas does not enjoy a number of benefits of wind power and renewables in general, including climate change mitigation.
shale gas; onshore wind; planning; public participation and engagement; technology