DAVID Cameron has signalled the new carbon capture technology set to be trialled in Yorkshire could play a central role in allowing Britain to exploit the vast reserves of shale gas thought to be buried beneath northern England.
The Prime Minister hopes the UK’s emerging ‘fracking’ industry will develop alongside new carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, allowing the CO2 emissions produced by burning large quantities of shale gas to be buried safely beneath the ground.
Mr Cameron has revealed he blocked Liberal Democrat attempts to set a new binding target for removing all CO2-emitting energy sources from the UK’s power sector by 2030 because it would have ruled out new gas and coal-fuelled power stations which bury their emissions using CCS.
The Government’s refusal to adopt the 2030 decarbonisation target caused a major political row last year, with both Labour and the Lib Dems demanding Mr Cameron accept the advice of his own climate change advisory committee and make Britain the first country in the world to enshrine such a target in law.
Leading offshore wind turbine manufacturers such as Siemens – which plans to establish a major manufacturing base at Hull – also wrote to the Prime Minister calling for the target to be adopted.
But appearing before a committee of MPs, Mr Cameron said adopting a binding target would be a “great mistake” while the UK remains uncertain whether CCS projects can be made to work on a commercial scale. Instead, he hinted, he wants to leave the door open to a Britain fuelled by shale gas power stations which store their emissions using CCS.
“My nervousness about being too frank about the future is simply down to the issue about CCS, and the role that gas will play in future,” he said, when asked about the proposed 2030 target.
“I see some in the green movement who seem so keen to nail down a decarbonisation target, irrespective of whether CCS works. I think that would be unwise, to put it mildly.”
This week saw the Prime Minister make his clearest statements so far in support of fracking, announcing that Britain is going “all out” for shale gas. Environmentalists such as Green Party MP Caroline Lucas have hit out at the Government’s approach, insisting the UK’s gas reserves should be left in the ground as part of the ongoing battle against climate change.
But Mr Cameron made clear he believes shale gas can be part of the UK’s green agenda if CCS is also involved.
“We have a lot of supplies of gas - with shale we can see even more,” he told the committee. “It is cheap and it is relatively clean.
“This is an important point. If you have fixed a de-carbonisation target, and said you are going to take carbon out of electricity generation before you know whether you can get CCS in place, I think you’d be making a huge mistake.”
Mr Cameron’s positive stance makes the Government’s continued prevarication over supporting CCS projects all the more baffling. Energy Ministers insist they are proceeding with the White Rose project at Drax, but progress may be too slow to secure a huge grant from Brussels worth hundreds of millions of pounds.