A [speech given this morning](https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-myths-and-realities-of-shale-gas-exploration “”) by Energy Secretary Ed Davey to the Royal Society should help soothe the rattled nerves of the climate movement and help bring the debate on shale gas to a close. The government and climate NGOs have locked horns over fracking in what has become a symbolic debate about Britain’s energy future. [The Prime Minister](http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10236664/We-cannot-afford-to-miss-out-on-shale-gas.html “”) has argued that shale will lower our bills, the climate NGOs have argued it will breach our climate targets and poison our local environment. Davey’s speech roundly counters both claims.
Both sides of the shale debate seem to have wilfully c onfused the question of gas _production_ with gas electricity _generation_ and drawn false analogies with the U.S. shale boom. But the problem here is that, unlike America, the UK is part of a highly interconnected regional gas network of pipelines and LNG terminals. This means that gas produced in the UK will be sold at essentially the same price to British energy companies as it is to Japanese ones, namely at the highest price anyone is willing to pay for it. This is bad news for British consumers who were expecting mate’s rates on their gas and electricity bills, but good news for British taxpayers as the Treasury gains larger receipts on the profits made by Cuadrilla or other onshore operators. This is also good, or at least indifferent, news for the UK’s climate targets insofar as shale gas extraction has essentially _no bearing_ on whether or not we achieve them. This should be obvious from the example of Norway, which manages to generate 95% of its electricity from renewable sources, despite being far and away the biggest oil and gas producer in Europe.
While there are some process emissions involved with extracting shale gas, these do not pose a serious threat to meeting our climate targets – the UK regulations on methane venting and flaring are much stronger than in the US, and the best evidence suggests that the carbon footprint of shale gas will be slightly worse than conventional gas but better than LNG and, of course, far better than unabated coal. This had already been [stated by the Climate Change Committee](http://www.theccc.org.uk/blog/all-hail-shale/ “”), the same body which sets Britain’s legally binding carbon targets, before being corroborated in the new [DECC report](https://www.gov.uk/government/publications?departments%5B%5D=department-of-energy-climate-change “”) launched by Ed Davey today.
What then, we might ask, was all the fuss about? In reality, the shale debate has been a _proxy battle_ over the government’s [gas generation strategy](https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/65654/7165-gas-generation-strategy.pdf “”), which entertains scenarios that imply a total disregard for the UK’s near term climate targets. This danger was already highlighted by the Climate Change Committee, when it cautioned government that “early decarbonisation of the power sector should be plan A – and the dash for gas [Plan Z](http://www.theccc.org.uk/news-stories/ccc-says-early-decarbonisation-of-the-power-sector-should-be-plan-a-and-the-dash-for-gas-plan-z/ “”).”
Given the government’s thinly veiled enthusiasm for this new dash for gas, environmentalists might be excused for using shale as a platform to make our fears known to the media. But the alarm of environmental NGOs risks turning into alarmism if we continue to compound the confusion of gas production with gas generation, or draw further false analogies with the worst environmental practices in the United States: whether by citing irrelevant studies on methane leakage, or by terrifying local communities with tales of fiery faucets, poisoned groundwater, and earthquakes. These environmental risks can be managed through effective regulation, as has now been confirmed by [DECC](https://www.gov.uk/government/publications?departments%5B%5D=department-of-energy-climate-change “”), the [Climate Change Committee](http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/10013034/Climate-change-advisers-says-fracking-can-be-OK.html “”), [the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineers](http://royalsociety.org/policy/projects/shale-gas-extraction/report/ “”). The environment movement plays a dangerous game if we start siding with the scientific establishment only when it suits our purposes. As urgent as it is to secure more climate ambition at home and abroad, such tactics might win the battle but lose the war.
Rather than continuing to oppose shale extraction, environmentalists should now be moving to ensure these strong regulations are put in place, and that the integrity of the UK’s climate targets is maintained. Davey makes some welcome mood music on this front when he stated today that “here at home we must not and will not allow shale gas production to compromise our focus on boosting renewables, nuclear and other low carbon technologies”, but this hardly translates into the reassurance the climate movement needs: a firm 2030 decarbonisation target for the power sector and an ironclad 4th carbon budget.