Resources, reserves, exploration wells and onshore licences: a glossary of shale gas terms in the UK

  • 27 Jan 2014, 12:00
  • Robin Webster

Confused about the difference between conventional and unconventional gas? Can't tell your resources from your reserves? Here's Carbon Brief's guide to the key terms in the shale gas debate.

Shale gas: Shale is a sedimentary rock formed from deposits of mud, silt, clay and organic matter. According to the British Geological Survey (BGS), it makes up 35 per cent of the world's surface rocks - but until recently it wasn't that easy to extract gas trapped inside it. That's because shale gas is very fine-grained, so the gas sticks to the rock. 

Fracking: The process of  hydraulic fracturing involves pumping a fluid made of water mixed with chemicals at high pressure into a well that has been drilled. The fluid creates fractures in the rock, making it possible to get the gas out. Fracking has been used in the oil industry since the  mid-nineteenth century - but only applied to shale gas extraction in the last couple of decades. 

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What the papers say: The EU’s 2030 target

  • 23 Jan 2014, 15:00
  • Ros Donald and Mat Hope

Credit: Roland Unger

The EU aims to reduce its emissions by 40 per cent and increase the amount of energy it gets from renewables to 27 percent by 2030.  No strong storyline emerged from the media: news coverage of yesterday's announcement ran the gamut: informative, positive, negative, outraged - and occasionally incorrect. 

The gory details 

We  summed up the announcement. It breaks down to a pledge to reduce EU-wide emissions by 40 per cent on 1990 levels. It also contains a target to get 27 per cent of the EU's energy from renewable sources by 2030 - though in a change from the 2020 package, the new target doesn't require countries to take on individual targets. Though how the EU will reach the 27 per cent mark without individual targets is  a question yet to be answered

You know what they say: If you like climate targets, don't watch them being made. The  Guardian gives readers a glimpse at the EU sausage-making apparatus, reporting that negotiations to reach the agreement ground on until the eleventh hour. The source of the conflict was the UK's opposition to a new renewable energy target, the paper reports: 

" Ed Davey, the UK's energy and climate change secretary, bitterly opposed the renewable energy target, but was overruled as big member states including Germany, France and Italy backed it." 

The BBC also lays out the details of the package, and the  FT provides a useful Q&A. 

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Can EU member states be trusted to fulfil 2030 climate promises without a country-specific renewable energy target?

  • 22 Jan 2014, 09:00
  • Mat Hope

Credit: Yukiko Matsuoka

UPDATE, 22/01/14, 11.10: The European Commission has just announced it will be backing a climate target to reduce emissions by 40 per cent by 2030. It has also recommended a binding target to get 27 per cent of the EU's energy from renewable sources by 2030. This target is not country specific, however. The text below has been amended in light of the announcement.

The European Commission has today decided it's time for member states to make up their own minds about how best to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But does the decision place too much faith in countries' desire to decarbonise their economies?

Months of internal squabbling came to a head today as the European Commission published a White Paper outlining its position on the EU's 2030 climate and energy targets. The commission recommended a target to reduce EU emissions by between  40 per cent by 2030 - the upper end of what was expected.

It also backed an EU-wide target to get 27 per cent  of the region's energy from renewable sources in 2030 - roughly in line with what the commision  expects to happen if countries continue to implement decarbonisation policies.

The renewable energy target does not obligate individual member states to ramp up generation to that extent, however. That makes it slightly weaker than the EU's previous goal.

Act of faith

Today's decision represents a significant change in approach from when the EU originally agreed its climate goals.

European policymakers agreed three targets in 2007, dubbed the 20-20-20 goals. Those targets required members states to reduce emissions by 20 per cent, get 20 per cent of electricity from renewable sources, and increase energy efficiency by 20 per cent, all by 2020.

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Trust in energy companies has fallen to near-rock bottom. Why?

  • 21 Jan 2014, 15:00
  • Ros Donald

The UK's energy industry is in trouble with the public. The reasons seem pretty simple: energy prices continue to skyrocket, while  media reports claim profits are skyrocketing. So what can polling tell us about trust in the energy industry - and how could the companies that provide our heat and light regain it? 

Low trust 

According to the most recent polling, trust in the industry has fallen significantly over the past year according to consultancy Edelman's  Trust Barometer 2014 - a  six percentage point drop on last year. Just 32 per cent of people said they trusted the energy industry, putting it in last place behind the banking sector.  The survey, out today, asked respondents which groups in society they trusted most, and what attributes are key to driving that trust. It showed that in an environment where trust in business is increasing - and trust in government is falling - the energy sector is bucking the trend, falling far behind other groups and industries.

The result is hardly surprising: following the announcement of  price rises almost across the board last year, politicians and the media have accused the UK's 'big six' energy companies of a lack of transparency, and even profiteering. Labour judged the mood of the country well when it announced it would freeze energy bills for a limited time if it got into office - and ensured the story  hasn't left the news since.

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Do we need new laws on shale gas?

  • 21 Jan 2014, 14:30
  • Robin Webster

The UK doesn't need any new laws to go all out for shale gas, according to Prime Minister David Cameron. Is he right - and what do the rules governing fracking really look like in this country?  

The ability to extract shale gas has lowered gas prices and increased energy security in the USA. But it's also prompted controversy. Fracking has led to  air and water pollution,  water shortages and posed a threat to  human health, environmentalists argue. 

The  Royal Society suggested in 2011 that the impacts are manageable - but only under a strong regulatory system. The government says  no new laws are needed to make the shale gas industry safe, however. 

So where does this leave us? A Guardian editorial says it means worried communities will have to rely on "  trust" in the oil and gas industry and regulatory bodies to get it right. Others disagree, however, arguing the UK's system is strong enough as it is. 


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Could renewable energy trading solve the EU’s 2030 ambition problem?

  • 20 Jan 2014, 16:30
  • Ros Donald

High gas prices and crippling economic problems have left European countries unwilling to renew binding requirements to increase renewable energy generation in 2020. But critics say the likely alternative - an overall target with no country-specific requirements - offers no incentive for countries to up their game. Could a platform for trading renewable-sourced energy rekindle member states' enthusiasm for country-level targets?

Mapping 2030

EU-wide renewables targets come under its 2020 package of climate and energy pledges. Member states have agreed to a 20 per cent reduction in emissions on 1990 levels, a 20 per cent increase in the amount of energy generated by renewables (split up on a country-by-country basis), and a 20 per cent increase in energy efficiency - all by 2020.

Policymakers have committed to extending the measures to 2030 by the end of next year. On Wednesday, the commission will  announce its agreed combination of targets with a new white paper. And although this is expected to include a binding promise to reduce emissions by  40 per cent, another binding, country-level renewables target looks less likely.

While countries like Germany and Denmark want to see the target extended, the UK and Poland argue renewables shouldn't be privileged over other low carbon technologies such as nuclear power.

Current energy trends are working against those who want to see a 2030 target. For example, reporting after an EU energy conference, Channel 4 news anchor  Jon Snow recounts country delegates' enthusiasm for developing nuclear power, shale gas and even highly-polluting coal in response to rising gas prices in the EU - and equal appetite for scrapping renewable energy targets.

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Government ignores own evidence to promote shale gas push

  • 20 Jan 2014, 13:45
  • Mat Hope

The government claims that developing a UK shale gas industry could mean millions of pounds and thousands of jobs soon heading to a community near you. But a closer look at the evidence suggests the situation is not so clear cut.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, last week  told MPs he "really, really" wanted to get a UK shale gas industry up and running. He's certainly been busy promoting its prospects with some impressive numbers: The government claims communities could get a  £10 million financial reward for permitting fracking, with the industry supporting 74,000 jobs.

Critics have accused the government of  overstating shale gas's case, however. They point to the government's own research which suggests a considerably less bountiful future than the prime minister claims.

Community benefits

The government is keen to get the public on board with its fracking vision. To help things along, it is set to offer communities £100,000 for each shale gas well drilled in their area, along with 1 per cent of its subsequent revenue. The government says the deal could be worth  up to £10 million per site.

The  Daily Telegraph revealed the government's own research suggests the benefits could be considerably less than this, however. It says a government  report, researched by engineering consultancy AMEC, suggests the financial reward is likely to be between £2.4 to £4.8 million.

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European battle over 2030 energy system drawing to a close

  • 17 Jan 2014, 15:45
  • Robin Webster

New European energy policy goals may include an overarching target for expansion of renewable energy, according to reports. The UK has been lobbying against a binding target, which it argues will interfere with plans to build new nuclear power plants instead of wind, solar or biomass.  

Back in 2007, European Union (EU) leaders agreed to bump up the continent's supply of clean energy, obtaining 20 per cent of energy from renewables by 2020. At the time, the UK only sourced about  two per cent of its energy from renewables. The legally binding commitment has profoundly affected UK energy policy, leading it to create a  roadmap to the target. 

Now, EU states must agree an energy package for 2030. Three possible 2030 targets are up for grabs: one for emissions reductions, one for expansion of renewable power and one for energy efficiency. We take a look at what's likely to emerge when the European Commission unveils the details of an agreed package next week. 


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No shortage of energy as emissions rise: BP

  • 15 Jan 2014, 17:45
  • Robin Webster

Source: Arnold Paul

We're all going to have access to lots of energy over the next couple of decades, predicts BP. There's just one snag: greenhouse gas emissions are set to keep rising. 

The world's population is growing by 200,000 people a day, according to the World Bank, and is predicted to top  eight billion by 2030. That's a lot of people in need of an energy supply to light and heat their homes, cook food, and get about. 

Energy company BP says supplying the energy isn't going to be a problem, however. As the world increasingly turns to unconventional fossil fuel sources like shale gas and oil under the sea, there's going to be plenty of energy to go round, it predicts. 

But continued reliance on cheap - and plentiful - fossil fuels means the world the world's greenhouse gas emissions are expected to rise by nearly a third by 2035.

Thinking two decades ahead 

BP's predictions are contained in its latest annual '  Energy Outlook' report. It has updated last year's report so that it now looks another five years ahead to 2035. 

BP says its report describes just one '  most likely' prediction of what the global energy system might look like in the future. Because the report doesn't explore other scenarios, the prediction should carry a health warning - as there's a lot of unknowns in predictions about future economic growth, changing populations and new technologies. 


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Behind 2013's energy bill headlines, in five charts

  • 15 Jan 2014, 15:00
  • Mat Hope

Credit: W Warby

Towards the end of 2013, you could barely open a newspaper without reading about energy price hikes: the number of stories containing the words "household energy bills" doubled in 2013 compared to the previous year. We look back at some of the key themes behind the headlines.

Energy bills

Energy companies' decisions to raise prices once again in 2013 unleashed a torrent of media stories as politicians fell over themselves to propose market reforms.

From the end of October - when SSE announced the first price rise - to the end of the year, we found over 170 articles looking at household energy bills in six of the UK's most-read daily newspapers. That's more than four stories per day across the papers for two months, on average.

Media stories, energy price hikes bar chart

The Daily Telegraph was responsible for the largest share of the articles we found - publishing 45 energy bills stories across 41 days. The Times and Guardian were close behind, publishing 38 and 34 stories respectively. The Daily Mail published the fewest stories of all the papers we analysed: 17 articles.

But how were journalist filling such a wealth of column inches? We did a quick word search to try and find out.

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