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Dr James Hansen speaks at CCAN plunge
2 December 2015 18:09

Dr James Hansen: UK is ‘screwing its children’ with fracking policy

Leo Hickman

Leo Hickman

Leo Hickman

Leo Hickman

02.12.2015 | 6:09pm
UK policyDr James Hansen: UK is ‘screwing its children’ with fracking policy

Speaking to Carbon Brief at the COP21 climate conference in Paris, Dr James Hansen, one of the world’s most prominent climate scientists, has strongly criticised the UK government’s pursuit of fracking for shale gas.

Asked what he thought of the UK government’s policy of seeking to copy the US’s fracking revolution, Hansen said:

“Well, that’s screwing your children and grandchildren. Because if you do that, then there’s no way to avoid the consequences [of] multi-metre sea-level rise. But we can’t do that. And that’s what the science says crystal clear. And yet politicians pretend not to hear it, or not to understand it.”

Hansen, the former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies who famously warned the US Congress about global warming in 1988, also responded to Carbon Brief’s questions about other areas of UK energy policy, such as the proposed new Hinkley C nuclear plant Somerset (“more expensive than it should be”), carbon capture and storage (“a mirage”) and the reining back on support for renewables.

Asked if he thought there were risks switching from coal to gas, Hansen said:

“If gas were truly used as a very temporary bridge to replace coal…But that’s not what’s happening. If you build a new power plant, you don’t plan to shut it down in 10 years. There’s way too much gas in the ground. It would put us way over 2C, 3C, 4C. There’s a huge amount of gas in the ground. What political leaders have not been willing to do is face the truth that you can’t burn all of that. They’re allowing, even bragging about, having found the technology to get more of the gas out of the ground with fracking.”

The full audio of Hansen’s comments to Carbon Brief is on Soundcloud.

Sharelines from this story
  • Dr James Hansen: UK is “screwing its children” with fracking policy
  • Is there one single study anywhere which visualises what a world where gas completely replaces coal would look like. Apparently not, since using gas instead of coal, would solve a great part of the climate problem. Using renewables and demand reduction would complete the task.

    • ChrisBroome

      Some of the oil companies -who also produce gas – are promoting the idea that coal be replaced as much as possible with gas, globally. I think the main problem is doing that is fine for countries that have large oil and gas resources. China and India are less wealthy than the likes of the UK. They have plenty of cheap coal available but little oil and gas . They will not accept any global agreement that does not them allow their economies to grow .It is accepted by all nations that equity needs to be a solution in any climate agreement.

      • Chris: The fourth largest oil producer in the world is China. It’s always been at the forefront of oil and gas technology. Back in Mao’s time the oil industry was completely left alone during the Cultural Revolution. China was a major oil exporter to Japan from the 60’s through 80’s.

        Today, CNOOC and Sinopec are the two biggest oil companies in the world.

        India’s Reliance and Indian National Oil are twice the size of a company you may have heard of : The UK’s Centrica.

        Less wealthy?

  • john_busby

    Fracking for gas in the UK is an unlikely prospect, because proper regulation will make it totally uneconomic. With its “holiday” from regulation in the US, brokered before it got underway with the “Halliburton Loophole”, fracking for gas is losing money spectacularly, The open pits (impoundments) and deep injection boreholes used for handling the flowback and produced water in the US are prohibited in the UK adding to its costs.
    There are no means of dealing with the wastewater adequately. The total dissolved solids are in some cases five times the salinity of seawater and contain toxic metal salts and radioactivity and no treatment works is able (or willing) to take in the fracking wastewater.
    Even if a dedicated process line was installed in a treatment works it would have to include evaporation and crystallisation to deal with the high salinity and the energy needed would most probably exceed that in the gas produced.
    Like CCS and nuclear power, fracking is an unlikely pursuit.

    • Ros Stanley

      Think you’ll find it’s only the open pits that are banned. I am sure I read of an application for reinjection at Kirby Misperton, North Yorks……Regulation is spectacularly lacking. When Rathin Energy experienced an uncontrolled and very smelly gas leak at West Newton A, they did not inform the EA and the HSE were in Aberdeen. Self reporting does not work and government cut backs on funding for regulators exacerbates the problem.

      • john_busby

        Re-injection is into an existing well. In the US injection wells are regulated and classed. Class II wells are used for untreated flowback and produced water. As there is methane dissolved in the wastewater, there has been an explosion at one in Denver when struck by lightning. See
        Both open pits and injection wells are prohibited in the UK, but as the costs for double-skinned tanks and building dedicated treatment lines in works to meet UK regulation they will make fracking for gas uneconomic, I am concerned that there will be pressure from the industry to get the government to introduce the ‘Halliburton Loophole’ brokered by Dick Cheney and give the frackers a “hoiiday” from regulation.

  • ilma630

    I see Hansen has his hat, as he’s talking out of it, or somewhere else. There is not a single drop of ‘science’ that can say the world will warm by 2, 3, 4 or more degrees or that the seas will rise by metres because of man’s CO2 emissions. None! This only exists in his imagination and models that are devoid of reality.

    • Susie Appleby

      So world leaders are just meeting in Paris for fun?

      • ilma630

        They certainly won’t achieve anything remotely useful or meaningful, so it is just a massive show. China and India have both said they won’t jeopardise the growth of their economies (which means huge amounts of coal burning), the EU chief climate negotiator, Christiana Figueras, has said this is not about the climate, but about the (forced) re-ordering of the world’s economies (and she’s said she’d do it even if the science was wrong, which it is), and there is not a single scrap of science still that demonstrates that man’s CO2 (~3-4% of total atmospheric CO2) drives the climate, let alone dangerously. The whole 2 degrees C is also just a figure plucked out of the air, and has no scientific basis whatsoever.

        • Susie Appleby
          • ilma630

            Very firmly on this planet. Which one are you on? Even regarding extreme weather events: even the (overtly & fundamentally political) IPCC don’t support the ‘belief’ that it’s down to man’s CO2 emissions, and all the trend indicators from observed data for floods, storms, hurricanes, droughts, etc. are flat or down. Also, remember just a few decades ago, the scientists’ cry was “Global COOLING”!! Then it switched to a slight warming, and is now switching back to a slight cooling (no temp rise according to the satellite data sets for 18+ years – the most reliable and global coverage data sets we have), which happens approx every 30 years, all superimposed on the long-term warming that started well before the industrial revolution, as we’re still coming out of the LIA, the last mini ice-age.

          • MightyDrunken

            Global cooling myth,a survey of the peer-reviewed literature between 1965 and 1979 found only seven papers indicating global cooling compared with 44 papers indicating warming.

            All thermometer based temperate datasets show warming over the last 18+ years, the satellite records measure large swathes of the atmosphere including the cooling stratosphere and miss the poles, which are warming the most.

            Even regarding extreme weather events: even the (overtly & fundamentally political) IPCC don’t support the ‘belief’ that it’s down to man’s CO2 emissions

            OK ignoring the other problems associated with increased CO2 levels like ocean acidification, melting glaciers and polar ice, changing climatic zone effecting farming and the biosphere, rising sea levels, etc. Let’s look at what the IPCC says about extreme weather events.

            Since the 1950s some regions of the world have experienced more intense and longer droughts, although a global trend currently cannot be established

            The studies that use the Palmer index to look at droughts tend to find a global increase but this method has been attacked as the formula includes temperature. Other drought indexes which don’t use temperature tend to require measurements of rainfall or soil moisture which is harder to come by. Couple that with the prediction that more warming speeds up the hydrological cycle so it rains more overall and it is no surprise that it is hard to find a general trend in drought.

            Current evidence does not, however, indicate sustained global trends in tropical cyclone or extratropical cyclone activity

            On one hand warming sea surface temperature should make tropical cyclones more common, however increased wind shear my reduce their number. The IPCC suspect that overall numbers will stay about the same but their power will increase.

            It is very likely that anthropogenic forcing has contributed to the observed changes in the frequency and intensity of daily temperature extremes on the global scale since the mid-20th century. Attribution of changes in temperature extremes to anthropogenic influence is robustly seen in independent analyses using different methods and different data sets.

            In land regions where observational coverage is sufficient for assessment, there is medium confidence that anthropogenic forcing has contributed to a global-scale intensification of heavy precipitation over the second half of the 20th century.

            It is virtually certain that human influence has warmed the global climate system. Anthropogenic influence has been identified in changes in temperature near the surface of the Earth, in the atmosphere and in the oceans, as well as changes in the cryosphere, the water cycle and some extremes. There is strong evidence that excludes solar forcing, volcanoes and internal variability as the strongest drivers of warming since 1950.

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