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US shale gas drives up coal exports

29 Oct 2012

A report by researchers at The University of Manchester has concluded that whilst the US is burning less coal due to shale gas production, millions of tonnes of unused coal are being exported to the UK, Europe and Asia. As a result, the emissions benefits of switching fuels are overstated.

US CO2 emissions from domestic energy have declined by 8.6% since a peak in 2005, the equivalent of 1.4% per year.

However, the researchers warn that more than half of the recent emissions reductions in the power sector may be displaced overseas by the trade in coal.

Dr John Broderick, lead author on the report from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, comments: “Research papers and newspaper column inches have focussed on the relative emissions from coal and gas.

“However, it is the total quantity of CO2 from the energy system that matters to the climate.  Despite lower-carbon rhetoric, shale gas is still a carbon intensive energy source. We must seriously consider whether a so-called “golden age” would be little more than a gilded cage, locking us into a high-carbon future.”

Professor Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre notes: “Since 2008 when the shale gas supply became significant, there has been a large increase in US coal exports. This increases global emissions as the UK, Europe and Asia are burning the coal instead. Earlier Tyndall analysis suggests that the role for gas in a low carbon transition is extremely limited, with shale gas potentially diverting substantial funds away from genuinely low and zero carbon alternatives”

This Co-operative commissioned report “Has US Shale Gas Reduced CO2 Emissions?” is the third on shale gas from the Tyndall Centre – and builds on several years of research and submissions to the UK and European Parliaments as well as the International Energy Agency.

Chris Shearlock, Sustainable Development Manager at The Co-operative, said: “The proponents of shale gas have always claimed that it is a lower carbon alternative to coal. However, this is only true if the coal it displaces remains in the ground and isn’t just burnt elsewhere. Without a cap on global carbon emissions, shale gas is burnt in addition to other fossil fuels, increasing total emissions.”   

Notes for editors

Please note the embargo for this story is 00:01 Monday 29 October.

An Executive Summary of this report and the full report are available from the Press Office. From Monday 29 October it will be available at www.tyndall.manchester.ac.uk

Dr Broderick and Professor Anderson are available for interview.

Please contact:

Daniel Cochlin
Media Relations Officer
Engineering and Physical Sciences
The University of Manchester

0161 275 8387
Daniel.cochlin@manchester.ac.uk


Or for The Co-operative, please contact:

Dave Smith
07702 152771
0161 8275614
dave.smith@co-operative.coop

Tyndall Manchester is a founder member of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research consortium, and is primarily based in the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering at the University of Manchester. It has a vibrant research community that brings together scientists, engineers, social scientists and economists, providing academic expertise on all aspects of energy and climate change. Tyndall Manchester also undertakes external consultancy projects and offers postgraduate supervision and other opportunities for early career researchers.

The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research is an active and expanding partnership between the Universities of East Anglia (headquarters), Cambridge, Cardiff, Manchester, Newcastle, Oxford, Southampton, Sussex, and recently Fudan University in Shanghai. It conducts research on the interdisciplinary aspects of climate change and is committed to promote informed and effective dialogue across society about the options to manage our future climate. www.tyndall.ac.uk