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Taking action on gas shales extraction

As part of our Toxic Fuels campaign we are taking action to halt the extraction of natural gas from shale formations in the UK until the environmental impact is fully understood – the practice could lead to dangerous levels of water pollution and have a detrimental effect on climate change.

What are the environmental concerns?

In January this year we called on the Government to impose an immediate suspension on gas shale extraction following a report from the Tyndall Centre by University of Manchester, which shows it brings significant risk of groundwater contamination.

Moreover, the exploitation of gas shales is bringing new greenhouse gas sources into play, and even a mid-range extraction scenario could see carbon dioxide levels rise globally by some 5 parts per million by 2050. This will further reduce any slim possibility of maintaining global temperature changes at or below 2ºC and thereby increase the risk of entering a period of 'dangerous climate change'.

Why does action need to be taken?

Campaigners in America believe the practice has already polluted water courses there, and they have created an award-winning film on the issue called Gasland. The documentary shows residents in Pennsylvania setting fire to their drinking water, and other astonishing implications of shale gas extraction in the United States.

This rapid growth of shale gas production in the US has raised interest in the UK. At The Co-operative we have issued our commissioned report to coincide with the UK premiere of Gasland, and together these act as compelling evidence that a cautionary approach in the UK is the only responsible way to proceed. However a number of businesses are already beginning gas extraction activity, particularly on the Fylde coast of North-West England.

And it has just been announced that Gasland has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. UK film critics have hailed Gasland as "Powerful, disturbing and important" (The Sunday Mirror) and "Essential viewing" (The Observer), to name but a few.

Does gas shales extraction have any benefits?

Supporters of gas shales extraction using hydraulic fracturing (known as 'fracking') say it could release so much gas across the globe that it could solve the energy crisis for the next century.

Paul Monaghan, Head of Social Goals and Sustainability, said: "On the face of it new natural gas finds appear to be good news, but this important report highlights the significant gaps in our knowledge when it comes to understanding the impacts of shale gas extraction.

"That is why we are calling for a moratorium on any further exploitation of shale gas, which will allow the wider environmental concerns to be fully exposed and addressed."

"Our members have been fully supportive of our on-going Toxic Fuels campaign in which we have highlighted the issues associated with tar sands, and as a responsible institutional investor we will continue to engage with energy companies in order to ensure they act responsibly and work to support the development of sustainable energy sources."

Kevin Anderson, Professor of Energy and Climate Change at the Tyndall Centre at University of Manchester, said: "In an energy hungry world any new fossil fuel resource will only lead to additional carbon emissions. In the case of shale gas there is also a significant risk its use will delay the introduction of renewable energy alternatives. Consequently, if we are serious about avoiding dangerous climate change, the only safe place for shale gas remains in the ground."

To find out more read the Gas Shales Report.

Find details of nationwide screenings of the film Gasland.

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The progressive way forward is to reduce overall energy use, particularly that based on extraction of fossil fuels. Increased levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases will lead to dangerous destabilising effects. Contrary to supposed wisdom, a switch to gas from coal is likely to increase overall greenhouse gas effect due to the higher efficiency of methane as a GHG.
We urgently need to cut our energy consumption, not exploit more risky methods of extracting the last dregs from our stressed...

Alan Parris, Devon added on 18 April 2011 at 6:04pm
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Shale gas looks like being an extraordinary leap forward in energy production (and with lower CO2 by-production than coal) with amazing potential to catapult poverty-stricken populations into the 21st century. Shame on the Co-op (with whom I bank with increasing embarrassment and reluctance) for being so against this potential for liberation.

Ian Woolley, Cardiff added on 7 April 2011 at 1:03pm
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I can't believe that people are being allowed to do this so close to where I live in Blackpool. They don't even know if it's safe! UNBELIEVABLE!!!!

Katie, Blackpool added on 20 January 2011 at 2:54pm
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