The CCC is clear that unconventional gas brings with it unconventional risks - risks from methane leaks and other potential problems. But the fundamental problem is that it is still a fossil fuel, when we need zero carbon future.
Fracking will stop the UK from reaching its climate change targets, government advisers have warned, unless tougher regulation is introduced.
Large scale shale gas production would also be incompatible with the UK's own carbon budgets, according to the newly released report by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC): 'The compatibility of UK onshore petroleum with meeting the UK’s carbon budgets'.
The independent committee suggested that increased UK production of fossil fuels could affect global emissions. And carbon emissions in other areas in the UK would have to be cut to offset those produced from shale gas.
In any case the implications of UK shale gas exploitation for greenhouse gas emissions are subject to "considerable uncertainty" they warned:
"Left entirely unregulated, the emissions footprint of shale gas production could be substantial. Any significant level of exploitation of UK resources in this way would be inconsistent with carbon budgets.
"However, the current proposals from Government and regulatory bodies include action to regulate emissions and there are technologies and techniques that are known to limit greenhouse gas emissions from shale gas production. Experience and data from the US provide estimates of the costs and effectiveness of many of these measures.
"The UK regulatory regime has the potential to be world-leading but this is not yet assured."
Andrea Leadsom: twisted words
The report, penned by such experts as Lord Krebs and former Environment Secretary John Gummer, and Lord Deben (Conservative), found: "that exploitation of shale gas on a significant scale is not compatible with UK carbon budgets, or the 2050 commitment to reduce emissions by at least 80%, unless three tests are satisfied."
The government however has been accused of "twisting" the CCC's recommendations in its response to the report. Climate Change Minister Andrea Leadsom - also a candidate in the Tory Party leadership contest now under way - said in a written statement:
"The Government welcomes the CCC's conclusion that shale gas is compatible with carbon budgets if certain conditions are met. We believe that our strong regulatory regime and determination to meet our carbon budgets mean those conditions can and will be met." But she insisted the existing regulators already had the "right powers and flexibility" to ensure that emissions are minimised.
The report fulfils a new duty brought in by Labour under the Infrastructure Act 2015. It requires the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to consult theCCC about the implications of exploitation of onshore petroleum.
Why the long delay in publication?
The CCC submitted the report, 'Compatibility of Onshore Petroleum with meeting UK carbon budgets', to the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) at the end of March.
But the government delayed the publication of the report and its response to it. In the interim period fracking exploration was given the go ahead in North Yorkshire, bringing fracking to the UK for the first time in five years.
Labour accused the government of risking public safety and climate targets by ducking these tests. Barry Gardiner, Shadow Climate Change Secretary said:
"This report laid out three fundamental tests. After dithering for 99 days the government has decided to do precisely nothing to increase protection for the public or to deliver security for our climate targets.
"What the CCC is clear about is that unconventional gas bring with it unconventional risks - risks from methane leaks and other potential problems. But the fundamental problem with unconventional gas is that it is still a fossil fuel when we need to be directing our energy system towards a zero carbon future."
Local anti-fracking campaigners and Friends of the Earth yesterday mounted a legal challenge against the decision, arguing that North Yorkshire County Council failed to properly assess climate change.
The report: 'The compatibility of UK onshore petroleum with meeting the UK’s carbon budgets', by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), was released this week.
Victoria Seabrook writes about climate change, the criminal justice system, and social justice. She is news editor at independent local newspaper Hackney Citizen and co-editor of Prison Watch UK. She twees @v_seabrook.
This article was originally published by DeSmog.uk. This version includes some additional reporting by The Ecologist.