Gareth Hughes

Gold rush or fools gold? Fracking and the ‘Golden Age of Gas’

by Gareth Hughes

Gold rush or fools gold? Fracking and the ‘Golden Age of Gas’

This week the International Energy Agency has published a report into the future of gas, with a focus on the controversial fracking method.

The report “Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas,” declared aim is to pave the way for the widespread development of unconventional gas resources on a large scale, boosting overall gas supply and making the golden age of gas a reality, however notes there are legitimate public concerns about the associated environmental and social impacts.

I agree with Reuter’s John Kemp who says the IEA’s golden rules for gas are a missed opportunity because the report is mostly couched in vague principles so broad they are virtually meaningless. I mean, who could disagree with “treat water responsibly” and “ensure a consistently high level of environmental performance”?


In New Zealand, we have very little active regulation of fracking activities. Taranaki only started consenting the actual fracking activity last year after nearly two decades of fracking and there we’ve seen consents being breached and water contamination. It seems the Government is more interested in acting as an apologist for the industry than actually developing regulation to protect people and the environment.


The report also looks at the implications on climate change of a ‘golden age of gas’. The report notes that natural gas emits less CO2 than other fossil fuels, which could help other economies dependent on coal for electricity generation, however the bigger picture is more concerning. The report notes that even if we enter the ‘golden age of gas’ and considerably increase global consumption, emissions are still well above the trajectory required to reach the globally agreed goal of limiting the temperature rise to 2°C.

A Cornell University study found that gas sourced from fracked rock in the US could do more to aggravate global warming than mining coal. Professor Robert Howarth says “The take-home message of our study is that if you do an integration of 20 years following the development of the gas, shale gas is worse than conventional gas and is, in fact, worse than coal and worse than oil

In New Zealand we should put a moratorium on new fracking activities and instead focus on clean energy and clean-tech which is better for the economy and the environment.

Published in Environment & Resource Management by Gareth Hughes on Fri, June 1st, 2012   


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