Industry experts have highlighted the reduced reserves of shale gas at a meeting attended by prime minister David Cameron and energy secretary Ed Davey.
According to The Independent, the experts made clear at the meeting, also attended by senior ministers, that the UK’s reserves were smaller than first thought and could be uneconomical to extract.
Now senior coalition figures have agreed that shale gas has the potential to be deeply controversial without securing major benefits in lowering carbon emissions or reducing energy costs.
The revelation, ahead of the publication this week of major reforms of the energy market, will be welcomed by green campaigners who have been deeply opposed to clearing the way for a new generation of gas power plants, and voiced serious concerns about the environmental impact, including the potential for fracking to trigger earthquakes and contaminate water supplies.
Joss Garman, from Greenpeace, said: “The shale gas bubble has burst. Despite all the hype, even the energy companies now acknowledge shale gas isn’t the answer to Britain’s energy needs.
“Ministers are having to face up to the fact that there isn’t much of it, it won’t bring down bills, and it’s damaging to our climate.”
The Prime Minister convened the Downing Street summit to hear from companies including Shell, Centrica and Schlumberger, which have been working on shale gas projects in America and exploring the potential of supplies in Ukraine and China.
The ministers were told Britain was not in a position to exploit vast amounts of its own shale gas stores. “The reserves aren’t absolutely huge compared with the likes of America, Ukraine and North Africa,” said a senior government source.
“And we are relatively densely populated. It is a question of how much we can get out, and at what cost. There is a not-insignificant amount of domestic supply, but not a game-changing amount.”
Mr Davey now rejects the idea that a rush to bring shale gas online will have the biggest impact on reducing household energy bills. Speaking after the Downing Street meeting, he said industry experts were “clear that it would take time for shale gas to be exploited in the UK” and cautioned that the reserves “are not quite as large as some have been speculating”.