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Shale Gas and Fracking

qrhyuAs the preface of this excellent book explains, while many people and institutions are looking for information on shale gas and fracking, much of what they find is often thinly disguised propaganda. The author holds out that one source of information that matters is the science, and his book tells an evidence-based story that addresses the dominant highlights of the current, predominantly non-scientific discourse, as espoused in the popular media and by certain pressure groups opposing the industry.

The book tells a story - the what, how and why of shale gas; and while it is informed by research, community and industrial experience from the US, it is about shale gas and fracking in the UK. Stephenson acknowledges the limitations of shale gas here compared with the US, but puts forward an argument in favour of the industry by putting these limitations in their wider context. He breaks the subject into a series of contested areas and addresses each in turn with an evidence based argument.

While taking an informal style of writing the author cleverly explains some very complex geological topics in a manner that is accessible by the public and not patronising to the specialist. The bibliography at the end of each chapter serves as a starting point for further investigation of that chapter’s subject.

The author also places shale gas in the wider context of climate change.  With reference to Pacala and Socolow’s ‘stabilisation wedges’, he shows how shale gas can have a positive impact on climate change and contrasts this with its perceived negative impacts. He delves deeper into the science of energy, with comparisons of burning coal vs. gas, fugitive methane and discusses proposals and rebuttals on the importance of relative impacts.

Particularly good is his discussion of ‘methane in water’, a very clear evidence-based argument that places the media hype in perspective. The argument is well-paced, tells a logical and well referenced story and, while it does lead you to the author’s conclusion, it does imply that that is the ‘only possible’ conclusion.

For both its content and accessibility, this book deserves to become the ‘go-to’ volume on shale gas and fracking for policy-makers, economists as well as geologists, NGOs and local communities. Thanks to the writer’s skill as a science communicator, this book is for everyone and anyone interested in geoscience and how it can galvanise a society.

Reviewed by John Midgeley

SHALE GAS AND FRACKING: THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE CONTROVERSY by STEPHENSON, M 2015.  170pp sbk & Kindle. Elsevier, Amsterdam. ISBN (Print) 9780128016060 (Ebook) 9780128017623. List Price £51.84 (print).  Other prices for combinations.