If Britain successfully taps into its shale gas reserves it will revolutionise the industry because the UK will become less reliant on oil and coal, say business leaders.

Speaking at a roundtable debate on shale gas in London, company chiefs emphasised that shale gas will provide a cleaner energy source and therefore lower carbon emissions.

A British Geological Survey is expected to reveal a significant quantity of shale gas reserves in the UK, possibly enough to power the country's electricity for 100 years.

"If the US had ever signed up to Kyoto, they would have now met their Kyoto objectives ... as a consequence directly of shale gas in the US, making a move away from the burning of coal," said Andrew Austin, chief executive of British production firm IGas, at a round table debate on shale gas.

"If you're going to burn any hydrocarbon, and we'd all realise we'd rather not have to, but if we've got to use hydrocarbons, you're better using gas than you are using oil, and you're better using gas than you are using coal.

"And if you're going to use gas, you're much better to use gas which is sourced close to home. The carbon impact of shipping gas around the world is significant.

"If you're going to get involved in the carbon impact of liquefying gas in Qatar, then shipping it around the world, then re-gasifying it here, you're going to have a greater carbon impact.

"Every time you shift it around, you increase the carbon impact rather than reduce it."

Critics of shale gas production say fracking - the use of hydraulics to crack rocks, release the trapped gas, and tap it off - is a danger to the environment. They point to slight tremors caused by the rock blasting as well as the risk of chemical leakage during the process.

They also say we should instead intensify our focus on clean renewable energy instead, such as wind, solar and tidal power.

Joss Garman, acting political director of environmental NGO Greenpeace UK, said the UK could already source a sufficient amount of gas and did not need to expand its production of fossil fuels.

"Under any scenario in which the UK and Europe hits its climate change targets, we have a largely decarbonised power sector by roughly 2030, which means the gas you require is for backup for a largely renewables based system and gas for some heating," he said at the debate, held by recruiter Spencer Ogden.

"There's going to be more than enough gas from conventional known reserves without having to bring onstream unconventional reserves."

Garman added: "By the time shale gas comes online, we are talking late 2020s early 2030s, there'll be more than enough gas from the North Sea and Norway and everywhere else without having to bring onstream new unconventional reserves."

Corin Taylor, senior economic adviser at the Institute of Directors, said he could not understand why environmental campaigners were not in favour of moving to shale gas production.

"Over the past year, we've generated about 40% of our energy from coal - by far and away the most dirty fossil fuel, not just for carbon emissions, but for air pollution as well," said Taylor.

"It's a reason to use natural gas to help us transition away from coal to provide electricity when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining, to provide heating, and also for use in industry, and potentially in transport too.

"In the US, one great environment benefit of shale gas has been putting natural gas in buses, which is cleaning up air pollution in cities and potentially in long-distance trucks as well.

"You have a lot of people who die from diesel fumes every year in the UK, so you could have a big environmental benefit from moving some of that to natural gas, as well as having hybrid and electric vehicles as well."

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