The debate over fracking has crossed the Atlantic, and is currently consuming the UK. The country has an estimated 1.3 quadrillion cubic feet of recoverable shale gas, but local opposition has so far prevented any progress on tapping these reserves. Now, a recent report from the British Geological Survey (BGS) and a new government proposal for circumventing local Not-In-My-Backyard (NIMBY) opposition are making an already-contentious issue even hotter.First, the good news: the BGS estimates that, in addition to the large quantities of natural gas trapped in British shale, the UK is home to between 2.2 and 8.6 billion barrels of tight oil in southern England’s Weald Basin. With the recent rapid decline in output from its North Sea oil fields, any news of other domestic sources of crude are welcome.But to get at this oil, the UK will have to frack, and public support for the controversial drilling method just hit an all-time low, dropping below 50 percent for the first time ever. But the British government believes it has a solution: drill baby, drill, regardless of local opposition. Reuters reports:
The government’s proposal is to allow companies to drill below 300 metres (328 yards) without permission from landowners, although “hydraulic fracturing would only occur at far greater depths of 1.5 kilometre (around 5,000 feet) or more,” it said. […]To help placate local opposition, the government said on Friday that shale companies had proposed they make a voluntary one-off payment of 20,000 pounds ($33,700) to communities for each well they drill that extends more than 200 metres horizontally underground.That payment would be on top of the shale compensation payouts already in the offing. The government said last year that the shale industry would have to provide communities located near exploratory wells with 100,000 pounds worth of benefits and 1 percent of the revenue from each production site.
This may not be the smartest move for the sitting government; the British people understandably expect to have some input into what happens in their local communities. Riding roughshod over homeowner protests won’t win politicians many votes come the next national election.This all goes to show just how good it is to be American, at least when it comes to shale oil and gas. There are a number of reasons why other countries haven’t been able to replicate America’s success. The key difference in this case is that Americans are afforded mineral rights—that is, they not only own the surface of their land, but also what’s underneath it—which gives communities the incentive to allow companies to come in and frack. Britons, notably, lack these rights, and one-off payments don’t seem to be enough to assuage their concerns. Going ahead anyways seems like a dangerous strategy for the British government; educating the public on the benefits of fracking might be the smarter way to go.