When David Cameron’s Conservative party rolled its way through elections this spring, we surmised that the new government, unencumbered by the demands of coalition politics, might be capable of kick-starting British shale production. Cameron has long been a fracking booster, and his appointment of shale-friendly Amber Rudd as his new energy minister signaled a renewed commitment to the controversial drilling technique. Rudd wasted little time getting to work, last month unveiling a plan to expedite the local approval process, one of the biggest hurdles to British shale development thus far.But the Conservative party isn’t the only one touting the potential benefits of exploiting Britain’s estimated 1.3 quadrillion cubic feet of shale gas. In what can only be read as a boon to fracking’s political clout, Labour’s shadow energy minister has cautioned greens against their opposition. The BBC reports:
Bryony Worthington – now Labour shadow energy minister – says fracking will create less CO2 than compressing gas in Qatar and shipping it to Britain. […]“We have to be realistic,” she told BBC News. “We are going to be using gas for a long time because of the huge role it plays for heating homes and for industry. “The important thing is to minimize the carbon emissions from gas. That means if we can get our own fracked gas, it’s better to use that than importing gas that’s been compressed at great energy cost somewhere else.”
Her point is a valid one—domestically sourcing natural gas from shale formations could potentially cut British emissions by displacing LNG imports, which necessarily involve energy-intensive liquefaction processes and international shipping. Moreover, boosting domestic production could help shore up the UK’s energy security, which is currently being threatened by rapidly declining North Sea oil production. As the Telegraph explains, plunging oil prices are tightening the screws on an already struggling region:
Falling oil prices could lead to the closure of 140 fields in the North Sea over the next five years as operators accelerate plans for decommissioning amid drastic cost cutting, [leading energy consultancy Wood MacKenzie] has warned…Even a partial recovery to around $70 a barrel would leave 50 oil fields facing early closure, the Edinburgh-based firm said.
The UK has the shale reserves, it has the environmental, economic, and strategic incentives to tap it, and now, it seems, it has the political will necessary to overcome the local intransigence that has so far forestalled any UK shale boom. Will it be able to follow America’s lead? We’ll be watching.