The UK is sitting on an estimated 1.3 quadrillion cubic feet of shale gas, but it’s not commercially producing any of it at the moment. The rest of the world has been remarkably slow to catch up to America’s shale success, stymied by more complicated geology, water scarcity, scarce capital, or a lack of technological know-how, but in the UK the biggest obstacle has been public opposition. The British public remains highly skeptical of the drilling practice, and the Guardian reports that support for fracking is falling:
Just 19% of people back exploration for shale gas in the latest edition of the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s long-running public attitudes tracker, down from a high of 29% two years ago. The percentage against has risen to a new high of 31%, while the proportion neither for or against has remained largely stable, at 46%. […]A Decc spokesman said: “These findings show that half of the people asked still don’t have a view on fracking, but more importantly that the vast majority (88%) said that they do not know a lot about it. This is exactly why we want people to have access to all the facts so they can see past the myths and understand the benefits which include greater energy security, more jobs and growth.”
According to this survey, a plurality of people haven’t yet made up their mind on fracking the UK, but so far opposition has been strong enough to delay exploration permitting at the council level. Crucially, landowners in the UK don’t own mineral rights, and as a result don’t have a financial incentive to vote to allow fracking in their communities. Contrast that with the United States, where landowners do own more than just the surface of their property, and are therefore compensated for allowing shale firms to plumb their land.The UK’s shale fate is by no means sealed, and the country could still stand to benefit immensely from its prodigious natural gas reserves in the coming years, but shaky public support will make that task a lot more difficult than it’s been here in the United States. Once again, another country’s struggles to replicate the American shale experience reminds us just how spectacular—and how unique—this energy revolution has been.