Earlier this week it was India that was making moves to catch up to the American shale bandwagon, but today it’s the UK. Three years ago the British Geological Survey doubled its estimates of the country’s shale gas reserves up to a sizable 1,300 trillion cubic feet (tcf), but since then staunch public dissent has prevented drillers from making any exploratory inroads into this resource. Now, an exploratory shale project has been given a thumbs up by planners ahead of a county council vote on the matter next week. The FT reports:
Third Energy wants to frack for shale gas at an existing well outside the village of Kirby Misperton to see if the rock below is suitable for large-scale exploitation. It could lead to hundreds of wells across the rolling hills of Ryedale and create an indigenous shale industry after years of delays. […]
The Conservative dominated council will be under huge pressure from government to give the go-ahead, while most local residents are opposed. […]
Third Energy said it was “pleased” with the recommendation. “We have addressed the wide range of questions, concerns and comments raised by North Yorkshire county council, statutory consulters and others,” said Rasik Valand, chief executive…“Third Energy has been drilling wells and producing gas safely and discreetly from this site in Kirby Misperton for over 20 years and we will continue to maintain the same standards in the future.”
Britain’s Environment Agency has also green-lit the plan, which means every stakeholder but the local public are united in their determination to kick-start fracking in the UK after a five year break. There are very clear economic and energy security incentives for the UK to start taking advantage of its as-yet untapped shale reserves, and the current British government would very much like to follow the U.S. example.
But public sentiment is a serious consideration—all the more so in a democratic society—and opposition to fracking in the UK recently hit an all-time high. It should be noted that in that same poll, 88 percent of respondents said that they “did not know a lot” about fracking. Education on the controversial drilling process could put to bed many of the myths peddled by environmentalists—like the fact that drilling occurs thousands of feet below the water table, or the fact that properly encased wells can effectively minimize the risks of groundwater contamination.
Money is also a powerful incentive to get local communities on one’s side, and it’s something that shale drillers have used to great effect here in the United States. Unfortunately, unlike their American counterparts, landowners in the UK do not own mineral rights—that is, they only lay claim to what’s on the surface of their land, not underneath—and so must rely on the local councils negotiating with energy companies for compensation, rather than signing leases with those firms themselves. Mineral rights have been a powerful tool for overcoming NIMBY concerns that might have derailed the American shale boom, and their lack thereof in the UK has so far kept all 1,300 tcf of that shale gas in the ground.