British Prime Minister David Cameron made an appeal to the British public in Monday’s Telegraph to embrace fracking, outlining the benefits of exploiting the UK’s shale gas reserves and seeking to dispel what he called the “myths” surrounding the polarizing topic. No. 10 has been mounting a public relations campaign this summer to convince Brits that fracking is in their best interest; Cameron’s opinion piece is its most direct communique yet.
Cameron points out the energy savings that households will enjoy if Britain is able to successfully tap in to its shale gas reserves, which the British Geological Survey pegged at nearly 1,300 trillion cubic feet earlier this summer, roughly double previous estimates. America’s experience certainly seems to bear that point out, as US households and industries are enjoying bargain-basement natural gas prices. Cameron also wants Britain to try to emulate America’s successful brown jobs boom; he cites a study that predicts fracking can add 74,000 jobs for the UK.
But the British PM’s experience will differ from the US when it comes to compensating localities for the influx of drilling equipment, trucks, and supporting infrastructure that accompanies the shale gas industry. In the US, surface rights are accompanied by mineral rights; that is, if you own a piece of land, you likely own the rights to whatever is underneath that land, be it oil, gas, gold, or silver (unless a previous owner sold those rights or state law says otherwise). American property owners get paid for their trouble, but most countries don’t afford similar mineral rights to their citizens. In the UK, the government owns all oil and gas reserves, which removes an important incentive for local communities to go along with fracking. Cameron addresses this point in his piece in the Telegraph:
Companies have agreed to pay £100,000 to every community situated near an exploratory well where they’re looking to see if shale gas exists. If gas is then extracted, 1 per cent of the revenue—perhaps as much as £10 million—will go straight back to residents who live nearby. This is money that could be used for a variety of purposes—from reductions in council-tax bills to investment in neighbourhood schools. It’s important that local people share in the wealth generated by fracking.
That’s a savvy move to help combat the kind of NIMBY-ism that has threatened to stop Britain’s shale exploration before it even begins. And really, that’s who David Cameron is appealing to in this public missive. The Prime Minister has a tough task ahead of him: Britain’s geology is more crunched than America’s, which will make fracking more difficult, and the country is more densely populated, which will make it it less popular.
Still, shale gas can be extracted in ways that minimize the risks, and to the extent that it replaces coal and works in tandem with renewables, it can be considered green. Add to that the added energy security that such a domestic energy source brings, and you get a compelling case for hopping on board the shale bandwagon.