After the British Geological Survey doubled its estimates for British shale gas resources up to a sizable 1.3 quadrillion cubic feet, we wrote that shale was hale in the UK. But though our partners across the Atlantic had the most important ingredient for a shale boom (shale hydrocarbons themselves), now, more than two years later, no boom has yet materialized. The UK’s great shale hopes have so far been a non-starter, largely stymied by local opposition that has effectively stopped firms from drilling exploratory wells in the British countryside. Now, as the WSJ reports, the British government is taking steps to expedite the local approval process:
The move limits to 16 weeks the time that local governments in England have to make a decision on whether to allow a company to explore for shale gas using hydraulic fracking […]
“To ensure we get this industry up and running we can’t have a planning system that sees applications dragged out for months, or even years on end,” said U.K. Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd. Under the new rules, which take immediate effect, the government will have the power to intervene and make a decision to approve or reject applications when local authorities are taking too long.
In other words, a British minister will step into the approval process if it’s deemed that local councils are mired in discussions or are making “slow and confused” decisions. “Local authorities are still going to be very much involved, but the Secretary for State for communities and local government will now have a increased role in making sure they stick to the planning timetable”, reassured Rudd.
It often seems that when we look at shale’s progress abroad, we’re reminded of another facet of the American success story that we perhaps took for granted. In the UK’s case, councils are making decisions and having to balance a tangled mess of stakeholders with disparate concerns. In the U.S., however, by and large that decision falls to the property owner, thanks to the fact that land ownership here gives the owner mineral rights as well. When a geologist tells you that you’re sitting on a major oil or gas find in America, you’re in luck, as a payday is likely headed your way. Elsewhere in the world, that discovery will only produce dismay, as most governments retain the rights to underground resources.
So Britain is striking a match in the hopes of lighting the shale fuse. We’ll have to wait and see if it catches.