Fracking Fears
Why British Shale Could Fail Where America’s Succeeded

The UK has copious amounts of shale gas and plenty of companies interested in tapping it, but local opposition and an unsupportive public has managed to keep that resource in the ground. As the Guardian reports, a recent survey found that a majority of people surveyed who considered themselves informed about fracking didn’t support the controversial drilling process:

More than half (53%) of [those surveyed] who said they knew a lot about fracking were against it, compared to a third (33%) who said they were in favour of it, the latest poll tracking attitudes to energy policies has revealed. Among those who thought they knew a little about it, opposition outstripped support by 40% to 26%, the survey for the Department of Energy and Climate Change found. [. . .]

The latest findings of the public attitudes tracker come as the government continues its push to develop a shale industry in the UK, with decisions on schemes being taking out of council hands in the face of strong local opposition.

Public concerns are obviously hugely important to the shale industry, no matter the country, but in the UK, they’re preventing production from even getting off of the ground. This is in part due to the fact that British landowners lack the mineral rights—ownership of what’s under the land they own, not just what’s on the surface—that American landowners do. Those ownership rights have incentivized landowners and communities here in the U.S. to sign leases with shale companies, and in so doing, they have been a vital component of what has, to this point, been a unique formula for successful fracking.

There are plenty of claims levied against the safety of fracking, but so long as the vertical wells that producers drill are properly encased in cement and wastewater is properly disposed of (or recycled), the risk of contaminating groundwater can be mitigated. The EPA itself found that beyond some extraordinary exceptions, fracking had no “widespread, systemic impact on drinking water.” Still, perceptions matter, and greens have worked hard to demonize this energy revolution (despite its eco-merits). Lacking mineral rights, the UK’s journey towards imitating America’s shale boom is looking to be an uphill slog.

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