To Frack or Not to Frack
What Brexit Means for British Shale Ambitions

One of the more interesting and less-discussed implications of Brexit has to do with British energy security—more specifically what lies ahead for the country’s dormant shale industry. As Reuters reports, the new Prime Minister Theresa May may be able to do what the recently-departed David Cameron couldn’t: namely, start bringing to market some of Britain’s estimated 1.3 quadrillion cubic feet of shale gas:

Britain’s shale gas industry could get a helping hand from a falling pound and a supportive new prime minister just as it is gearing up for its first production this year, after facing economic and political challenges that slowed its start. […]

In the speech launching her campaign for the leadership on Monday, May stressed the importance of secure energy supplies, which shale advocates say is one of their industry’s strengths. “I want to see an energy policy that emphasizes the reliability of supply and lower costs for users,” May said.

May shook things up in a different way on Thursday when she dissolved the country’s department of energy and climate change and created a new ministry. The FT has more:

Mrs May has shifted responsibility for energy issues to a new Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy headed by Greg Clark, formerly secretary of state for communities and local government. Separately, former energy minister, Andrea Leadsom, a prominent Brexit campaigner who initially challenged Mrs May for the Tory leadership, has been promoted to secretary of state for the environment. Mr Clark said he was looking forward to “delivering affordable, clean energy and tackling climate change”, along with a comprehensive industrial strategy.

This is all so new that we still don’t know quite what it will mean yet, but it’s significant that energy concerns are no longer being grouped with environmental ones, but rather with business and industry. That certainly seems to send a signal that energy policy decisions will be evaluated more on economic merits than green concerns.

If that’s the case, then Britain’s shale potential could be one step closer to being realized.

That said, the Cameron administration was itself fracking friendly—opposition to shale in the UK hasn’t come from the top-down, but rather from the bottom-up. Landowners lack the mineral rights that American property owners do, and therefore don’t have the same financial incentives to agree to shale operations in their communities. Moreover, Britain’s population density is higher than America’s, which necessarily increases the likelihood that NIMBYism might derail drilling efforts.

May has already spent a notable amount of time in her short time as Prime Minister talking up the importance of energy security, and she’s right to label that a priority: with the end of North Sea oil production rapidly approaching, the UK desperately needs some good domestic energy news. Shale gas can be just that, but it’s going to take more than rhetoric from 10 Downing to make that a reality. May certainly has her work cut out for her.

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