The United Kingdom has just given the green light to its first horizontal hydraulic fracturing permit—and only its second shale gas permit. The government gave Cuadrilla Resources permission to drill four wells in the sleepy town of Little Plumpton, tucked away in northwest England. Cuadrilla’s application was denied by the local county council last year, but the UK’s Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid overruled that decision this week, in a move that the Financial Times says will make “fracking elsewhere much more likely.” The FT continues:
Mr Javid ruled that Cuadrilla Resources should be allowed to drill four horizontal wells at its Preston New Road site near Blackpool, the first time permission has been granted in the UK for a form of fracking that would extend beneath homes. […]
Advocates of fracking said the ruling was a breakthrough in the push to unlock Britain’s shale gas resources after a near-standstill since exploratory drilling by Cuadrilla in Lancashire caused small earth tremors in 2011…Business groups welcomed the decision and lawyers said there were only narrow grounds for appeal.
The UK could finally be looking at a tipping point in its pursuit of its sizable shale gas reserves, estimated to be somewhere in the range of 1.4 quadrillion cubic feet, ending a long period of inaction after local opposition has stymied even the exploration of the resource.
Opponents of UK fracking are calling the May Administration’s decision anti-democratic, and in so doing are highlighting one of biggest problems shale exploration has in the UK (and one of shale’s biggest advantages in the U.S.): unlike their counterparts in America, in Britain, landowners don’t have access to mineral rights. The U.S. is fairly unique in this regard, and mineral rights have played a large part in giving landowners affected by fracking operations the financial incentive to agree to the disruptions that attend a large shale operation.
That isn’t the only American shale advantage the UK’s experience is highlighting. It’s fortunate that here in the U.S. many of the most productive shale formations are located in areas of low population density, making concentrated local opposition less likely. The UK, like many other European countries that have also struggled to get their fledgling shale industries off the ground, is more densely populated, and NIMBYism is naturally a bigger problem.
But for four wells in a corner of the country, that hurdle has finally been cleared. It’s not the end of the fight, but it’s a start, and as the UK’s North Sea oil production continues to tank, this kind of progress couldn’t come at a better time.