Why Britain doesn't frack

1d ago
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Shale gas has revolutionised America’s energy industry. Produced via a process called hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking’, in which water is forced into rock, cracking it to release the valuable gas it contains, it’s provided a much-needed boost to America’s economy. Britain, however, hasn’t joined in on the action. Restrictions on fracking in Britain were lifted in 2012, but no onshore sites have been drilled in the past three years. Why not? First, geography. Suitable fracking sites in Britain are awkwardly placed. The British Geological Survey has estimated that up to 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas lie in the north of England. If even 10% of this could be accessed it would supply Britain's gas needs for the next forty or more years. But most of these sites lie under densely populated cities, protected national parks and valuable agricultural land. Second, public opposition. Unlike in America, rights to oil and gas deposits belong not to landowners, but to the British crown. This makes it harder to convince reluctant landowners of the benefits by offering rewards. Green groups are also strongly opposed on environmental grounds, and protests have blocked drilling in the past. Fracking advocates say problems can be avoided if sites are carefully monitored, but after drilling in Lancashire caused two small earthquakes in 2011, protests intensified. The fracking industry has also failed to convince Britons at large of the benefits - polls show that less than a quarter of Britons are strongly in favour of fracking, while almost half are ambivalent. Lastly, regulation. Even if the opposition to fracking subsided, dense regulatory restrictions stand in the way. Several different bodies oversee planning and permission, including local councils and government departments, and winning approval can take up to two years. Prime Minister David Cameron, an enthusiastic advocate of fracking, is trying to get the drills going. His government has stepped back from a commitment to ban fracking in national parks, and may loosen regulations further. New rules also hand 100% of local tax revenues from fracking to local councils, up from 50% last year, in an effort to boost local support for drilling projects. Despite all this, the Lancashire council has just thrown out a proposal from fracking company Caudrilla to start drilling in the area, another major set back in the government's plans. The difficulty of access, combined with tepid support and fervent opposition mean a British fracking boom is unlikely to come anytime soon.