- There’s still a de facto moratorium on fracking after first test-frack triggered earthquakes in April 2011. A Government decision is expected soon and they will almost certainly say fracking can start again. The key will be what conditions (eg tougher regulation) will be applied.
- Government position: the Energy Secretary Ed Davey (from the small Lib Dem party) thinks UK shale gas potential is overhyped; the Environment Secretary Owen Patterson (from the much larger Conservative party) is very pro-shale gas, as is the Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) George Osborne.
- Mr Osborne has just announced a consultation on tax breaks for the shale gas industry, jumping the gun on the Government decision. Interestingly, the Government Department for Energy & Climate Change didn’t seem to know much about this announcement before it was made!
- The opposition Labour party believes there are legitimate environmental concerns but (1) they see these as all being about local problems, not climate change and (2) they think everything can be addressed by tougher regulation
- A Parliamentary motion supporting a moratorium on fracking was supported by 49 MPs (including Lib Dems, Labour and nationalist parties)
- Legislation etc – the regulatory system in place is designed for offshore drilling (the UK’s oil and gas in the North Sea). It will probably be toughened for shale gas, but nowhere near as much as we believe it should be.
- The other legislative issue is how does shale gas extraction and use fit in with the UK’s legally-binding climate change targets?
Shale Gas activities
- The main active companies are:
- Cuadrilla Resources which has licences and planning permission in Lancashire and Sussex, has drilled test wells in Lancashire and test-fracked one of them. Cuadrilla is owned by AJ Lucas (big Australian mining company) and Riverstone LLC (a private equity firm based in Bermuda). Lord John Browne, former boss of BP, is a big player in Cuadrilla.
- Coastal Oil & Gas which has licences and planning permission in Kent and South Wales. They are closely linked to the UK branch of Australian multinational Eden Energy.
- Other companies with licences include UK Methane and Island Gas.
- Resources: estimates vary greatly: the British Geological Survey (BGS) says 1.5 years’ worth of current gas consumption; the US DOE says 5.5 years’ worth; Cuadrilla says more than 50 years’ worth in Lancashire alone. But we understand the BGS will soon publish a new estimate for the UK much nearer Cuadrilla’s numbers.
- Mapping: there is mapping of the geological potential for shale gas UK-wide but very little detailed mapping at the local level
- The level of development is still pretty low, with only a handful of wells drilled in Lancashire. However much of England and Wales is covered by licences allowing shale gas exploration and production, but the companies have to get planning permission from the local authority before they can proceed.
- Accidents: the one well that has been test-fracked so far – in Lancashire in 2011 – triggered low-level earthquakes. This led to a de facto moratorium on fracking that is still in place.
- The campaign against shale gas is growing. Local community opposition is springing up wherever fracking is proposed (and in some places where it isn’t!) There are maybe 20 anti-fracking groups at local level.
- Opposition is getting better organised, with support from FOE. There isn’t much co-ordination as yet, but there’s good networking both in person and online (email, Facebook etc)
- Nationally FOE is the main NGO active, but WWF, RSPB (UK Birdlife group) and Greenpeace all interested to some extent. We are trying to work more closely with national politicians, trades unions etc.
- Frack-free zones: Manchester City Council has passed a frack-free motion and we are working with them on what this means in practice for a council where there is unlikely to be fracking. Frack-free motions have also been proposed in several other council areas.