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UK Government lifts shale gas ban

14 December 2012

Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary, said on December 13 that shale gas exploration could resume in the UK with new controls. Attempts to exploit unconventional gas in Lancashire through fracking, which uses high-pressure liquid to split rock and extract gas, were put on hold 18 months ago after the process caused two small earthquakes near Blackpool.

Following the government's announcement, Cuadrilla has said it will will work closely with DECC, Lancashire County Council, the Environment Agency and the HSE before resuming fracking in Lancashire
Following the government's announcement, Cuadrilla has said it will will work closely with DECC, Lancashire County Council, the Environment Agency and the HSE before resuming fracking in Lancashire

Mr Davey said shale gas represented a promising new potential energy resource for the UK, although it was not yet known what contribution it could make to the energy mix, jobs and the economy.

He said: "I know there are some people who think this is a bad environmental decision but I think they're wrong. Do they want to see more home grown gas or more imported gas?”

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Davey said communities near possible shale sites should be reassured that shale gas extraction will be safe, despite fears in the US that it may have polluted drinking water in some areas. He said there will be tight regulatory controls on the drilling, which will be "continuously checked, monitored and evaluated".

The controls will include a traffic light system, requiring operators to stop if seismic activity reaches a certain level, magnitude 0.5, which is well below a quake that could be felt at the surface but higher than normal fracking levels. Mr Davey said impacts on water and local air pollution were already covered by the UK's existing "stringent" rules on oil and gas.

The Energy Secretary said the advent of shale gas would not weaken the UK's legally binding targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions. He announced a study from the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) chief scientist David McKay on the impact of shale gas on climate change.

The government also indicated that there would be benefits for communities near to fracking sites.

Companies are considering drilling for shale gas in West Sussex, south Wales, the Mendip Hills in Somerset, Kent and Lancashire.

The pioneer in this field in the UK, Cuadrilla Resources, estimates that the Bowland shale formation in Lancashire alone could hold as much as 5.7 trillion cubic metres of technically recoverable gas, and that reserves in Lancashire could supply a quarter of the UK gas demand in the future. However, other expert estimates of the amount of gas are lower.

The Energy Secretary said the government had uncovered management weaknesses at Cuadrilla following the minor earthquakes, but that these had been put right.

After obtaining planning permissions, environmental permits and consent, the company hopes to have initial data on how much gas it might be able to extract by the middle of next year.

The Treasury has already signalled its support for the budding industry, proposing tax relief for shale gas, and unveiling a gas generation strategy.

After the announcement, Energy Minister John Hayes said exploiting shale gas was likely to reduce the price of energy, as it has done in the US.

Shale gas has given a huge boost to the gas industry in the US, and now accounts for 95% of domestic natural gas consumption. The Energy Information Administration predicts that gas production will see a 44% increase by 2040, and that the US will become a net exporter of natural gas by 2020 as a result of the new gas available through fracking.

The UK and Poland are taking the lead in shale gas within Europe, where there is strong opposition in many countries to the fracking process. France, for example, is considered to have some of the most promising shale oil and gas prospects on the continent in the Paris area, but has banned fracking, and several German states have also halted exploratory drilling pending a government inquiry into the practice.


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