Leading article

At last, Britain can have its shale gas revolution

22 August 2015

9:00 AM

22 August 2015

9:00 AM

Over the past week, the government has finally made a decisive move to kickstart a fracking industry in Britain. Licences have been issued for shale gas exploration and the planning process streamlined so that in future, if local councils fail to make decisions within 16 weeks, the communities secretary will step in and adjudicate.

It’s excellent news that the years of prevarication over shale seem finally to have come to a close, and greatly to the credit of our Climate Change Secretary, Amber Rudd, and Communities Secretary, Greg Clark. But the dismally slow speed at which our much-vaunted ‘shale revolution’ has taken place will end up costing this country.

The coalition liked to talk up fracking, but the truth is that they failed to make the legislative changes which were necessary to allow it to happen. In one sense, the coalition actually made things worse: by abolishing the Infrastructure Planning Commission that Labour had set up to make decisions about projects of national importance.


The folly of failing to give fracking full-hearted support became clear last month when councillors in Lancashire rejected two planning applications for fracking sites, both on the parochial grounds that they would increase lorry traffic and lead to urbanisation of a rural or semi-rural area. The Lancashire decisions were cheered by residents, and anti-fracking groups proclaimed a ‘victory for localism’. So it was. It was also a perfect example of how the creed of localism can be deeply misguided. It’s all very well to allow residents a say on the design of new housing or the size of extensions, but there’s no sense in allowing them to veto matters of national importance. To make a responsible decision about whether to sink a fracking well means balancing the economic benefit with the disruption to the local environment.

Judged on a national scale, there is a very strong case for enabling fracking. If the industry here follows the lead given by the US, it will lead to sharply reduced energy bills for homes and businesses as well as a dramatic cut in carbon emissions as coal power is replaced by gas, which, kilowatt-hour for kilowatt-hour, emits half as much carbon. The potential damage done by fracking is, on the other hand, mostly minor: a rise in lorry traffic and the erection of unsightly drilling rigs. The hazards constantly invoked by the anti-fracking lobby — of earthquake and contaminated water — are extremely low risks.

Yet it is too much to expect residents facing the prospect of fracking in their neighbourhood to see things objectively. For them, the benefits will not necessarily outweigh the costs. Leaving local communities to rule on fracking therefore means a complete block on the industry, which nationally is in the interests of only a few.

It is to be hoped that with the Lib Dems gone, this decisive move on fracking will be followed by a more rational energy policy overall. As things stand, Britain remains committed to unilateral carbon reduction targets, which were arrived at without any thought for the cost to the economy. In the end, these cuts to carbon emissions achieve nothing but to shift emissions from British industries to ones based abroad. Faced with the prospect of losing much of our manufacturing industry to Asia, where energy taxes are lower, George Osborne has allowed some compensation to energy-intensive industry but the government has failed to tackle the underlying problem: the Climate Change Act.

If Amber Rudd is minded to address this issue, as well as the fracking problem, she should go on to become one of this government’s high-achievers. It is right that the government should have a clean energy policy. But it will ultimately achieve nothing if it isn’t also an affordable energy policy.

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  • Chris Hobson

    we shall burn through it in no time

    • KingEric

      Even though conservative estimates say there’s up to a 100 years supply. Really?

      • Pacificweather

        I am taking bets is all gone by 2065. Want a flutter?

        • TomV

          Like the polar bears, like the glaciers and like the antarctic ice cap.

          It’s amazing that we are still alive 🙂

          • Pacificweather

            It’ll be life Jim, but not as we know it.

          • TomV

            yawn ….

          • Pacificweather

            Zzzzz…

      • William_Brown

        I understood it to be estimated at approx. 40 years.

  • cartimandua

    Fracking is malignant and insane.
    Water companies are not happy about supply.
    Water companies are not happy about used water being cleaned.
    Only one plant in the USA cleans it well enough to return it to the water cycle.
    Water is finite and especially in overpopulated areas relying on aquifers losing any of it really matters.
    The water companies are refusing new housing developments in the southeast because they cannot supply them now.
    Secondly no one will insure home owners for loss of value. Value is about perception in a buyer.
    So robbing families of everything they own eh?
    And last but not least farmers will lose export markets. We export to countries which have banned fracking.
    They will stop buying what we produce.

    • KingEric

      Not fracking is even more insane. Obviously you look forward to the lights going out and paying loads more for utilities. Some people are so strange.

      • Pacificweather

        It’s the disease of British goverment. We cannot compensate people in the national interest until, as with coal, we find we have no choice. Cheap to the point of stupidity every time.

    • TomV

      “So robbing families of everything they own eh?”
      relax and have a cup of tea 🙂

      “And last but not least farmers will lose export markets. We export to countries which have banned fracking.
      They will stop buying what we produce.”

      GET REAL !
      Who in the world cares – when they buy agricultural products – if Fracking is legal in the UK .

  • Blindsideflanker

    Or is the British state going to rape England for its shale gas revolution?

  • Tamerlane

    Hoorah for fracking. Hoorah for common sense.

    Ours.
    Abundant.
    Clean.
    Secure.
    Not the Russians’.
    Not the Arabs’.
    Cheap.
    No more persecuting the elderly in the name of the ‘environment’.
    No more exploitative taxation disguised as ‘environmental protection’.
    A game changer for the nation.

    PS- If the Scots don’t want it that’s fine, more for us and they can huddle round peat bog fires in winter. Fine by me.

    • SNP “AJOCKALYPSE”

      Scotland will do as Scotland chooses, irrespective of the views of BRITNATS such as yourself.

      YES SCOTLAND

    • Pacificweather

      But sold to the market and traded eight time before it reaches you and me. It could all have been so different…

  • Molly NooNar

    At last, Britain can have its shale gas revolution … just so long as the people don’t have a say.

    … and after its been tried out on those worthless Northerners first.

    • freddiethegreat

      Isn’t the north where the shale is?

      • Molly NooNar

        It’s why Osborne refers to a Northern powerhouse because he thinks its good for nothing else.

        • freddiethegreat

          So it is in lots of places, but they are starting in the North? I’m not up in UK geology, just asking

          • Molly NooNar

            Despite unequivocal disapproval and resistance … which will continue. The North will never be fracked. Social unrest is inevitable.

          • freddiethegreat

            Just checking – won’t it increase employment?

          • Molly NooNar

            Since the DWP has been found fabricating its own evidence for its policies (not mentioned at all in the Spectator), one wonders what the unemployment rate really is and how much its being fiddled. I don’t believe a word of it.

            This government treats us as if we are all mugs. Northern powerhouses, localism -except when your opinions conflict with ours and big business.

          • freddiethegreat

            I think you would all have done better with a big UKIP presence

          • Terry Field

            They may pump the ‘unrested’ into the gas holes!

          • gscales631

            Shale GAS in the North (and lots of it), shale OIL in the South, and not as much. Gas is easier to get out of shale, oil is harder. Basically, its happening up north because thats where there is likely a huge resource. Down south is much more speculative.

        • Terry Field

          Is it?

          • LastmaninEurope

            Admirable tenacity Sir. I could admire Molly’s ability to deflect – if it didn’t betray her myopia on the topic.

    • ill-liberal

      Many in the north will be glad for the work and boost to the economy.

    • gscales631

      Err, the geology is best in the North. Yes, there is some shale oil possible in the South, but the big resource by far is shale GAS in the North. Also, there is a good climate argument for switching to gas. The climate argument for exploring the tight oil reserves in Southern England is far weaker – as is the likely economics.

      • Molly NooNar

        This paper and Tories don’t give two hoots about the climate, so I won’t be accepting any such argument. If the Tories want to frack, go ahead and do it in your own heartlands see how your voters respond.

  • Terry Field

    Houses, supermarkets, industrial zones, intensive farming, fracked landscapes and no nature except a tuberculotic badger and the few remaining finches.
    Hell on earth.
    SO glad I do not live there.

  • SNP “AJOCKALYPSE”

    Cameron has no say on what will happen in Scotland.

    YES SCOTLAND

  • Andy B

    I bet every one of these that gets approval will be in the North and not one in the home counties (which is where most of the easily accessible stuff is)

  • Ever the skeptic

    Isn’t it odd that when government forces something on you, government has become too big and onerous? If government prohibits fracking, government is getting in the way. If government insists on fracking, it is doing the right thing. Wouldn’t a better solution be to let economics come in play without government interference? If drillers want to drill, let them compensate those whose homes and environment will be disrupted. Give locals the choice to accept or reject an offer.

    This way, the government neither interferes with an offer nor forces an acceptance of one. That, I believe, is how the free market should work.

  • DAVID WATT

    The trouble is that until we drill a few boreholes no one really knows how much gas is there or whether the environmental issues can be well managed or not.

    I suspect that fracking may well be big and that in reality the issues with water, seismicity, lorries or anything else will be easily managable.

    The Greens seem to me to share this view which is why they are so keen to nip it in the bud before the public learn how over-egged their scare stories are or how big the benefits will be.

    Having absent-mindedly lost what remained of our coal industry as well as our former nuclear expertise and having used up most of our North Sea oil and gas, Britain desperately needs fracking to be a success.

    The present glut of energy won’t last and to depend on the likes of Russia or Quatar for essential supplies would be foolishly risky..

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