UK fracking furore will fizzle out says shale chief

Protests are the norm with onshore energy projects – but let industry address ‘fears and myths’ to prove benefits, says top natural gas lobbyist

Protesters rallied outside Parliament in July as MPs debated fracking (Pic: Friends of the Earth UK/Twitter)

Protesters rallied outside Parliament in July as MPs debated fracking (Pic: Friends of the Earth UK/Twitter)

By Alex Pashley

Britain will come round to shale drilling, much like it did with nuclear plants and wind farms, the head of industry body UK Onshore Oil and Gas, Ken Cronin, has said.

A month after the government awarded new licenses to explore for oil and gas across England, the industry will step up its consultations with local communities to ease concerns about the controversial practice.

“The UK has seen protests with respect to onshore wind farms, nuclear power stations, solar farms over the last 20 years. Opposition to onshore energy production is not new,” he told Climate Home in an interview.

“Whether it is shale gas or onshore wind, there will be opponents and proponents. We’ll typically work through the fears and myths just like wind did a few years ago.”

Hydraulic fracturing has not taken place in Britain since a one-year ban was lifted in 2012, with energy firms running into heated local opposition.

Last year, Lancashire country council threw out a planning application for shale wells due to its adverse impact on the landscape, noise and increased traffic.

The UK government sees gas as the core element in its energy strategy, having announced coal plants will close by 2025 and slashed support for wind and solar, a move that has angered green groups.

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Public ire continues apace. Hundreds of people took part in an anti-fracking demonstration just days ago in Merseyside, near to a test drilling site, the BBC reported.

The government has since moved to weaken local councils’ grip on planning decisions. It champions the extraction of natural gas from shale as a means to energy independence and cut carbon emission to counter climate change. Green groups see this at the expense of the fledgling renewables industry which has lost cash subsidies.

This week a pro-fracking Conservative MP resigned from a parliamentary shale gas group funded by gas companies after a campaign by constituents concerned about plans to explore for hydrocarbons near their homes.

Still, shale extraction had to be considered in the “totality” of UK energy policy, said Cronin, who joined in 2013 to fight the industry’s corner.

“What we have to do as an industry is work at the local community level to tell them how we’re doing it, what information we are giving them, what their option is before we do any planning applications.”

Myths fuelling opposition relating to fracking’s link to tremors or contamination of the water supply were due to “isolated events in the US”, he argued.

The US National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) recorded 1,427 quakes between 2014 and 2015 in Oklahoma, a major oil and gas producing state, leaving seismologists “concerned” about the potential impacts of fracking.

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But densely-populated Britain had more robust safeguards in the design of its wells, chemicals used in frack fluid, and independent regulators than in America, which pioneered the technology, Cronin stressed. Given proper regulations, risks were “minimal”.

“We have been producing oil and gas for over 100 years in a heavily regulated industry with very few problems.”

Licenses have been awarded mostly in north England in the Bowland basin, the largest formation with predictions of over 2,200 trillion cubic feet of shale gas. Though there is no guarantee any is technically recoverable, or that drilling will be commercially viable.

Last year’s global warming accord confirmed natural gas’ role as a ‘bridge fuel’ from highly-polluting coal to lower carbon sources, making it central to meeting emissions targets. The UK is committed by law to cut emissions at least 80% by 2050 on 1990 levels.

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The fuel’s role in producing renewables technologies like solar panels to petrochemicals meant it was indispensable.

“I don’t see it as renewables versus gas. I see very much gas and renewables working together to meet the targets,” he said.

“I think if you look at the US, for example, that’s a very good example of what can be done… Texas has 30% of electricity from renewables despite the fact it’s one of the top shale gas producers.”

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