Cuadrilla Resources, one of the energy firms hoping to exploit the UK’s shale gas resources, has announced two new exploration sites in Lancashire. But drilling for shale gas in Britain is going to be extremely controversial.
“There is potential but the level of public reaction to it is extremely negative at the moment and anybody trying to carry even testing at the moment is finding a lot of demonstrations,” Justin Urquhart Stewart, Director of Seven Investment Management in London, told New Europe on 7 February, adding that the government of British Prime Minister David Cameron is going to find it very difficult to actually get it through. “The potential is there but realistically I think they’re going to run into a lot of public concern unless it can be proven not to be dangerous to local communities,” Urquhart Stewart said. Unlike America, Britain is a crowded island and has a much bigger impact on a smaller area, he said.
Last month, speaking during a visit to Gainsborough, Cameron defended plans to drill for shale gas, saying environmental concerns would be assuaged once people saw the benefits of fracking. “Cameron is strongly behind it but with an election coming up next year, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it became a divisive subject in the run-up to the election and therefore what is a clear stance now may change before then,” Urquhart Stewart said. “Companies looking at Britain as being a reliable developer of shale gas I suggest should wait until after the summer of 2015,” he added.
Julian Lee, senior energy analyst at London’s Centre for Global Energy Studies (CGES), told New Europe on 7 February that it is very early days for shale in the UK. “We are only at the very first stage of exploration. The politicians hope that it will prove a major new source of gas for the country and enhance our energy security, reducing future dependence on imports, either as LNG or via Nord Stream,” Lee said. Russian gas monopoly Gazprom is considering the expansion of its Nord Stream pipeline. A new line to the UK would satisfy Britain’s growing gas demand.
Lee said there is opposition to hydraulic fracturing from local communities, often whipped up by the anti-fossil-fuel lobby, who will oppose any form of oil or gas development – yet seem remarkably quiet about new licences in the North Sea.
Most people in the UK are generally in favour of shale gas in a theoretical sense – as long as it doesn’t happen near them. There is fear of earthquakes and pollution, but little understanding of the real risks, he said.
From a geological perspective, not everybody is convinced. “One major oil company pointed out to me that the shale is the source rock for oil and gas generation and that, if it is to be successful as a source of future production, it ought to have supported conventional oil and gas discoveries in the rock lying above the shale. This has not happened in the UK. There is no significant onshore conventional oil and gas production from rock layers lying above the shale in Lancashire, for example,” Lee said. “For this reason, that particular company says that it is unlikely to invest in UK shale,” he added.
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