City AM has looked at the position of UK Shale gas following the closure of the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s consultation on allowing fracking companies access to shale gas 300 metres below the ground. The consultation’s overarching aim is to stop landowners forming legal blockades – a form of Nimbyism causing significant impediments to shale gas exploration in parts of the country.
This is undoubtedly a sensible move as it brings the access rights for fracking in line with the mining and tunnelling industries, ending the threat of a few landowners holding hostage a development that’s in the broader national interest. It will also ensure that communities see immediate economic benefits from fracking, as the consultation document includes a proposal that would see drilling companies give payments to community groups for each well that extends more than 200 metres laterally.
However, in the run up to the general election, the mood among political leaders seems to have become somewhat more cautious on shale. In particular, last month’s announcement that fracking will be banned in National Parks (except in “exceptional circumstances”) is in sharp contrast to the Prime Minister’s rhetoric earlier this year: “We’re going all out for shale.” The policy with regards to National Parks may be a politically savvy compromise, but there does not appear to be a sensible rationale behind it. Lord Smith, the former Environment Agency chairman, was clear that development in National Parks is acceptable, as the visual impact on the landscape would be minimal.
Although the British Geological Survey’s assessment of shale gas resources looks very promising, significant test drilling is still required to obtain an accurate estimate of the economically recoverable shale.
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