Debate stirs over authority over British shale

Shale natural gas development is in its infancy, prompting a parliamentary committee to publish a broad-scope report on the sector.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |  July 5, 2018 at 7:55 AM
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July 5 (UPI) -- Diminishing the national significance of British shale natural gas work creates unnecessary delays for developing the fledgling industry, a trade group said.

A select committee in the British Parliament published a sweeping guidance report on hydraulic fracturing in the country.

The British government estimates shale basins in the country may hold more than 1.3 quadrillion cubic feet of natural gas, a level it said could help the economy because natural gas imports are on pace to increase from about 45 percent of demand to 76 percent by 2030.

Shale natural gas development is in its infancy in the country, though the British government has moved in the past to fast-track the permit process. Cuadrilla Resources, a pioneer in shale natural gas development, said there is no benchmark yet for drilling into shale basins in the country.

The committee said Thursday it took up the inquiry because it expected the number of planning applications to increase as the shale natural gas industry develops. Ken Cronin, the chief executive for trade group U.K. Onshore Oil & Gas, said the committee's work was appreciated as it could allay some of the uncertainty in planning and decision-making on shale natural gas.

By his estimates, planning applications take as long as 18 months to conclude. Meanwhile, the committee said applications shouldn't be brought under nation significance mechanisms because that would diminish the influence of local communities and lead to distrust between industry players and local councils.

"The committee has taken the view that shale gas sites should not be treated as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects," Cronin said in a statement. "With gas providing half of British electricity, over 80 percent of our heating and vital feedstocks to industry, we find it concerning that the Committee would seek restrict our opportunity for homegrown production to replace our rapidly increasing dependency on imported gas and oil."

The British government has sided before in favor of oil and gas companies and in 2016 published a 600-page ruling that said shale natural gas work in the country was a national interest.

Local councils have been frustrated by the process so far. In May, the British Friends of the Earth said the government was perverting the planning process to make the British landscape "a wild west for whatever cowboy wants to start drilling and digging up our countryside."

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