Onwards and downwards: why we should be optimistic about fracking

Last week a new government initiative, the Shale Wealth Fund, was announced in a bid to get fracking firmly back on the UK energy agenda. The project, unveiled by Theresa May, is estimated to be worth around £1 billion of funding, which will initially consist of up to 10 per cent of revenues arising from shale gas production. The idea is that a proportion of this pot will be paid out to each community hosting a shale site over 25 years. Despite this possible windfall for local residents, City AM reports that a YouGov survey, published today, has shown that only 33 per cent of those polled would support fracking in their area - even if households were given a payment of up to £10,000 from the Shale Wealth Fund.

Further figures show that 43 per cent of those polled “strongly” or “tend to” oppose fracking, while a quarter remain “unsure”. The news is not exactly a ringing endorsement for the project, which aims to ease the transition for local communities surrounding earmarked areas in the north of England when they become areas hosting shale gas extraction sites.

The YouGov survey and Shale Wealth Fund announcement come after the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), who advise the government on matters of energy and environmental concern, released a new report on the potential of fracking last month. While not without caution, they gave a nod to fracking plans currently stalled due to local County Council and residential opposition. Acknowledging that private sector shale extraction would need a three-pronged oversight test to ensure responsible practice, the report noted that even with the most intense of shale infrastructure and production development in the coming years, emissions will only reach around 11 million tonnes of CO2 a year – a quarter of what is emitted through our agricultural industry and changes in land use.

On top of this, domestic shale production would reduce our increasing reliance on Qatar-imported Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), giving a boost to both our environmental credentials and our energy security outlook, and allow us to move away from our expensive and ill-conceived strategy for kick-starting home-grown renewable energy through generous government subsidy packages. There is also an argument to be made that a domestic shale industry would benefit the economy while creating jobs in areas of the UK that proved less resilient to 2008’s financial crisis.

Sadly this latest polling seems to reveal a renewed sense of nimbyism towards moves to diversify UK energy production. With global oil in a slump, North Sea gas production in decline and renewables presently an unfeasible solution to our increasing energy demands and security of supply problem, we at the TPA call for a pragmatic and enthusiastic approach to fracking. The UK is in a solid position to build a shale gas industry: energy bills for British households are constantly on the rise as private sector firms, who are best placed to deliver cheap and efficient energy, queue to explore shale opportunities in the UK, with sites already identified as being ripe for the picking. With gas providing a low CO2 alternative to other fossil fuels and allowing for easy storage and transit, more needs to be done to convince the local communities of the benefits that fracking in their areas can bring.

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