Britain’s Shale Industry Set To Take Off

  • Date: 02/01/17
  • Robin Pagnamenta, The Times

Three separate fracking projects could crank into action this year as Britain’s shale gas industry finally gets off the starting blocks after years of delay, according to industry chiefs.

Fracking-green

Hydraulic fracturing at a site in Kirby Misperton, North Yorkshire, could start within weeks after a judge rejected a legal appeal by environmental campaigners and residents to halt the project, led by Third Energy, just before Christmas.

Activity at the site in the North York Moors could start within weeks. Two other operators — Cuadrilla Resources and iGas — hope that they will be able to start operations at sites in Lancashire and Nottinghamshire this year.

A proposal from Cuadrilla to drill four wells and frack for shale gas at a site near Blackpool in Lancashire is well advanced. Planning consent has already been granted and Cuadrilla hopes to finalise plans for the scheme by the end of this month, said the company’s spokeswoman Jacqui Reid. “We hope that we can finally get going,” she said, adding that she expected fracking to start this summer.

The industry is upbeat about its prospects despite a difficult few years. Hydraulic fracturing was last used in Britain in 2011, when a small earthquake was recorded at a separate Cuadrilla site in Lancashire. That led to a moratorium on fracking, which lasted until 2012, and increased protests about the possible environmental risks.

Ms Reid admitted that it had been a long haul persuading the public that fracking — in which underground rock formations containing gas are fractured using water, sand and chemicals — could be done safely. “Next year is pivotal for the industry,” she said. “We will show that it can be done safely and with little environmental impact. A lot of the myths about fracking can be dispelled.”

Opposition remains intense, with environmental groups fearing that the process could contaminate groundwater and that it is incompatible with fighting climate change. Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat climate change spokeswoman, said: “Fracking will not help our efforts to tackle climate change, it will do the opposite. The government is heading in completely the wrong direction. It must focus on renewables instead of new carbon-emitting energy sources.”

Claire James, of the Campaign Against Climate Change, rejected the industry’s fracking plans as “pie in the sky”. She said: “There is still a long way to go. There is major local opposition and a lot of reasons why people don’t want fracking in this country.”

Ms Reid said that support within Whitehall remained strong. “Central government remains very supportive of shale gas in the UK. The level of gas imports continues to increase and they feel we should make greater use of our own resources.”

Steve Bowler of iGas, which is hoping to start building its drilling site at Springs Road, Nottinghamshire, by Easter, said that there was a sense of growing momentum in the industry. “I think 2017 will be an important year when we finally get some wells in the ground,” he said. “That will give us quite a lot of new information about UK shale.” [...]

Rising oil prices and the fall in sterling after the referendum have boosted the economics of shale gas extraction in Britain. Advocates point to technological advances in the United States in the past few years, which have cut the cost.

Tom Pickering of Ineos Shale, another operator with licences across the East Midlands and Yorkshire, said that the group planned to submit applications to drill about 10 exploratory wells. He said that it planned to invest £500 million in shale development.

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