Too Early To Celebrate?
Winning the debate on shale gas exploration in the UK
Government announcements of oil and gas licences rarely make front page news. But the imminent award of the first set of 14th round onshore exploration licences in the UK will be different, and not just because August is a traditionally slow month for news. One emotive word will guarantee media interest. Fracking.
Years of controversy and debate have seen this simple industry shorthand for the tried and tested technique of hydraulic fracturing become a term of abuse and a gift to headline writers. Small wonder that celebrations among the successful bidders for these licences are likely to be muted. While one or two may have a new tactic to deploy, more in hope than expectation, most will be dreading the imminent battle for planning consent. Conventional community engagement, it seems, does not work when it comes to unconventional gas.
But does it have to be this way?
There’s a high expectation that appeals against refusal of planning consent will be successful given national policy support for fracking – and any successful appeal will ease the passage of subsequent planning applications. But no operator receiving a licence in August 2015 will want to wait until late autumn 2016, at the earliest, to get on site. Or to have decisions imposed on communities rather than reached through local consensus.
So why does this appear to be such an insuperable problem? Fracking is a well-established technology, developed over several decades. There are precedents for safe, efficient and successful operations overseas. And despite the lurid headlines, polling in the UK shows as many supporters as opponents.
National government has the confidence to champion fracking. Even at a local level there are politicians willing to vote in favour of proposals.
The battle ought to be winnable.