Skip to content

The quest for European energy security this week suffered a pair of setbacks in Britain and Germany, two countries with large reserves of shale oil and gas. Vladimir Putin must be pleased.

In northwest England, the Lancashire County Council on Monday turned down a hydraulic-fracturing proposal by Cuadrilla Resources. The decision came despite local planners’ recommendation that Cuadrilla’s bid be approved. The council had rejected another Cuadrilla application four days earlier. The company is considering an appeal.

The council emphasized the noise, traffic and aesthetic downsides associated with fracking. That’s because the environmental case against fracking—which involves injecting high-pressure fluids into shale to extract oil and gas—has collapsed. Even the Obama Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that the practice doesn’t contaminate ground water, as the green lobby alleges. So the council fretted about what fracking might do to Merrie England charm.

The real culprit here is Britain’s onerous regulatory framework. Parliament in January defeated an outright moratorium. But it also adopted numerous restrictions that together amount to a de facto ban, not least by allowing local councils such as Lancashire’s to overrule their own professional planners.

The pity is that Britain’s vast shale resources—including an estimated 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas beneath northern England—could turn the U.K. into a European energy powerhouse. That’s not going to happen unless Prime Minister David Cameron makes good on his first-term vow to “go all-out for shale.”

As for Germany, the battle is over legislation that would temporarily ban and severely restrict fracking, as opposed to the current regulatory limbo. But lawmakers this week resolved to postpone debate until the fall—delaying even longer the prospect of commercial fracking in Europe’s largest economy.

Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks, a Social Democrat in Angela Merkel’s coalition government, last July proposed a moratorium on most forms of fracking until 2021. The resulting legislation that passed the cabinet in April softened her line somewhat, restricting fracking until 2019, after which commercial fracking could only go forward after passing various tough regulatory hurdles. Now the future of the measure is unclear.

Germany’s Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources estimates that the country has 2.3 trillion cubic meters of shale gas—enough to meet domestic need for a century. Yet it imports 90% of its gas, much of it from Russia. Germans pioneered fracking technology in the 1960s, and their pipelines could supply the rest of the Continent. Instead Berlin is choosing dependence on Mr. Putin and other petro-despots over an energy and economic revolution that could transform Europe.

Full post