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Will 2017 Be the Year the UK Finally Embraces Shale?

The American Interest

One British oil and gas company would like to think so. As the FT reports, IGas is moving to start exploratory drilling in a shale formation in the East Midlands region of England:

The London-listed company has approval for exploratory wells at two sites in the East Midlands, in partnership with Total, the French oil and gas major, and Ineos, the privately owned UK petrochemicals group. […]

IGas was aiming to commence work at Springs Road and Tinker Lane in Nottinghamshire in the fourth quarter while also seeking approval to drill at several sites in the north-west of England, Mr Bowler added, in an interview.

Depending on what these exploratory wells find, the London based company could find reason to petition the government with permission to start hydraulic fracturing operations in order to access natural gas trapped in shale rock. IGas is hoping to join two other companies, Cuadrilla and Third Energy, as the only firms with the green light to frack in the UK.

The UK has a lot of shale gas—in 2013 the British Geological Survey estimated that the country is sitting on 1.3 quadrillion cubic feet of natural gas trapped in shale. But Britain has struggled to replicate America’s success in the field, and in so doing has illustrated the many variables that all favorably aligned for the U.S. to set off an energy renaissance.

With North Sea oil and gas production declining, onshore shale reserves are going to look more attractive by the year. Still, fierce local opposition threatens to stymie government efforts to kick-start fracking. David Cameron and now Theresa May have both tried to get that shale rock rolling, but a one-two punch of a relatively high density countryside (as compared to the areas where shale has taken off in the United States) and a lack of mineral rights afforded to property owners has made the British public exceptionally wary of signing off on shale.

Last August, Prime Minister Theresa May announced a Shale Wealth Fund that would tax companies fracking in Britain in order to pay affected local communities for their trouble. This attempt followed the Cameron administration’s own proffered solution, a £100,000 flat fee up front, and 1 percent of the revenues thereafter. Cameron was unable to get the public onboard with fracking, and for her part May doesn’t seem to be making much headway.

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