Britain’s Tory government announced last week that “shale gas development is of national importance” and could “deliver substantial economic benefits,” which counts as intellectual and political progress. Perhaps there’s hope that Britain will finally tap this would-be economic windfall.
PHOTO: DAVE THOMPSON/ZUMA PRESS
Two ministers, Greg Clark and James Brokenshire, submitted plans to Parliament to speed approvals for hydraulic fracturing, and none too soon. Britain was a net exporter of natural gas as recently as 2003, but its North Sea reserves are running out. The country now imports 53% of its gas, and the government estimates that on current trends Britain will import 72% of its gas by 2030.
Mr. Clark wants to reverse this by reducing the regulatory burden on drilling exploratory wells, fulfilling a Tory campaign promise. British shale gas developer Cuadrilla noted Thursday it was allowed to drill and test only four exploratory wells in Lancashire over a three-year period due to regulatory delays. At this rate Britain will depend on Vladimir Putin for gas before the country taps its vast energy supplies.
Local governing councils also delay fracking projects amid lobbying by anti-fossil fuels groups, which freaked out at Mr. Clark’s anodyne statement Thursday. The government proposes to bribe these local politicians with a £1.6 million “shale support fund” over the next two years, but the Tories will also have to win the political debate against Greenpeace and other antidevelopment groups.
They could point to Germany’s growing reliance on coal after putting too much faith and money in wind and solar power. Natural gas reduces carbon emissions as an alternative to coal, as the U.S. has shown.
The Tory government will create a new regulator to oversee the three existing regulators that currently oversee fracking (the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and the Oil and Gas Authority), because there’s nothing like more government to solve the problem of too much government. In an economy growing at the speed of stall, racking up a 0.1% expansion in the first quarter, Britain can’t afford to delay the shale revolution any longer.