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WSJ: Drill, Britannia

The Wall Street Journal

The U.K. sits atop plenty of oil and gas—if politicians are willing to drill.

New technologies are rapidly revealing the bounty of Britain’s onshore energy resources. The latest find is a field near London’s Gatwick Airport, which could contain 100 billion barrels of oil—if British politicians are willing to drill.

In a letter to investors on Thursday, U.K. Oil and Gas Investments (UKOG) announced the results of a new study on the Horse Hill-1 well in the Weald Basin, in which the company owns a stake. The well, they wrote, contains an estimated 158 million barrels of oil per square mile—a “world class potential resource.” Recovery rates are estimated at up to 15%.

That’s a major upgrade from previous assessments of the region, and it follows other recent oil-and-gas discoveries across Britain. Scientists now believe some 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas lie buried beneath northern England, and there are also significant shale-gas reserves in portions of Scotland, Wales and southeast England.

Business World Columnist Holman Jenkins Jr. on whether Britain will exploit the latest shale find near London’s Gatwick Airport. Photo: Getty Images

Already the Green Party has demanded that UKOG renounce fracking, a technology that uses high-pressure water and chemicals to release the oil and gas inside rock deposits. Greenpeace is opposed to exploiting the well altogether. Environmentalists claim, with no compelling evidence, that modern fracking methods poison groundwater. Fracking is legal in the U.K. but subject to onerous restrictions.

UKOG is trying to sidestep the fracking controversy by promising to use conventional horizontal drilling. But that may not suffice to exploit Horse Hill-1. The area is “undoubtedly oil-rich,” Liam Herringshaw, a geologist at Durham University and the University of York, told us. “But trying to extract oil from it directly is technically rather different.”

Now Britain’s politicians will need to decide whether they value energy security and jobs more highly than environmentalist scare tactics. Despite Prime Minister David Cameron’s claim last year that his government will go “all out for shale,” he wasn’t able to stop a parliamentary vote for new restrictions on fracking in January.

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