License to frack: UK govt to radically expand shale gas test drilling

The UK government is planning to open up thousands of square miles of countryside to fracking in spite of mass protests, UK media report. Local communities will be offered 100,000 pounds for every shale gas well where test drilling is conducted.

On Tuesday the Conservative-led government issued a 49-page energy roadmap outlining ways in which oil and natural gas, including shale deposits, could be exploited in the country.

Britain’s Department of Energy and Climate Change has identified new areas across the UK thought to hold rich, untapped stores of shale gas, The Daily Telegraph reports. As part of a new initiative by Westminster, these areas may become subject to test drilling, which could pave the way for fracking if large deposits of shale gas are found.

"The government is keen to explore the potential for shale gas in the UK which could bring major benefit in terms of growth, jobs and energy security," British Energy Minister Michael Fallon said in a statement. "However we must develop shale responsibly, both for local communities and for the environment."

The British Geological Survey estimates there may be enough shale gas inland to last the country more than 40 years though only a small fraction of land is open for exploration, UPI reports. The report, produced for the government by engineering giant Amec, said largescale production could generate thousands of jobs and provide up to £1bn ($1.63 billion) to local communities.

Greenpeace, however, has warned that the new test area could encompass over 51,000 square kilometers. Currently only a small area of the UK had been authorized for test drilling – around 11,000 square kilometers.

The controversial practice of fracking has met with widespread opposition, with local communities taking to the streets in protest. In the city of Salford, Greater Manchester, activists blocked access to a test drilling site on Monday, placing a 1.5-ton wind turbine blade in front of the Barton Moss facility in what they called a “symbolic” act of protest.

“We’ve only had a handful of exploratory drilling sites across the UK, but already we’ve see huge local opposition,” Helen Rimmer, a campaigner from Friends of the Earth, told RT. “People do not want this in their local community and they don’t want it anywhere else.”

Rimmer added that in a recent local survey “seven times” as many people wanted a wind turbine in their community as a shale gas well.

Photo from Twitter/@nodashforgas

Cameron says no to EU fracking regulation

British Prime Minister David Cameron warned the European Commission not to propose European Union-wide legislation to regulate the bloc’s fracking industry.

In a letter to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso made public on Tuesday, Cameron warned EU-wide rules could stifle investment in Britain’s shale gas industry.

"I am not in favor of new legislation where the lengthy timeframes and significant uncertainty involved are major causes for concern," Cameron wrote in the letter dated December 4, Reuters reports. "The industry in the UK has told us that new EU legislation would immediately delay imminent investment."

Cameron’s government has championed fracking as a way of reducing rising energy bills and making Britain energy-independent. In addition, it has promised local communities 100,000 pounds ($163,000) for every test well drilled, regardless of whether they find deposits of shale gas.

“The UK is sitting on significant amounts of shale and the potential prize for energy security and investment is huge. This gives companies the huge incentive to step up the search for shale and find out what is recoverable,” Fallon told The Daily Telegraph.

However, potential energy independence could come at a price. Environmentalists maintain the process, which involves blasting water and chemicals at high pressure underground to dislodge tapped gas deposits, can contaminate water supplies and cause minor earthquakes.

The UK government found the “hydraulic fracture treatments” implemented during fracking in 2011 by company Cuadrilla had triggered minor earthquakes, measuring 2.3 and 1.5 on the Richter scale, respectively, in the city of Blackpool.

Fracking has been a major bone of contention in the US, where the practice is far more widespread than the UK.

In November an environmental committee at Massachusetts Statehouse approved a bill, imposing a 10-year ban on fracking following a number of minor quakes. The legislation, which has yet to be approved by lawmakers, is geared at ensuring “the health and prosperity of our communities is maintained."