UK Shale Gas Delayed By Six-Month Permit Wait

  • Date: 21/02/14
  • Nidaa Bakhsh, Bloomberg

In Texas it takes seven days to get permission to use hydraulic fracturing to drill for oil and gas. In the U.K. the wait is six months.

That difference helps explain why Prime Minister David Cameron’s dream of a fracking boom in the U.K., where there may be enough shale gas to meet the country’s demand for decades, has been slow to take shape.

Britain, under Cameron’s Conservative-led government, is more pro-shale than anywhere in the European Union bar Poland. Yet since a moratorium was lifted in December 2012, not a single company has applied to frack in the country, even though the government offers some of the world’s richest exploration tax breaks. That’s got sobering implications for governments across Europe closely watching Cameron’s shale push.

“The U.K. would like to lead the shale gas revolution in Europe,” said Paul Stevens, distinguished fellow for energy at Chatham House in London. “But, if the U.K. can’t get this going, partly because of the environmental opposition, then that means Europe is even less likely to see results.”

Cameron says shale exploration will secure energy resources as North Sea reserves decline and help breathe life back into British rust-belt towns. His problem is that local authorities have to grant permission for wells, and anti-shale activists oppose drilling at every turn.

Immense Potential

A U.S. shale entrepreneur told a parliamentary committee last month that while the U.K. resource potential is “immense,” he won’t invest in the country because the approvals take too long. “If it takes a year to permit each one of those wells, no one will be around for the learning curve,” said Christopher Wright, chief executive officer of Liberty Resources LLC. “It won’t happen.”

The Bowland basin, extending across an area of northern England that includes Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield, may hold as much as 1,300 trillion cubic feet of gas, the British Geological Survey says. That’s enough to meet demand for almost 50 years, based on an extraction rate similar to U.S. fields.

It’s a “simpler matter to get permission in other parts of the world,” Nigel Lawson, a member of the House of Lords in Cameron’s Conservative Party, said at a committee hearing last month. Explorers in the U.K. face a “bureaucratic muddle,” said Lawson, who was Margaret Thatcher’s chancellor of the exchequer and is the father of celebrity TV chef Nigella Lawson.

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