In the face of an energy crunch which will put enormous strain on our economy, little makes more sense than making fracking a national priority. At a 10 per cent recovery rate, the potential natural gas reserve in the UK is enough to make us self-sufficient for 50 years. The safe and timely development of shale gas presents one of the greatest industrial opportunities for a generation.
With shale gas, we can reduce energy bills, drive much needed investment into the North of England, produce billions in taxes and community benefits, supply a lower carbon gas source to homes and businesses and significantly improve the UK’s energy security.
Liz Truss, the new prime minister, has said fracking should happen, where communities support it. But how we measure that support is important. According to polling for YouGov, a majority of residents in the North of England would support shale gas production if they received reductions on their energy bills.
The best route to assess local support isn’t clear, but the local planning application route isn’t it.
Between 2015 and 2017, local planning officers, who are experts in deciding when applications comply with local conditions, recommended 80 per cent of applications should be granted. Yet 70 per cent were rejected by planning committees.
This issue is not limited to onshore oil and gas; wind and solar applications are facing similar barriers. We support all forms of UK energy production, but in terms of delivering units of energy per acre per year, fracking outcompetes most UK energy technologies.
Our goals for a net zero economy and our energy security strategy will not be met without significant reform to the planning system.
The moratorium on fracking was brought in in November 2019 after a series of reports on seismic events from the wells in Lancashire. The largest seismic event from the first well was 1.5 on the Richter scale. According to Liverpool University, that’s the surface equivalent of dropping a honeydew melon on the ground.
The surface vibration from the largest event induced from the second well lasted two seconds and was half of what is permitted for construction sites and quarries.
So, what’s the alternative to the current system?
One option is for shale gas production sites to be included as part of the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) regime. This scheme was introduced in 2008 for critical infrastructure such as pipelines, rail and nuclear power stations, wind and solar developments above a certain capacity. UK shale gas can comfortably meet the threshold required for energy projects. The process still requires local engagement by industry and the planning inspectorate (who make recommendations to government) considers relevant representations from local people. It won’t lead to any denigration of environmental standards, all it means is faster and more consistent decision making, which is critical to ensure the UK does not drift deeper into reliance on energy imports.
The case for designating shale gas sites as nationally significant is overwhelming, be that on economic, environmental, or geopolitical grounds. For those residents who are concerned, they should attend the litany of public information days the onshore oil and gas companies will host. We deal in facts and figures, not hysteria and hyperbole.