1 Aug 2013

Fracking: Can shale gas you make you rich?

John Loftus has the privilege – a dubious one in many people’s minds – of being the first and only person in Britain to have his land fracked for shale gas.

It was on his farm that Cuadrilla Resources drilled their first exploratory shale gas well in 2011.

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In April of that year, while pumping fluids into the well to fracture the shale rocks three kilometres down – that’s fracking to you and me – they caused a small earthquake.

Fracking was temporarily halted and has yet to resume anywhere in the UK.

But according to the geologists there are gas-rich rocks stretching all the way from Blackpool to Brighton.

And as this week’s protests in the West Sussex village of Balcombe show that despite comments made this week in the House of Lords fracking is no respecter of the north-south divide.

So if fracking does get up and running in Britain it could be you or your neighbour who gets a call from the oil men next.

Many of John Loftus’ neighbours sent Cuadrilla packing. But he didn’t.

Today, he spoke out for the first time about his decision to get involved in fracking.

“It’s not my gas. It’s your gas,” he said.

“I honestly believe it’s the government’s job to give licenses to companies and decide whether this is something the country needs or not.”

John Loftus said he owns a Stetson and some cigars – but only because his brother lives in Texas.

He wouldn’t tell me how much money Cuadrilla Resources paid him for access to his land said isn’t enough to make him the J R Ewing of Lancashire.

“It beats growing potatoes, but it’s only about 1-2 per centĀ of my income.”

In the US, fracking companies have made farmers and even homeowners rich overnight.

Mineral rights in America extend from the surface of your land all the way to the centre of the Earth.

A percentage of any profits from gas and oil extracted from the ground are shared with the landowner.

Here in the UK subterranean rights for oil extends just 3ft down. All the rest belongs to the Crown.

And here the former dairy farmer takes an ideological stand.

Mr Loftus said he has no right to deny the country access to mineral resources that it owns.

“This country is built on its natural resources and we’d be nowhere without fossil fuels.”

And here he has a point. Until we have effective policies that can bring alternative sources of power on-stream quickly – we’re stuck with gas.

One way of looking at fracking is that it’s a desperate, last-ditch scraping of the geological barrel to get gas out of the ground in a way that was far too expensive to even consider two decades ago.

But given what we’ve got to work with fracking companies – with the full support of government – will be looking for more people across Britain with the same outlook as John Loftus.