A new survey reveals far greater shale gas reserves in the UK. But as the government announces financial benefits for “fracking” communities, will the controversial method be approved?
Research by the British Geological Survey, published on Thursday, shows far larger quantities of shale gas reserves under the UK than previously thought – as much as double earlier estimates at one site.
There are now thought to be as much as 1,300 trillion cubic feet at the Bowland site, in Lancashire.
However it remains unknown just how much of the gas can be extracted.
The government-commissioned report into the UK’s shale gas potential was highlighted by Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander as he set out tax breaks and financial incentives for communities in areas where fracking takes place.
Each community is expected to receive at least £100,000 in benefits for each well and at least 1 per cent of the overall revenues
Mr Alexander announced details of the latest round of capital spending in a £100bn government infrastructure package aimed at kick-starting sluggish economic growth. It includes funds for projects such as new road and rail capacity, science facilities and nuclear power stations.
Ministers hope that greater reserves of shale gas, which is obtained through controversial “fracking” techniques, will overhaul energy markets and supply years-worth of domestic gas. They say that the experience of the US shows it could boost tax revenues, create jobs, reduce energy imports and reduce household bills.
Read more: Fracking – the key questions
But exploiting the natural resource is highly controversial as critics say the process of fracking – fracturing rock with high-pressure liquid to release the gas – can cause earthquakes, pollute water supplies, blight the countryside and affect house prices.
Environmentalists will be concerned over moves for the Environment Agency to offer permits for fracking projects more quickly and to defined timetables, in a further bid to encourage firms to invest.
But Labour’s shadow energy minister Tom Greatrex said that the move is premature:
“Announcing community benefits and tax breaks before we know how much shale gas is actually recoverable, or before anyone even has a licence to extract it, looks like a desperate attempt to draw attention away from the government’s cuts to infrastructure investment in the spending review and its abject failure to get the economy growing.”