Is the UK now open for Fracking?

(By Dr Scott Summers – Shale Markets Profile for Scott) On Thursday the 6th October, the United Kingdom’s new Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid MP, permitted UK energy company Cuadrilla to frack at its Preston New Road, Lancashire, UK site.[1] His approval overturned Lancashire County Council’s earlier 2015decision,[2] in which it refused permission to extract shale gas on the grounds of concerns relating to noise and traffic impact.[3]

Fracking in the UK has slowed considerably since 2011, in part due to controversies arising from two small earthquakes caused by fracking near the town of Blackpool.[4] With Cuadrilla having now been granted permission to drill four horizontal wells,[5] it appears that things may be about to change again. This is the first time a company has been granted permission to drill a horizontal well in the UK, and by doing so it should permit greater extraction of shale gas.[6] The decision by the Government to authorise fracking at the Lancashire site has led to a polarization of views, causing a stir amongst both pro and anti-fracking campaigners. On the one hand, anti-fracking campaigners have voiced their frustration at the Government’s decision to seemingly ignore local and environmental concerns, and the decision of Lancashire County Council, whilst pro-fracking campaigners see this as the start of a positive push towards the promotion and liberalisation of shale gas extraction within the UK.[7]

The decision by Sajid Javid may well send a clear message that the current Government is keen to pursue the development of shale exploration, but this does not mean that the UK will automatically become open to fracking for all. The Scottish Government still has a moratorium on fracking until further research has been undertaken into the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing,[8] whilst the Welsh Government is openly opposed to fracking.[9] In addition, we find other political opposition parties have announced their disapproval of the use of fracking. For example, the Labour Party,[10] and the Liberal Democrats,[11] have each announced that they would ban the use of fracking should they win the next General Election, scheduled to be held in May 2020.

Currently, it seems likely that we will see a number of small fracking test sites granted approval in England over the coming years, with little or no exploration for shale in Wales and Scotland. However, it is certainly conceivable that shale exploration in the UK will continue to face obstacles in the form of further legal challenges to exploration decisions, disruptions through protests or further environmental concerns. Nonetheless, with oil and gas prices slowly rising, there is, and will continue to be, a strong incentive for the UK Government to continue to pursue UK shale exploration.

[1] Adam Vaughan, ÔFracking given UK go-ahead as Lancashire council rejection overturnedÕ (The Guardian, 6 October 2016) <>.

[2] Adam Vaughan, ÔFracking application rejected by Lancashire county councilÕ (The Guardian, 29 June 2015) <>.

[3] Judy Hobson, ÔFracking in Lancashire given go-ahead by governmentÕ (BBC News, 6 October 2016) <>.

[4]  Michael Marshall, ÔHow fracking caused earthquakes in the UKÕ (New Scientist, 2 November 2011) <>.

[5] Andrew Bounds, ÔUK fracking go-ahead boosts shale gas industryÕ (The Financial Times, 6 October 2016) <>.

[6] Hobson, (n 3).

[7] ibid.

[8] Scottish Government, ÔMoratorium called on frackingÕ (The Scottish Government, 28 January 2015) <>.

[9] BBC News, ÔFracking still opposed in Wales, ministers tell councilsÕ (BBC News, 14 August 2015) <>.

[10] Adam Vaughan, ÔLabour government would ban fracking in UKÕ (The Guardian, 26 September 2016) <>.

[11] Samuel Barratt, ÔLiberal Democrats vote to ban fracking in England and WalesÕ (Liberal Democrats, 12 March 2016) <>.

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