Shale gas drilling should begin, task force concludes

15th December 2015

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  • Fossil fuels


Fiona Brannigan

Exploratory drilling for shale gas should be allowed to go ahead so that the economic impact of the industry can be properly assessed, the Task Force on Shale Gas has said in its final report.

Publishing its assessment of the economic impacts of shale gas today, the taskforce said that shale gas industry would create a "substantial" number of jobs in the UK. However, an accurate estimation of the number of jobs was not possible without a clearer idea of the amount of recoverable gas, it said.

Lord Chris Smith, chair of the taskforce and former chair of the Environment Agency, said: "The size of the UK industry's impact will depend on its (as yet unknown) potential output.

"We recommend that a number of exploratory wells should be allowed to go ahead, under the very strict environmental safeguards that we have outlined in our previous reports, in order to establish a much clearer picture of where and how much recoverable gas there is in the UK."

The public will only be able to make an informed decision on whether it supports shale gas once there is a better understanding of how much gas is recoverable, he added.

Other organisations have attempted to estimate the number of jobs that could be created in the UK from shale gas. Consultants EY put the figure at 64,000, while the Institute of Directors forecast 74,000.

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • Operators must disclose fully the chemical content of materials used in shale gas exploration and production, and agree that composition will not exceed levels mandated by the Environment Agency.
  • Baseline monitoring of air, land and water should begin as soon as a site has been identified.
  • Local people should be involved in overseeing the monitoring of shale gas sites in order to foster trust between operators and communities.
  • The existing regulatory system is fit for purpose, but the government must commit to ensuring that it is fully resourced. The government should explore the possibility of creating a bespoke regulator specifically to oversee the industry if it grows. This would assume the current roles of the Environment Agency, Health and Safety Executive and the regulatory responsibilities of the energy and climate change department.
  • Operators should outline exactly how they intend to provide £100,000 of community benefits for exploratory well pads. Local communities should have a say in how it is spent.
  • Tax incentives, such as halving the rate of tax applied to profits of shale gas, should be reviewed if and when an industry is up and running.

The report is the fourth report by the taskforce, which was set up to provide impartial advice, though it is funded by the shale gas industry. Previous reports have covered planning and regulation, the local environment and health, and the impact of shale gas on climate change.

Campaigners urged the government to rethink its support for fracking and back renewable energy instead, especially given the international deal on climate change agreed at the weekend.

Greenpeace UK energy campaigner Hannah Martin said: "Like coal and oil companies, the fracking industry's business model was predicated on the assumption that countries wouldn't come together to tackle climate change, and that assumption has just been proved wrong."

The taskforce's report on climate change concluded that gas was needed in the short to medium term to aid the UK's transition to a low-carbon economy. However, it also said that carbon capture and storage (CCS) would be essential for the industry to develop at scale. The government scrapped a £1 billion funding pot CCS in November, effectively ending the UK's drive to develop the technology.


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