Deja Vu All Over Again As UK Fracking Follows US Path

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Interestingly, the US natural gas fracking scenario seems to be repeating itself right now in the United Kingdom. BBC News announced this morning that David Cameron’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat government, in power since 2010, has begun a vast bidding round for fracking permits that could cover around half of the United Kingdom. This is somewhat surprising, because Cameron said in February: “I believe man-made climate change is one of the most serious threats that this country and this world faces.” It seems that has not made much of a difference to his advocacy of a very climate-unfriendly energy source.

UK existing and available areas for tracking, July 2014 (DECC via BBC)

Almost all of the nation’s south coast (except Somerset and Cornwall) may be up for grabs, as are the Scottish Highlands, including Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. In the UK, because hydrocarbons are government property, surface landowners receive no compensation. Estimates of British reserves reach up to 2000 trillion cubic feet of gas embedded in the kingdom’s shale, but as elsewhere, most of it is currently unrecoverable. New drilling is expected to start at the beginning of 2015.

Says BBC:

“The government is keen to promote fracking in the UK, and has already announced a number of incentives to help kick-start the industry, including tax breaks, payments of £100,000 per site plus a 1% share of revenue to local communities.”

Here’s what the UK’s Business and Energy Minister Matthew Hancock has to say:

“Unlocking shale gas in Britain has the potential to provide us with greater energy security, jobs and growth. We must act carefully, minimizing risks, to explore how much of our large resource can be recovered to give the UK a new home-grown source of energy.”

The wording is eerily familiar. However, UK fracking sounds somewhat more favorable to the environment than the situation in the US, where localities from municipalities to states have to wrangle over public and private land restrictions on a case-by-case basis and up and down a judicial ladder. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles (public domain)

However, the proof is in the pudding, as the century-old English saying goes. Although the National Trust for Britain’s parks wields much more clout than the National Park Service in America, we’ll have to see how effective the British policy turns out. Local authorities may be able to reject a UK fracking application, but they can be automatically overruled by the Communities Secretary (former called the Deputy Prime Minister), Eric Pickles (right).

Pickles has a reputation for running roughshod over the locals. The Observer’s Will Hutton has stated: “Eric Pickles has colluded cheerfully with George Osborne [Chancellor of the Exchequer, or Treasury Secretary] to knock local government back to being no more than rat catchers and managers of street lighting. Indeed, they scarcely give them the funds to carry out these activities.”

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