The British government is proposing new rules for energy companies to use the controversial technique of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, beneath populated areas of southern England. Those living above the extraction sites would be paid compensation for every well.
The reaction from many in the region is thanks, but no thanks.
The British Geological Survey (BGC) has issued a report estimating there are 4.4 billion barrels of oil embedded in shale in the region, where supporters of the Conservative Party dominate. This has created a political headache for Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative government.
The problem is that despite the payments of £20,000 ($33,694), many residents resent not only the fracking and its risks, but that the government isn’t giving them a choice in the matter.
Government officials say that if the plans go forward, payments to property owners eventually could total £800,000 ($1.34 million), but The Telegraph reports that the energy industry expects an outlay not to exceed £200,000 ($336,940).
Under the proposal, the energy companies would have free access to shale 300 meters (985 feet) or more below the surface to recover the oil there. The BGS report estimates the presence of 4.4 billion barrels are trapped beneath the counties of Hampshire, Sussex, Surrey and Kent.
In fact, the report says one area, the Weald Basin between Kent and Wiltshire, may have as much as 8.5 billion barrels.
Estimates aside, though, actual extraction volumes are generally less copious. In the United States, for example, where fracking is fairly common, the practice has managed to recover only about 10 percent of the proven reserves. If that holds true in southern England, the yield could be disappointing, especially when compared to the volume of oil – 40 billion barrels – already recovered from the North Sea.
Further, the BGS said its survey found that fracking would not be able to recover gas from the region.
Related Article: Is the U.K. Ready for a Shale Revolution?
The BGS acknowledges that the yield from the region wouldn’t be very large. “But we have to see what happens, and we won't really know the answers until we have got some more drilling and testing,” said Robert Gatliff, the agency’s director of energy and marine geoscience.
That doesn’t sit well with Gary Williamson, the chairman of the Sevenoaks Conservative Association in a region where the fracking has been proposed. Williamson, a member of Britain’s ruling party, told The Telegraph that the plans makes him “uneasy” because “an Englishman’s home has always been his castle.”
And The Guardian published a photograph of a tent for anti-fracking protesters in Balcombe in West Sussex. One fabric wall of the tent bore the slogan, in huge block letters, “Sussex Is Not For Shale.”
Despite such complaints, Conservative members of the government are defending the proposed fracking. “It's a potentially home-grown source of energy that we simply cannot afford to ignore,” says energy minister Michael Fallon.
Fallon also defended the decision to deny residents a choice in whether to allow fracking beneath their properties. “That is why we're encouraging this development through streamlining and simplifying the regulatory process while protecting the environment.”
Prime Minister David Cameron already has put his support behind fracking, calling it simply “good for our country.”
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com