What National Planning Policy Should Say on Shale Gas

1) If It is backed it should be only as a short term stop gap to compensate for the decline in North Sea Gas Production and until Carbon Neutral Solutions are developed over the next 20 years.  Gas has a lower carbon output that electricity from coal but this only makes sense if their is sufficient generating capacity from gas power stations during a transition period, not during a period when its substitutes for renewables.  Likely this requires most coal and a lot of shale gas staying in the ground.

-This is also the position of the US Energy Secretary.  I don’t say this position is correct but it is the only intellectually coherent position if you back CO2 reduction targets.

2) To minimise visual impact the policy should encourage minimising the number of ‘sweet spot’ wellheads with lateral drilling.

-In the US the deposits are very think vertically requiring large numbers of wells over a large area.  In the UK the deposits are much thicker so in theory (at least according to the CBI) around 100-200 well heads could serve the country, providing you drill at the precise ‘sweet spot’.  However it takes 19-20 test drillings to hit this.  In the permissive US system there is no incentive to use the best technology of lateral drilling from a single sweet spot.  This can be rectified here.

The best system would be to auction 100-200 wellhead licenses nationally with 20 year concessions.  Then allow temporary consents of say 3 years to allow the ‘sweet spot’ to be found.  Such short term planning consents would not contribute to the national auction system.

The few the number of well heads the less the environmental and visual concerns.  I doubt the UK would tolerate 10s of thousands of well heads but a few hundred will be inconsequential.  The main concerns of groups such as Green Peace is the threats from thousands of drill heads.  Proper incentives can minimise this risk.

This is not to defend fracking, but it shows how well conceived regulation can both maximise economic benefits and minimse environmental impacts if a technology is adopted.

This piece I understand needs to be much longer and full of references.  But I think there is already enough evidence on fracking internationally for MPAs to start drafting sensible policies in their minerals plans.

Countryside campaign groups could do a great service by commissioning specialist research on the premise that if fracking is to go ahead what would be the best policy regime to minimise that impact.

2 thoughts on “What National Planning Policy Should Say on Shale Gas

  1. Pingback: Does the new DCLG Fracking Guidance Duck the Key Issue – Production Well Proliferation | Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

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