Aug. 11, 2014 | 12:01 a.m. EDT + More
LONDON – Britain’s coalition government is suffering from a bad case of fracking envy. It wants to replicate America’s shale-gas boom, which has flooded the U.S. with cheap natural gas and put it on track to become the world’s largest gas producer.
Last month the British government published new rules to open around half of the United Kingdom to shale-gas production using the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. This practice, coupled with horizontal drilling techniques, makes accessible tight gas lodged deep in underground shale. For the first time in six years, companies can now bid for licenses to drill demonstration wells, subject to environmental permits and planning permission.
Demonstrators carry placards as they gather for an anti-fracking protest in London on March 19.
Britain’s large and vocal anti-fracking lobby – which was out in force a year ago to protest the drilling of a test well in Balcombe, about 30 miles south of London – was quick to lambaste the move, which it says risks poisoning groundwater. Friends of the Earth, an international environmental organization, fired off a statement claiming the decision is a “threat to the environment and the public health [that] could now affect millions more people.”
But Britain’s fracking opponents may not need to mount huge protests to trip up the dash to gas, experts say. More likely, legal, economic and industrial hurdles will conspire to make Britain’s fledging shale-gas industry a non-starter.
“We are not going to see the shale-gas revolution you’ve seen in the U.S.,” says Paul Stevens, an energy expert at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, a nonprofit, nongovernmental think tank. “That’s a government myth.”