The head of the company seeking to exploit shale gas reserves in Lancashire today pleaded with the government to make up its mind about the future of the unconventional energy source.
Giving evidence to the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee this morning, Francis Egan, chief executive of Cuadrilla, said his company was desperate to get the go-ahead to explore how much shale gas was available in the area around Blackpool. Sounding a little exasperated, he told the committee:
‘We’ll give you the data as soon as you let us start. We know the geology is good, we know the gas is there, and we know it’s a mile thick. In fact, we haven’t even reached the bottom. The geology is good, but we need to establish flow rates. I could sit here and guesstimate reserves all day long, but we need to get some data, and that’s what we’re asking for approval to do. if the country doesn’t want the data, tell us. If the government say no, we will have no choice but to walk away. We hope the government will make a decision soon.’
The problem is partly that tensions remain in the fractious energy department over fracking, even though the will exists among senior Conservatives. Last week’s Autumn Statement included the Gas Generation Strategy, which included plans for a regulatory regime for shale gas exploitation. But Egan wasn’t entirely cheered by this. He said:
‘I think in that the GGS acknowledges that gas will have a role it’s helpful, but Cuadrilla is not in the business of working out the energy strategy of the country. We’re here to say that we have found gas that can be developed safely and sensibly, and if the government thinks there’s a market for gas, we’ll be able to provide it.’
Egan has reason to be impatient: his company’s estimates suggest that there are 200 trillion cubic feet of shale gas in Lancashire alone. Critics have so far managed to stall progress on fracking by claiming that estimate is too unreliable. But there’s also the problem of a shortage of workers skilled in fracking. Egan brought this back to the government once again, saying there needed to be an official strategy for getting a skilled workforce together:
‘We’re already working with the University of Lancashire to produce a skills study for us in the next two or three months. But it won’t happen by accident, I think it needs to be planned for more, and people need to be trained and that should not just be the industry but in the end government policy.’
The Senior Economic Advisor to the Institute of Directors, Corin Taylor, added to Egan’s push for investment in the Lancashire workforce, pointing to the industry’s potential to boost regional employment figures. He said:
‘A lot of these jobs would be in parts of the UK that really need them, it’s an important part of helping to balance the economy.’
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