Coffee House

David Cameron is dangerously complacent on shale gas regulation

16 January 2014

11:13 AM

16 January 2014

11:13 AM

Late on Tuesday afternoon, and within minutes of each other, two separate hearings in the Palace of Westminster examined the prospects for shale gas in the UK.

In the upper house, the Economic Affairs Committee was taking evidence from Chris Wright, the straight-talking boss of an American shale gas company. Wright, a boyish forty-something, gave their lordships a crash course in shale gas development, explaining the approach companies like his took in order to get gas out of the ground. Because every shale well is different, he said, shale companies have to experiment a bit, trying out different fracking recipes and techniques until they find one that works for them. There is no straightforward way of doing this – it is simply trial and error until they chance on a way forward. Fracking for shale gas is an art rather than a science.


Wright was very optimistic about the drill core data from the UK, believing that our shales could be at least as productive as some of those he had worked on back in America. But would he therefore be getting involved in the nascent UK shale gas industry? Not a chance. Having to spend a year trying to get permission from the Environment Agency every time he wanted to try a slightly different fracking recipe would, he said, be the death of him.

This was a stark message, and one that you might think would alarm the government – or at the least those parts of it that are behind the idea of developing the vast shale deposits under northern England. However, shortly after Wright had laid these facts bare, David Cameron, in one of his regular appearances before the Commons Liaison Committee, was asked for his views on shale. The Prime Minister’s backing for unconventional gas is well known, and earlier in the hearing he had described the need to keep the lights on as the number one priority of his energy policy. You might therefore have assumed that he would be right on top of the question of whether the shale gas regulatory regime was fit for purpose. But you would have been mistaken. This is what he had to say:

‘We have a very tough set of environmental permissions and permits…I don’t think we need to add to that. I think what we should do is allow this industry develop within the very clear framework of environmental rules and regulations and planning that has to take place now…we’ve got the rules in place, now let this industry have a chance to develop.’

Oh dear. I think the PM may need to take another look at this.

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Show comments
  • Billy___Bob

    How many diesel generators have been purchased for the STOR program?

    Imagine if they were natural gas generators running on shale gas. Clean of particulate matter. 40% less CO2.

    “Thousands of dirty diesel generators are being secretly prepared all over Britain to provide emergency back-up to prevent the National Grid collapsing when wind power fails.–insane-true-eco-scandals.html

  • Frank

    Ha ha, David Cameron is exceedingly complacent about everything.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      …except obeying the EUSSR komissars’ diktat.

  • 2trueblue

    Better still, be part of the ‘Do nothing lot’, who did exactly that for 13yrs., and we are now on the brink of not being able to turn on the lights. There are not a lot of options left. The loonies who believe that wind is going to help are now being shown to be exactly that, loonies. Cometh the real winter and we will watch those big lumps of metal stand still whilst we import our fuel.

  • Alex

    If I was a cynic, I might suspect that many Conservatives are happy to be able to claim they are supporting shale, while also being happy if nothing actually happens until after the next election.
    Oh, wait, I am a cynic.

    • HookesLaw

      Well if you are saying its good politics just before an election not to inply you want to see the environmemnt trashed by shale exploitation, then I would agree with you.
      One wonders quite what Montford expected the PM to say.

      • David S

        Have a look at the environmental footprints of fracking and wind farms for the equivalent amount of energy and then pick which side you are on.

  • Geronimo von Huxley

    Many bloggers, including Charles Moore himself, have made it clear over and over again that land reforms are now on the cards.

    Does Britain resemble a Third World dictatorship where the Empress
    and her mates OWN everything, or is this nation a modern democracy? We
    understand how the deals were done in Industrial Age Britain – coal
    mining made a select number of aristocrats rich, we know how the North
    Sea Oil extraction played out making a select number of corporations

    Now it is time for the populace to gain full access rights over the
    resource and hold full control over the process of extraction, supply,
    distribution and marketing. The German communal ownership model is
    perhaps not the model of choice but at least will deliver a great deal
    of inspiration.

    It is beyond comprehension why in this day an age an ancient
    aristocratic elite ought to have full control over the shale gas
    No wonder the Scots are pushing for change.

    • Curnonsky

      “Communal ownership” typically means ownership by a select few politically-connected oligarchs, as found in miserable extraction-based economies like Venezuela and Russia. In other words, the typical pattern of socialism – enrich the elite class, impoverish everyone else.

      • Geronimo von Huxley

        Interesting how you managed to take your eyes off the prize all whilst likening yourself to some South American/Central Asian culture instead. Please do elaborate how you managed to perform that impressive quantum leap.

      • Daniel Maris

        Why not try the John Lewis Partnership. A very successful business for nearly 100 years now operating in the free market – communally owned.

  • The Laughing Cavalier

    Paraphrasing mark: 6.3
    The left hand knoweth not what the right hand doeth.

  • Hayek was right

    What a load of nonsense. So Frackers try different recipes. This statement does not say anything about
    a) whether any recipes come close to breaching rules and regulations

    b) or indeed how different one recipe is from another

    If you’re anti-fracking because of mis-guided sensibilities then good luck to you. But don’t waste people’s time trying to cloak your neuroses in respectability by such a patently false argument over regulations.

    • Hugh

      He’s not anti-fracking. Read the whole post.

      • flaxdoctor

        It’s an odd headline for an article asking for less regulation, isn’t it?

        • Hugh

          Yes, that’s true.

        • David S

          Agreed. It’s worth clarifying that the reason Cameron is accused of complacency is because the regulatory structure is inadequate to support a potentially significant industry, not it is not tough enough.

  • In2minds

    Nice pic, two donkeys together!

    • HookesLaw

      So boring

    • Daniel Maris

      Yes – but one is doing a lot of useful work!

      • RobertC

        And one is nodding and the other is shaking his head.