Great Britain is lifting the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” over the screaming objections of environmentalists.
Authorities overruled a local council to approve the first fracking operations since 2011. The company behind the project expects to start drilling in the second quarter of 2017. Environmentalists quickly rejected the decisions, and began gathering signatures for a petition to re-ban fracking.
“Fracking could transform the UK’s industrial heartland in the way it has revived it in the US, where 1 million wells have been drilled,” Jim Ratcliffe, founder of one of the companies behind the project, told Upstream. “Opposition is difficult for me to understand. This is not unproven technology. The US has been doing it for years.”
Fracking in Britain was halted after test-drilling allegedly triggered a small magnitude 2.3 earthquake in 2011. A British Geological Survey report, carried out by independent experts, said the quakes were due to an “unusual combination of geology at the well site,” adding that the conditions that caused the minor earthquakes were “unlikely to occur again.”
British environmental groups Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth claim to have gathered more than 186,000 signatures on a petition to ban fracking in the country, citing environmental impact. The groups are using the petition to claim fracking has no “democratic mandate.”
A major steelworkers union in Britain called Community announced that it is supporting fracking Monday, saying the extraction method could boost the steel industry and create thousands of jobs. The union was directly associated with the left-wing British Labour Party, which pledges to ban fracking.
Fracking in Great Britain will create 74,000 new jobs and safeguard another 100,000, energy consulting groups estimate. Fracking for oil has the potential to generate anywhere from $10 billion to $74.6 billion for the British economy and $26 billion in new tax revenue for the British government, according to the studies, and could offer up to $16.5 million in benefits to local governments per fracking site.
The U.K. estimates it has 26 trillion cubic feet of shale gas reserves, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
The U.K. is one of the few countries in Europe in which fracking is legally permitted, but local governments had repeatedly declined to give fracking companies permits for years. The first fracking permits in Western Europe since 2011 were only issued in May.
Energy analysts say that even in the most favorable circumstances, large scale development of fracking in the U.K is at least five to 10 years away due to legal and regulatory barriers.
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