Paddy Fowler
22 October 2019

National Audit Office release report on fracking in the UK

Today's report by the National Audit Office (NAO) shows that progress in establishing a shale gas industry in England has been slower than government planned. Amid public concern for the practice, the government has committed to developing a shale gas industry and had hoped to have opened up to 20 wells to be fracked by the mid-2020's; so far only three wells have been fracked. Since setting that goal in 2016, public support for shale gas development has decreased with opposition now at 40 per cent, compared to 20 per cent in 2013. Concerns for the natural environment and public health factored highly as risks in public opinion, especially the release of greenhouse gases, groundwater pollution and fracking-induced tremors cited in addition to worries over the adequacy of pre-existing regulations.

While the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy believes it can meet its climate change objectives at the same time as developing shale gas, the technology required to do so has yet to be developed on an industrial scale at the required efficiency. The Committee on Climate Change states that the development of carbon capture, usage and storage technology (CCUS) is critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, because it would provide a way to use fossil fuels, including shale gas, in a low-carbon way. The Department held two unsuccessful competitions in 2007 and 2012 to develop and implement CCUS. In 2018, it set out its aim to develop the first CCUS facility in the mid-2020s.

NAO estimates that at least £32.7 million has been spent by public bodies since 2011, including £13.4 million spent by three local police forces on maintaining the security around shale gas sites to date. Adding to this, although the Department recognises its responsibility for decommissioning offshore oil and gas infrastructure, it does not for onshore wells, including shale gas wells, potentially making landowners liable for decommissioning costs of shale gas wells should an operator be unable to fund them.

Fracking for shale gas in England: Full report