Keep On Fracking – TOTAL Gambles 47 million On UK Shale Revolution

Shale gas has been described as the new ‘North Sea’ in the UK where the exploitation of tight gas from previously unexploitable shale strata is set to potentially half UK energy costs. Now one of the world’s largest oil groups wants a piece of the action by buying stakes in firms with drilling licenses in Lincolnshire. This is the first investment from what is considered an ‘oil-major’ into shale gas in the UK and may well set the trend for the future. The value of the investment is said to be worth about USD47 million and comes from Total, the French oil major and the world’s fifth largest publicly traded oil company. “The entry of the first major into UK shale gas licenses is a further endorsement of the potential that exists…and demonstrates strong support for our operating capability,” said IGas Energy’s Chief Executive, Andrew Austin.

Producing gas from shale is not without its critics who believe that the potential for environmental damage far outweighs the benefits of cheaper energy sources, not to mention those that believe the world has got to stop burning hydrocarbons. The process employed that enables hydrocarbons to flow out of the shale in which it has become trapped is known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking. This involves drilling deep underground and fracturing the host rocks with a highly pressurised mixture of sand, water and chemicals and thus allowing the gas to flow into the well, a process which is much criticised by environmentalists, in particular, Greenpeace.

The British Geological survey estimates that there may be as much as 1300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas present in the north of England and if only 10% of this can be extracted, that would still be enough to supply the country’s energy needs for the next 50 years. Currently, the UK consumes about three trillion cubic feet of gas per year. Small wonder then that the British government has introduced a range of incentives to get the major oil companies interested. The British Prime Minister believes that the country should get behind fracking, insisting that it is safe if properly regulated and could create thousands of jobs whilst pushing down energy bills.
In the USA where fracking was embraced some time ago, the energy market has been transformed. Energy prices are about one-third of those in Europe and has set the country well on the road towards energy independence. It is thought that the UK could produce about 400 times more gas per year than it consumes and whilst the bonanza may not be on the same scale as that enjoyed in the States due to higher population density and tighter planning laws, it is seen as a way to reduce imports of hydrocarbons.

The British government’s support for shale gas makes it one of Europe’s most attractive markets for unconventional oil and gas drilling as others, such as France and Germany, have imposed moratoriums on the activity.

“It’s ironic that a French-owned company is seeking to drill the UK for shale gas when it’s banned from fracking in France due to environmental concerns,” said Jane Thomas, Senior Campaigner at environmental group, Friends of the Earth. Incidentally, in October, France’s constitutional court upheld a ban on hydraulic fracturing for shale oil and gas.

Not to be left out, Greenpeace campaigner, Lawrence Carter, said: “Total, a French company who can’t frack in their own country because the French government has stopped the French countryside being ripped up have now turned their sights on the UK countryside where the UK government seem happy to allow the industrialisation of our green and pleasant land. The UK government are pushing ahead with selling off two-thirds of Britain for drilling without a public mandate, the government was resorting to straight-up bribery by allowing local authorities to keep all of the business rate income from companies drilling for shale gas.”

The first gas should start flowing before the end of the decade but it is doubtful that the protests will stop anytime soon.

image: Aljazeera America

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