If current energy prices are not high enough to shock people into wanting us to find more home based gas to use, the weak position of European countries vis a vis Russia should be sufficient spur to find and extract UK gas.
Some in the government are keen – the Chancellor and the Minister of State for Energy. How keen is the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change?
It is true he is working towards a large new Licensing round to prospect for onshore oil and gas. The 14th Round is due soon, and will grant licenses in many parts of the country to those willing to spend to find. However, the whole process is currently out to consultation. The consultation, which closes on 28th March, is mainly preoccupied with ensuring compliance with the EU’s Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive 2001 and the EU Habitat regulations.
The DECC website reminds us just how highly regulated all this is going to be. Now I entirely agree the interests of landowners and local communities need to be fully protected. Of course they need assurances that drilling will be safe and controlled and will not take place close to residential areas. Of course if gas is found communities and individuals should participate in the good news, and should be protected against damage to their properties or their water supply. If any gas is found in my area I will want to help the local community get the sensible guarantees and a participation they will expect, but I will not want to block the development in suitable locations.
Anyone wanting to look for gas will have to obtain landowner consent, DECC permission, planning permission from the local Council, Environment Agency consent, and Health and Safety approval. It might be a good idea if the government also offered some encouragement to this process. The oilfield at Poole in Dorset shows that it is possible to extract oil close to a beautiful landscape and a prosperous town without it being intrusive or a constant cause of conflict with the neighbours. The drilling for that occurred years ago before all this latest regulation. If we are to tackle fuel poverty and fuel a decent industrial revival we need to get on with finding and using the gas that probably lies beneath our feet.