Fracking news round up: trespass laws, public opinion, economic impact and taxes

Legal changes to help fracking
The Daily Telegraph reports that ministers are looking at changes to the trespass laws to make it easier for energy companies to explore for shale gas. The paper says that under plans being considered by the government fracking would be allowed to take place under homes without the owners’ permission. The plans, expected to be published in coming months, according to the Telegraph, are a response to industry concerns that exploration for shale gas could be stymied by lengthy and expensive court proceedings.

 Attitudes to fracking
The Daily Telegraph reports a poll by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and ICP which found 47 per cent of people would be unhappy to have a shale gas well using fracking within 10 miles of their home, compared with 14 per cent who would welcome it.

 Lord Deben, formerly known as John Gummer, told The Guardian the battle against global warming was being put at risk by far-left extremists in the green movement who were resisting a moderate consensus on issues such as fracking. Lord Deben, who chairs the Committee on Climate Change and is the government’s advisor on climate change, said people who condemn fracking as extremely damaging were taking a “nonsensical position”. He called on environmentalists who took a more “sensible” view to disassociate themselves from these groups.

 A letter in response to the interview from Richard Mountford says: “The problem with the battle against climate change is not that ‘extremists’ in the UK oppose fracking, or even that the government supports it. The problem is that global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.”

 Business and economics
Chris Huhne, in a comment piece for The Guardian , predicts that shale may not happen in the UK and, if it does, it will be slow. Even if it is eventually massive, he says, prices will not drop and British industry, far from re-shoring, will be squeezed by the strong pound.

The Daily Telegraph quotes warnings from the manufacturing groups EEF and Tata Steel that any benefits of shale gas in the UK are unclear and could be years off. EEF’s senior energy policy advisor, Richard Warren, says it is unclear that fracking could have any significant impact on gas prices unless the entire of Europe exploited shale gas. “It’s important that the government doesn’t overstate that it’s going to drive down prices,” he said. “It’s very unwise for Cameron and Osborne to be thinking that it can have the same impact as in the US.” A spokesperson for Tata Steel says “Fracking has had a major impact in the US, but it could be many years before we start to see any impact on UK energy prices.”

Environmental Data Services reports that a bill that gives environmental regulators a duty to support economic growth has moved a step closer to being enacted. The Deregulation Bill was formally laid before parliament on 23rd January, following several months of scrutiny. ENDS says the bill introduces, among other things, a duty for non-economic regulators such as the Environment Agency and Natural England to support economic growth. 

The Guardian quotes a study by Cambridge University, which says shale frackers operating in Britain should be paying £6bn a year in taxes by the middle of the 2020s to compensate for the damage wreaked on the environment. Chris Hope, a parliamentary adviser and reader in policy modelling at the Judge Business School in Cambridge, told the paper: “Shale gas will contribute to climate change in two ways, from carbon dioxide emissions when the gas is burned, and from the fugitive emissions of underground methane that leak into the atmosphere when the gas is extracted.”

Mr Hope says the social cost of carbon produced when oil and gas is burned is calculated at $100 a tonne of carbon dioxide and the best estimate of the social cost of methane leakage is put at just over $1,200 a tonne. He says “many prospects that initially look promising will turn out not to be worth pursuing once these taxes are factored into the equation. The better, cheaper prospects where fugitive emissions can be minimised will be favoured.” He believes that a tax would determine whether it was worth using shale gas as a transitional fuel to a lower carbon Britain.

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