Politicians out of step with industry on pace of fracking, conference hears

13th May 2014

Senior politicians who want the fracking industry to go much faster are out of step with the wishes of the operators, a major shale gas conference heard today.

In January, David Cameron said the government was going “all out for shale” and last week, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee called for fracking to be a national priority. Its chairman, Lord MacGregor told the BBC Daily Politics Show: “The risks of not going ahead as fast as we can are greater than of not going fast enough.”

But representatives of the shale industry and its supporters urged caution today at the Shale Gas World conference in Birmingham.

Andrew Austin, the chief executive of IGas, said once exploratory wells had been drilled and tested the pace would pick up. But he said: “We need to get to that point quite slowly.” He warned that if the industry “did not get it right” in this phase, it would never find out what potential gas was underground.

Dan Byles, the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Unconventionals, said: “Some parts of government can sound a little over enthusiastic” and he quoted from TV programme Yes Minister “Things do not just happen because prime ministers are very keen on them”. He said: “We have to do this in such a way as to build confidence and not by rushing.”

Last week, Lord MacGregor blamed the regulatory system for delaying the development of the shale gas industry. But today’s conference chair, Nick Butler, of the Financial Times, suggested the slow pace was “a voluntary act” by the industry and part of a strategy to build trust with local communities.

He described as “dangerous” the hype and “strongly raised expectations” of some in parliament. He said: “There is a gap of understanding between the industry and senior politicians who are taking the debate ahead of reality.”

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