Industry

“Glacially slow” – state of the onshore drilling industry

The rate of onshore oil and gas drilling in the UK is “glacially slow”, the organisation representing the fracking industry said yesterday.

Ken Cronin, the chief executive of UK Onshore Oil and Gas, said 16 wells had been drilled onshore in 2012, 15 in 2013 and 15 in the first eight months of 2014.

In a presentation to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Unconventional Gas and Oil in Westminster, he said the final figure for 2014 was likely to be higher.

But he said progress in the UK had been “glacially slow compared with other countries in the world.”

Giving a presentation about the state of the onshore drilling industry, Mr Cronin said a flow of gas was one of his organisation’s priorities.

“We would like to see the rate [of drilling] increase substantially. We have to do the exploration work. No shale around the world is the same. Until we drill 30, 40, 50 wells we will not understand the geology, the cost base and the flow rates.”

Duarte Figueira, head of the Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil, at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, said the industry had to apply for licences, planning applications and permits. “This is a very rigorous process”, he told the meeting. “In the early stages of the industry it is important for that to be a rigorous process”, he said.

But a move to quick planning permissions or the early prospects of a fully-operating shale industry both look unlikely, at least according to speakers at an energy conference also taking place yesterday. A mile away in Pimlico, local authority planners discussed timescales for shale oil and gas production.

Richard Glover, the National Head of Planning for the law and lobbying firm Squire Patton Boggs, told delegates: “It is going to be a long, long time”.

He described as “ginormous” the environmental statements for Cuadrilla’s two planning applications in the Fylde. “Just producing that documentation is hugely time-consuming and lengthy process.”

“Local authorities are terrified of determining planning applications. There is so much political feeling. It makes the fights we have had about onshore wind look like a walk in the park. There is so much strength of feeling. There is macro politics, there is micro politics. I think it is going to be a long time delivering consent.”

Unlike wind farms, shale output was harder to predict, Mr Glover said. “We could have 50, we could have 100 exploratory wells sunk and nothing may come out.”

Peter Chadwick, head of county planning for Hampshire County council, agreed.

“It is an extremely challenging process and extremely challenging for the planning authority to cope with.

“All the controversy has been about exploration wells, he said. “Even if they find something, you are talking years.”

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