The Shale Gas opportunity

Shale Gas: the topic is a touchy subject, as protesters up and down the country are determined to halt any progress – as is the case at the Balcombe fracking site.

However, the industry has proved to be a revelation in the US because adopting the controversial technique has resulted in the nation being on the cusp of self-sufficiency for the next 100 years in natural gas and no doubt creating numerous jobs.

BBC news reported in July that the US were now in a position to ink plans for a USD20 billion project to start exporting Shale Gas – which illustrates the extraordinary scale of the revolution.

The UK hopes to replicate the success seen in the US within its own shores, with the UK Energy secretary and the Energy Information Administration (EIA) both talking up the positives in exploiting the Shale gas resources which the country potentially holds.

A report by the EIA believes that the amount of shale gas that can be recovered in various sites across the UK could fulfil nine years of gas demand and the Prime Minister, David Cameron has given his full support for the industry in a piece he wrote in The Telegraph.

As well as fulfilling demand, is has been suggested that Shale Gas would also be extremely beneficial to the UK economy.

A report by the Institute of Directors (IoD), found that ‘Investments in Shale Gas drilling could yield an industry worth nearly GBP4 billion a year to the UK economy’. The same report also found that it could create over 74,000 jobs and that ‘Shale Gas jobs would be created in the parts of the UK that need them most, e.g. the North West.’

But of course, whilst there are positives from the controversial gas extraction process, the Shale Gas industry is not without opposition.

Various groups, in particular environmentalists, claim that the process of fracking harms the environment – arguing that ‘any gas that escapes from the fractured wells may increase climatic disruption’.

There is also concern at the prospect of earthquakes after drilling in Lancashire in 2011 was suspended following two minor earthquakes near Blackpool. And Householders near drilling sites in the US claim that the ‘chemicals used and the gas it releases pollutes the local water, and can even cause it to ignite’

If the Shale Gas industry does come to prominence in the UK then what would it mean for jobs? John Kittle at Earthstaff said: “We have seen the evidence from the reports by the EIA and of IoD of the benefits that the Shale Gas industry will bring to the UK. Not only will it bring energy prices down for the consumer but it will also stimulate the job market”.

Kittle adds: “If the industry does take off, from an employment point of view it’s an opportunity to tap into some of the talent we lost to the expat communities many years ago. We will see opportunities increasing on home soil as salaries become comparable to other countries due to the short supply of fracking experience in the UK. This is a huge opportunity, not only for the Operators but the Service Companies to get the top talent on board. They will have to be mindful of the controversy surrounding the process of course and manage the PR well – maybe more so than ever before.”

The protesters have certainly made their point and have dented the Police’s budget. Policing the protests has so far according to the Crime Commissioner, Katy Bourne, cost 2.3million and is expected to rise 3.7 million by the end of September. However, with the apparent support of the government, have they made their voices truly heard?

How do you balance the conundrum of stimulating growth and appeasing potential opposition? Only time will tell.