Fracking in the United Kingdom: Regulatory Challenges between Resource Mobilisation and Environmental Protection

This article will outline the existing regulatory framework with regard to shale gas extraction and development in the UK and analyse potential implications for the functioning of European and UK legislation in this field with consideration of environmental provisions. Moreover, the impact on wider energy policy objectives of the individual Member States’ implementation of these guidelines will be described.

As the world faces the first impacts of human-induced climate change, easing the way to a low carbon future is only one of several policy objectives in the United Kingdom (UK). Aside from the decarbonisation of its economy, the security of supply and affordability of energy are major objectives for the UK’s energy policy, as formulated in the latest “Energy Bill”. However, because the implementation of low carbon technologies is advancing more slowly than expected, primarily due to very high initial investment costs of green energy and the great uncertainty of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), shale gas is moving more and more to the forefront of the policy debate. Cheap gas prices, relative to oil, make it increasingly attractive for politicians to promote shale gas development in the UK. Moreover, the booming shale gas development in the USA has led to increased interest around the world. In 2010, the share of shale gas in total gas production in the USA was estimated to be 20%, and set to increase further.
Fracking for shale gas also could change the geopolitical balance; the US are drastically reducing their dependency on imports of fossil resources from the Middle East with new natural gas sources rendered accessible through fracking technology. Thus, fracking opens a new dimension of energy sources, even though the technology is rather old and has been used for over 50 years. Reasons for the boom of this new source of fossil sources are the general and steady increase of prices for gas and oil, and the improvements in fracking technology.
But fracking is also linked with several risks, in particular environmental risks with special emphasis on groundwater pollution, as well as tectonic stability and man-made earthquakes. In Europe, public opinion on fracking is not as favourable as it is in the US. In some European countries, such as France, a general ban on fracking has been instituted, while others have seen at least partial restrictions on fracking activities, for instance in several German federal states.
Ever since conventional gas and oil reservoirs have been decreasing, the energy industry is searching for alternative sources of hydrocarbons. The advancement of both directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing has become a chance to extract larger amounts of natural gas from deep underground shale rock formations. Furthermore, over the last decade, advances in technology converged with rising gas prices to now allow the commercially viable development of shale gas exploitation. It is believed that shale gas extraction could help cut emissions by replacing coal to meet emission targets, thus providing a so-called transitional fuel for a smooth change towards a greener low-carbon economy.

Copyright: © Lexxion Verlagsgesellschaft mbH
Quelle: Issue 04/2014 (Dezember 2014)
Seiten: 9
Preis inkl. MwSt.: € 41,65
Autor: Prof. Dr. Eike Albrecht

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