UK directors warn of ‘overplaying’ shale gas risks

One of the UK’s leading business organisations has given its support to drilling for shale gas in Britain.

The Institute of Directors believes that unlocking the UK’s reserves of shale gas could free-up enough onshore gas to meet 10 per cent of the UK’s gas demand for the next 103 years.

And it warns that “if we overplay the risks” associated with drilling for shale gas, “we would miss out on the very real benefits”.

A survey of 1095 IoD members found that 58 per cent believe that extensive development of the UK’s shale reserves would have a positive impact on British businesses, compared to just 7 per cent that think that it would have a negative impact.

And almost 48 per cent agree that the benefits of shale gas drilling – known as fracking – outweigh the risks, compared to 18 per cent who think that the risks outweigh the benefits.

In fact the IoD believes that reports of earthquakes caused by fracking “must be taken in proper context”. Last year fracking operations carried out by shale gas company Cuadrilla were halted after they were found to have caused earth tremors. But the IoD states: “In the last 50 days, the UK experienced three earthquakes as large or larger than the bigger of the two earthquakes caused by Cuadrilla in 2011. None of them caused any damage.

“With a proper regulatory structure, fracking is no more risky than other hydrocarbon extraction, and should be allowed to proceed in the UK. Regulatory authorities should study closely the experience of the US, where more than 20 000 wells have now been drilled.”

The US experience of shale gas – where it now accounts for 23 per cent of domestic gas production and 22 per cent of domestic consumption – it one to be copied, says the IoD.

It assumes that even if Britain were only to be “half as successful as the Americans”, some 35 000 new jobs would be created.

Dan Lewis, The IoD’s energy oolicy adviser, said: “Shale gas has huge potential benefits for the UK, both economically and environmentally. We have a massive reserve of shale gas sitting right beneath our feet and we must take advantage of it.

He said that while “shale isn’t the answer to all our problems… it would be a really beneficial part of the energy mix, creating jobs, driving decarbonisation and helping to prevent constant rises in energy prices”.

“We cannot afford to pass up this opportunity when there are so many upsides. Fracking has been controversial, but the reality is that with proper regulation it is no more risky than any kind of hydrocarbon extraction – if we overplay the risks, we would miss out on the very real benefits.”

The IoD’s support for shale gas comes a week after another UK trade body – the Institute of Mechanical Engineers – said that a ten-year drilling programme would create 4200 jobs annually.

Dr Tim Fox, the institution’s head of energy and environment, said: “Shale gas has the potential to give some of the regions hit hardest by the economic downturn a much-needed economic boost. The engineering jobs created will also help the government’s efforts to rebalance the UK’s skewed economy.

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