A large number of U.K. landowners have rejected the notion of wells being set up on their properties due to concerns over earthquakes, water contamination and nature preservation.
The United Kingdom is in the midst of an energy crisis. With electric and gas prices rising in what is developing to be one of the coldest winters in recent memory, Great Britain has grown desperate for relief from what has became a political yoke around the neck of the administration of Prime Minister David Cameron. For the Cameron administration, cheap energy is key for his governance’s continual survival, and the key to getting it is an expansion of shale gas hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — in the U.K.
In December, the British government reported that one-half of all the land in Great Britain — including two-thirds of England — was suitable for fracking, including both suburban and rural residential properties. The government has hoped that up to 2,800 wells will be licensed to drill for shale oil and gas in the upcoming licensing round, with a minimum of 180 to 360 wells being established. The hope is that these wells will satisfy a quarter of Great Britain’s fuel demands.
As a shock to the British Parliament and opposite to the American example, a large number of landowners have rejected the notion of wells being set up on their properties. Concerns over earthquakes, water contamination and nature preservation have soured the idea of fracking to the British people, leading to major demonstrations and protests. With just 36,000 individuals owning half of all of Britain’s rural lands, a handful of individuals theoretically can stop the British fracking industry cold.
“There are, though, some people who I think are opposing shale because they simply can’t bear the thought of another carbon-based fuel being used in our energy mix, and I think that is irrational because it’s surely better for us to be extracting shale safely from our own country rather than paying a large price for having it imported from around the world,” said the prime minister.
“I think that’s why some people are so religiously opposed to it because they just don’t want to see any carbon-based energy work. I don’t think that’s helpful.” Despite this, there is a growing population of British landlords opposing fracking, fueled on — in part — by environmental groups like Greenpeace, who are recruiting landowners to file injunctions against fracking companies.
In acknowledgement of this, British ministers have admitted that they are considering changes to the nation’s trespassing laws that would allow energy companies to explore for shale gas without the property owner’s permission. Under current law, companies must first obtain permission from the landlord of the property that they wish to drill on. If the landlord refuses, the energy company can sue for permission on the grounds of “the common good.” At this point, a judge would decide if drilling rights should be extended and what type of compensation the landlord is due.
These court proceedings can take years and be tied up in appeals. While the compensation amount can be nominal — typically less than $165.78 — the legal fees could easily grow out of control. The British Department of Energy and Climate Change is currently reviewing if the existing law is “fit for purpose.”
“All options are on the table,” said a Whitehall source to the Telegraph. “It would be difficult to implement a regime that removed any kind of compensation. You could change the rules so you have a de facto right, but then you have to pay. The compensation could be less than £100.”
While the change in the trespassing laws would change the energy companies’ subterranean access, the companies will still need to secure surface rights from the landlords, as well as various permissions from governmental and environmental regulators.