At the two-day ‘2nd Annual UK Shale Summit: Making it Happen’ event kicked off in July 2013 at the Lancaster London Hotel. Douglas Bain, director at Dart Energy was the first to speak. He gave a rundown of the company’s licences in the Bowland Shale, which he said was the UK’s most prospective shale play: thick shales, good gas and flow rates demonstrated. He said the Western region is the most active and Dart has one of the largest acreage positions there. The Eastern region does not show as much potential but there are indications of hydrocarbon potential and both dry and liquid rick shale gas may possibly be extracted.
The theme of the morning seemed to be how to get local authorities and communities on board with shale development in the country and Bain too touched upon this. He said that the most common questions that the industry must always be prepared to answer are: Is it safe? Do we need gas? Do we need to get it from ‘here’?
He believes it is very important to win over public acceptance and as stakeholders can turn very quickly if there is even a shred of doubt in their mind, there must be easily accessible, transparent and honest data regarding factors like air quality, noise and traffic management plans – issues that citizens will care about.
He concluded by saying that the UK government has been very supportive, and hoped that this would only get better. He admitted that there are always cynical people in society that will assume the worst, and so the industry will have to work hard to get them on board.
Next up was Tim Yeo, chair of the energy and climate change committee in the UK Parliament. He described the event as ‘timely’ and ‘topical’ (just last month the British Geological Survey (BGS) said that the country’s shale gas resources are estimated to be 1329 trillion cubic feet). His reasons to develop shale gas are to reduce dependency on imports and to keep gas prices down.
However, he said that unlocking shale potential would be a slow and difficult process because of the UK’s strong tradition of protecting its environment. There is a near certainty, he believed, of strong opposition based on environmental concerns even though this may “sometimes border on being completely irrational”.
The way to win over local communities would be to make them direct beneficiaries. While he personally felt that 25% of revenues going to land owners would be a great method and a model used in the US, he said its implementation would not be likely, there are other ways of going about it, such as offering to freeze energy bills. Something dramatic is needed, said Yeo, not just for local councils but individuals too.
He also spoke about the importance of having a low carbon element as part of the UK’s energy mix.
Following him was Ben Wallace MP, who started off by giving a disclaimer that he is open minded about shale and not an enemy, but wanted to warn the industry that the role that will be played by local communities in any shale development plan is very important.
He said that the promise of more jobs, an oft-used rhetoric, will not work in his constituency, where unemployment rates are ‘enviably’ low.
He emphasised that when it comes to planning decisions, it is the local councils and not the central government that is in charge and it is the local councils that need to be won over. In his opinion, councils do not yet know where they stand on the issue, nor do local communities.
Trust, he thinks, is the most importance factor in this. The industry must make sure that government enthusiasm for shale is not seen as simply a way of enriching the Treasury. Moreover, he reiterated what Yeo said about local individuals directly experiencing benefits and feeling some kind of ownership towards the process.
He warned against ‘gimmicks’ that may come off as ‘shoddy bribes’ but something sustainable. He also recommended that companies invest in universities to teach students shale-related skill sets, that could in the future be a useful export when shale gas is developed around Europe.
He said that by demonstrating the real benefits of shale, and by telling people the success stories of places like Texas and North Dakota , where local economies are booming thanks to shale, companies could get communities on board. Moreover, they must strive to understand the complexities of these communities, what their concerns are and what they are thinking. He gave the example of a CEO who managed to turn an entire town hall against him because he had the wrong attitude.
He pointed out that local politics often trumps national issues and said that if the industry keeps these points in mind, and myths are countered and taken on, then “shale gas has a future”.