British government overrules local objections to allow hydro-fracturing of new shale wells

On October 6, 2016, Sajid Javid, U.K.’s Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, overruled local objections by granting Cuadrilla Resources permission for up to four horizontally-drilled, high-volume hydraulically-fractured wells to produce natural gas from shale formations in North Lancashire, U.K. The decision marks Britain’s first approval of new wells using the controversial method to produce natural gas from shale since Cuadrilla’s exploratory drilling was halted due to seismic activity in 2011. Earlier this year another producer was granted permission to “frack” a well it had already drilled in 2013.

According to a March 9, 2016 U.S. Energy Information Administration country brief on the U.K., preliminary figures show U.K.’s total 2015 consumption at nearly 2.5 Tcf and total annual production of around 1.25 Tcf. A 2013 British Geological Survey report states the total range for estimated gas in place is between 822 and 2,281 Tcf for the combined upper and lower parts of the Bowland-Hodder unit, Britain’s largest most accessible onshore shale play.

It is unclear whether Javid’s decision will lead to widespread natural gas production increases in the near-term. This is due to uncertain geology, ownership by the Crown of natural gas within the land area of Great Britain, and political and popular opposition, including Britain’s Labour Party actively seeking to ban hydraulic fracturing.