Payments of almost £1bn to people living near shale gas wells will not be sufficient to win public backing for fracking on their own, according to the boss of one of the UK’s nascent shale gas companies.
Andrew Austin, the chief executive officer of IGas, whose Salford oil drilling site has been subject to several weeks of action by anti-fracking protesters, told the Guardian that the community benefits in themselves would not be a “game-changer” for swinging public support for the controversial technology.
He said that while he “absolutely” supported the right of people to protest, anti-fracking campaigners were causing unfair disruption to local residents on Barton Moss Road, which is by the M62. There have been 19 arrests of protesters, mostly for obstructing the highway. A wind turbine blade was dumped across the site’s entrance by protesters on Monday, followed by a bus on Wednesday to which five people were locked.
“We accept people’s legitimate right to protest and hold different views to those we hold. What’s unfortunate is when they disrupt the lives of other people on the road of Barton Moss, that’s a little unfair. People need to think very carefully about their impact on other people’s lives, not just IGas.”
Earlier this week, the government said energy companies had expressed interest in fracking licenses for areas covering about 15% of the UK, and that in the most optimistic scenario, up to 32,000 jobs could be created. Guardian polling has suggested 40% of people are against fracking in their local area, with 40% in favour.
Austin said that while the benefits would help encourage some support for fracking, the shale industry would need to reach scale to win many people round. “No, I don’t think it is a game-changer. They are part of a combination of benefits – jobs, security of supply. I do think once we see industry up and running that will be a game-changer,” he said.
IGas is drilling for oil at the Barton Moss site in Salford, which is about the size of a football pitch and surrounded by an imposing fence to deter protesters, to take samples and see what “potential energy reserves [are] beneath the area.” It is not undertaking hydraulic fracturing – fracking – at the site and would have to apply for licenses if it wanted to do so. “We will be fracking at some future point but not at that particular site,” Austin said.
The protests at the Barton Moss site mirror marches and camps in the summer against an oil drilling site run by Cuadrilla outside the village of Balcombe, in East Sussex.
Chris Faulkner, the chief executive of US company Breitling Energy Corporation, which is considering fracking in the UK, recently told the Guardian that the shale gas industry had not done enough to make its voice heard during the Balcombe protests. “The reaction instead seemed to be to put up a prison fence,” said the executive who has been branded ‘the frack master’. In an article in the Guardian on Thursday, he added:
“The opposition to fracking is a product of scientific misunderstanding – or worse, an agenda put forward by supposed environmental advocates who stand to profit if natural gas never lives up to its full potential.”
Austin would not be drawn on whether Cuadrilla had communicated effectively, but said that IGas had made a significant effort to inform and discuss the impacts of operations with local communities. “We will learn from the impact on residents from these protests, and help protect residents further in future, but we are doing as much as you can.”
He said he understood why some environmentalists were opposed to any new extraction of fossil fuels, but it was “daft” to be using imported gas from countries such as Qatar rather than shale gas in the UK. A government report in September put the greenhouse gas emissions from shale gas on a par with imported liquiefied natural gas, but higher than conventional gas from the North Sea.
“The enemy in this agenda is coal. Shale gas is the same as any other form of natural gas. If you use that locally you’re supporting decarbonising, you’re displacing coal and you’re supporting renewables,” said Austin.
Kevin Smith, a spokesman for the No Dash for Gas group that has been involved in some of the Barton Moss protests, said: “Any minor inconvenience that might have been caused to locals as a result of fracking protests pales in comparison to the congestion, pollution and despoilment that the community will endure if IGas’ plans go ahead.”
On Wednesday planning minister Nick Boles announced changes to rules that mean companies will be able to inform householders of fracking underneath their homes with notices in local newspaper and displays, rather than writing letters to what he called a “disproportionately large” number of householders in the vicinity.
Article Author: Adam Vaughn