Give gas a chance

SITE: Gas rigs like this are a common sight in America, but 'fracking' is controversial
SITE: Gas rigs like this are a common sight in America, but 'fracking' is controversial
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Preston businessman Lee Petts of Remsol gives his reasons why shale gas exploration should be given the go-ahead in Lancashire.

Provided that it’s done properly, with adequate safeguards and against a backdrop of effective regulation, exploiting Lancashire’s shale gas resources could create jobs.

It could stimulate the economy, both regionally and nationally. It could yield environmental improvements because, used to generate electricity, gas produces less CO2 and virtually none of the harmful particulates emitted when burning coal.

And it could help to heat the 80 per cent of British homes that have gas central heating for decades to come.

It could do all of these things. Or it could do none of them. The fact is that, right now, we just don’t know what it will do.

That there is a vast amount of gas trapped underground is not in any doubt, but it’s not clear how much of this we might reasonably expect to be recovered – and that’s what will ultimately decide the scale of this nascent industry.

Which is why the current exploratory work is so important.

You can think about it a bit like a new medicine. When a pharmaceutical manufacturer discovers a new molecule in the laboratory, it doesn’t go straight into production and nor does it start to speculate about how many doses it expects to sell worldwide, or how many people’s lives might be improved or how much revenue its new drug might generate.

Instead, the potential new medicine undergoes several phases of clinical trials, including in patients, in order to establish its efficiency.

Shale gas is much the same. Not because the techniques used are novel and untested – horizontal drilling, for instance, is commonplace – but simply because nobody has yet extracted it on a commercial scale here in the UK and so some testing is needed.

Completing the current exploratory drilling in Lancashire will help to do three things:

First, it will shed more light on how much of the estimated 200 trillion cubic feet of gas it holds can be safely extracted from the Bowland shale in the licence area held by Cuadrilla Resources.

Second, dependent on success, it might then be possible to get a firmer idea of the likely economic impact and the role shale gas can play in Britain’s energy mix.

Thirdly, and importantly, it will give Cuadrilla the opportunity to demonstrate that it can live up to its promises: that it will be a good neighbour and that it will employ local people and local companies in its supply chain.

The supply chain is important, because it’s here that it seems a lot of the potential lies for Lancashire.

For instance, my company, Remsol, has already found work with Cuadrilla. We provide environmental consultancy services and have also been assisting with the arrangements for safe treatment and disposal of wastewater generated after hydraulic fracturing.

The consultancy, EY, recently predicted that a UK shale gas supply chain as a whole might one day be worth £33 billion and could be responsible for over 60,000 jobs, so the size of the prize is substantial.

But this is at the national level.How many of these thousands of jobs might we see here?

It’s a good question, but it would be better to ask how many of those jobs do we want in Lancashire and how do we then best secure them?

Part of the answer is to ensure that businesses in Lancashire – especially SMEs – are prepared should shale gas development go a ahead, so that they don’t miss out on the supply chain roles that might be created.

It’s also important to create the conditions that mean Lancashire is seen as an appealing place to do business. Because one thing is certain: without further exploration, there will be no jobs, no economic benefit, none of the carbon savings that we might have otherwise seen, and an increasing reliance on foreign gas to heat our homes.

Of all the risks we hear about in relation to shale gas, this is the one we hear the least: the risk that it just doesn’t happen.

• Next week: Opponents’ views