Can George Osborne give shale gas a boost with a ‘generous’ tax regime?

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Shale gas is the great hope of George Osborne and his fellow Conservatives who detest what they see in the renewable energy sector: subsidy junkies and woolly minded greens. But in a brief section of his speech to his party conference on Monday, he managed to give comfort to both. “An enterprise strategy means investing in renewable energy,” he said, a far warmer phrase than in previous speeches and presumably wrung out of him by the Lib Dems. But then he completed the sentence: “… and opening up the newly discovered shale gas reserves beneath our land.”

“We are today consulting on a generous new tax regime for shale so that Britain is not left behind as gas prices tumble on the other side of the Atlantic,” said Osborne. It’s certainly true that the shale gas industry in the UK needs all the help it can get, having drilled only a handful of wells, far short of the hundreds or thousands needed to really know how much gas could be released by fracking. Furthermore, the CBI and Deutsche Bank among others have said there can be no repetition of the US gas miracle, given differences in mineral rights, population density and environmental regulations.

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