It will take five years and the drilling of 20 to 40 fracking wells to judge whether the UK has a viable shale gas industry, the chairman of the only company yet to have used modern hydraulic fracturing techniques here has told the Guardian.
Lord Browne of Madingley, former chief of BP and now chairman of Cuadrilla, said the work must be done, because exploiting shale gas was “a national imperative”.
He said the process would take so long because of the UK’s strict planning laws. “We have very tight regulation, particularly on planning permission,” he said.
Browne, who is also a government adviser on business, was speaking on the fringes of a debate on fracking held by the thinktank Policy Exchange. He said that the UK had the potential for a large amount of shale gas exploration, but that aspiring companies would need much more information on whether the gas reserves are economic to exploit, and that could only come from further exploration.
“We have an idea of the UK’s potential for shale – what we now need to do is figure out how much we can produce economically and how fast, which means wells need to be drilled and need to be fracked – there is no other way to do it,” said Browne, who is also a managing partner at Riverstone Holdings, the venture capital firm that backs Cudrilla.
Tony Bosworth, energy campaigner at Friends of the Earsh, said: “Despite all the government bluster about fracking, the industry still doesn’t know if it’s viable in Britain, and it will take years to find out. And with experts warning it won’t cut fuel bills and will do little to tackle climate change, the coalition’s shale gas enthusiasm is looking increasingly ill-judged.”
He said renewable energy offered a better way to cut emissions: “The solution to our energy challenges is staring us in the face, and we don’t need to wait until the end of the decade. It’s time to abandon the UK’s fossil fuel addiction and invest in energy efficiency and the nation’s world class renewable power potential.”
Cuadrilla has already spent more than £100m on exploration, the company told the Guardian last year, but so far has only fracked at one site.