Consultancy Remsol has today published a constructive Blueprint for shale gas community benefits. (http://www.remsol.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Remsol-A-Blueprint-for-Shale-Gas-Community-Benefits-09082016.pdf ). I wrote the foreword:
“UK shale gas production could and should be part of a low-carbon transition, enabling Britain to phase out coal more quickly while strengthening energy security. Domestically-extracted shale gas would be less climate-damaging than coal, but also than imported Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). Local environmental impacts will not be large, provided that the industry is firmly regulated. Opponents of fracking are guilty of greatly overstating the local issues. However, there will be some local impacts. The Shale Gas Task Force (https://www.taskforceonshalegas.uk/), to which I was an adviser, noted in its final report in December 2015 that “shale gas operations will have an impact, in terms of noise, disruption and traffic, on those communities directly affected by production sites”. The Task Force recommended “that community payments should involve residents, local authorities and operators working together. This Remsol report is a useful contribution to the process of outlining how community benefits could work.
The proposal to focus spending on energy efficiency and renewable energy is very sensible; this would underline that shale gas is part of decarbonisation, not an alternative or threat to renewables. The proposal not to include local government, in order to minimise bureaucracy, is a sad reflection on the actual and perceived state of local government, but should certainly be considered as a way forward. A possible 14% increase in property value resulting from energy efficiency work and renewables installation might even be enough to change some opinions. Anti-fracking campaigners condemn community payments as bribes, and argue that money should be invested in renewables instead of shale gas. This argument is wrong on many levels. However well the UK does on energy efficiency and renewables (and there is clearly great room for improvement on both), it will be many decades before all or most of the energy used in the UK comes from renewables. Those concerned about climate protection need to address the issue of what other fuel sources should be used during those decades. The money proposed to individuals or community groups would not be taken from renewable expenditure; it is from the proceeds of fracking, so will only become available if fracking proceeds. Those living near proposed new infrastructure developments deserve some compensation; the onshore wind industry already gives money to local communities.
Fracking has attracted a lot of public interest. And proper, evidence -based debate about the pros and cons of shale gas is healthy. This report is a sensible contribution to such a debate.”