40% of UK shale could be off limits

Guardian analysis finds land protections passed last week by parliament may hinder UK’s shale gale

Two-fifths of the land offered in England’s 14th licensing round will not be open to shale gas exploration, an analysis by The Guardian shows.

Labour-proposed protections passed last week in parliament ruled out fracking in national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty, places of scientific interest and groundwater source protection zones.

This curtails significantly the area of land available to shale gas developers, which was assessed to be 60% of the total landmass of Britain when DECC released details of its 14th licensing round in late December 2013.

Overlaying the 14th licensing round’s offerings with areas these bans cover results in 39.7% of the land being undevelopable. The paper did not assess the impact on the rest of the UK. The reduction in the area available for shale gas development could handicap the sector’s progress before it truly begins, believes Philip Mace, from Clyde & Co, an oil and gas law company. “The industry will now be thinking long and hard about its plans for unconventional oil and gas development in the UK. The amendments to the bill mean the outlook for the sector is uncertain.

“Investors loathe this sort of uncertainty,” Mace continued, “so the prospects for shale oil and gas in the UK looks bleak for the short and medium term.”

The government refuted that prognosis for the industry. “Everyone still wants to get cracking, but they realise you have to take people with you and that is filtering through,” a source told The Guardian when asked about UK shale’s future.

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