UK Commissioner says government policy is preventing the shale oil industry from developing

Natascha Engel has resigned from her role as Britain’s Commissioner for Shale Gas, which she has held since 2018 after losing her seat as a Labour Party Member of Parliament in the 2017 general election. Only six months into her role, Ms. Engel said government policy is preventing the industry from developing.

Ms. Engel, who acted as a link between local communities, the shale gas industry, and regulators, said that forcing hydraulic fracturing – commonly known as fracking – to stop every time there is a micro-tremor “amounts to a de facto ban on fracking.” In her resignation letter, she said, “We are choosing to listen to a powerful environmental lobby campaigning against fracking rather than allowing science and evidence to guide our policy making. By staying silent, we are in danger of pandering to what we know to be myths and scare stories.”

Hydraulic fracturing, which involves extracting gas from rocks by breaking them up with water and chemicals at high pressure, is fiercely opposed by environmentalists who have raised concerns about potential groundwater contamination and say extracting more fossil fuel is at odds with Britain’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Earlier this year, chemical company Ineos and hydraulic fracturing firm Cuadrilla said current restrictions around seismic events could force the industry to close. The government has said it has no plans to review the regulations. Under the so-called traffic light system, hydraulic fracturing must be paused for 18 hours following any seismic event of magnitude 0.5 or above, something which forced Cuadrilla to halt its operations several times last year.

Ms. Engel said, “Shale gas could still have an exciting future in the UK but for that to be the case, the traffic light system needs to be reviewed quickly or the limits changed to reflect the measurements used in every other extractive industry. In the absence of that, a perfectly viable industry is wasted.