We said in our Manifesto that we would support the safe development of shale gas and as a One Nation Government that’s what we will do, because it’s good for jobs, it’s part of our plan to ensure the potential of all parts of the UK is realised and it’s good for our energy security.
We’re dealing with the problems left by an energy system which for too many years saw a lack of investment and where vital decisions were put off because they were seen as too difficult. But a responsible, long-term energy policy demands a willingness to take decisions today for the good of tomorrow.
This Government is clear that we have a national need to explore shale gas. In the years ahead, many of our coal and nuclear plants will stop generating electricity as they come to the end of their operational lives or in the case of some coal plants, because they simply create too much pollution to be viable.
We need a replacement – an energy system that’s fit for the 21st century. One that powers the economy with cutting edge technology and makes sure Britain reaps the economic benefits of a global clean energy revolution.
That means renewable energy, nuclear, and a transition away from coal, our dirtiest energy source. And that’s where gas has a huge role to play, because moving too quickly to zero-carbon energy risks driving the bills of hardworking people too high. Lots of new low carbon generation cannot be relied upon in the same way that gas-fired power stations can. Having reliable electricity supply is non-negotiable.
Natural gas meets a third of our energy demand and we will need it for many years to come, even as we decarbonise. Britain is currently on course to be importing around 75% of its oil and gas resources by 2030 - we need more secure, home grown energy supplies and shale gas must play a part of that. The choice is not gas or no gas. The choice is how much we rely on gas from abroad or whether we extract more in the UK. Having a choice of where we get our energy, including producing our own at home wherever we can, is the best way to make sure we’re secure.
It’s down to us to make the most of our own energy reserves, and get the best deal for Britain. Just as sixty years ago there were concerns about going into the North Sea to explore for oil and gas, today we are faced with a similar debate around shale gas. But we are in a different place from 60 years ago, we are building on the record and experience that comes with decades of developing our industries while also protecting the environment and the safety of our workforce. Britain has one of the best records in the world on this and we’ve used that experience to develop a regulatory system that does everything possible to allay people’s concerns and protect the environment. We have over 50 years of drilling operation experience which means standards are high, and we’ve also learnt valuable lessons from shale projects abroad.
Shale could create over 60,000 new jobs in the UK and generate billions of pounds for our economy. It could mean more jobs and opportunities for hardworking people, giving them and their families more financial security. And we are setting up a National College for Onshore Oil and Gas, headquartered in Blackpool, to make sure we get the maximum benefit from the resource and young people have the skills they need to benefit from the new jobs created.
At the same time we are determined to ensure that local people, communities and local authorities benefit from shale gas development and we are working with the industry to make that happen. Operators will pay communities £100,000 for each exploration well site, and one per cent of production revenue, worth £5-10 million, to be used as the community sees fit. Councils will keep 100 per cent of the business rate revenues from them. And as we work to build a Northern Powerhouse, we are also creating a shale Sovereign Wealth Fund for the North of England, so that the shale gas resources of the North are used to invest in the future of the North.
Underpinning all this is the issue of planning. We can’t continue with a system that sees applications dragged out for months, or even years on end, which doesn’t give certainty to industry and which could spell the end of a potentially vital national industry. We need a system that delivers timely planning decisions. A system that works effectively for local people and developers. As part of this work the Government will be writing to planning authorities this week to make clear that there is a national need to explore shale in a safe, sustainable and timely way to help meet our objectives for secure energy supplies, economic growth and lower carbon emissions.
Getting shale exploration up and running is a key part of our long-term plan to build a stronger, more competitive economy, create jobs by backing the industries of the future and take our country forward.