UK releases shale gas fracing report after legal challenge

By UK releases shale gas fracing report after legal challenge on 12/3/2019

LONDON (Bloomberg) - Responding to a legal challenge, the UK government has released a heavily redacted report on the prospects for developing a shale gas industry in the nation.

The report, which is dated April 2016 and published on Unearthed’s website, has 34 of its 48 pages entirely blacked out with almost every other at least partially redacted. Visible parts of the document say development of a UK shale gas industry “is subject to great uncertainty -- most importantly because the viability of the UK shale reserves is not yet proven.”

Last month, the UK fracking industry suffered a fatal blow as the Conservative government ended its support for the controversial practice over concern that it causes earthquakes. The move, ahead of a general election set for Dec. 12, effectively bans new wells using hydraulic fracturing. Companies including Cuadrilla Resources Ltd. and Ineos Group Ltd. had been hoping to exploit reserves trapped in difficult-to-tap shale formations deep underground.

Unearthed, which is the editorial arm of the environmental pressure group Greenpeace, said it first discovered the existence of the report in early 2018. Its request to see it was rejected because the government claimed it “could call into question the industry’s viability.”

Unearthed gained access to the document, that was never released to the public, by submitting a Freedom of Information request. It took Britain’s government 22 months to comply with the filing.

“We cannot say for certain what the state of UK shale will be in mid-2020,” the 2016 report said. “But assessing industry’s latest plans and assuming the current status quot broadly persists suggests that by mid-2020 the UK shale industry will be firmly in the exploration and appraisal phase.”

It adds that progress in developing a UK shale industry had been slow because of “low public acceptance” but at the time the government estimated five to 20 wells could be hydraulically fractured by mid-2020. It also outlines ways the government could have boosted fracking hopefuls by removing regulatory uncertainty and speeding up permitting processes for operators.

“Looking at this black wall of redacted pages, people will be wondering why there’s so little the government is willing to reveal about fracking and so much it wants to hide,” Rebecca Newsom, Greenpeace UK’s head of politics, said in a statement.

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