I’ve long argued that the crucial development of a UK shale gas industry must be based on fracking by consent – ie that local residents and communities must be won over, not just ministers or official regulators.
One of the best ways to do this would be to adopt a policy from France (a rare example of a French policy which we would benefit from taking up, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day, as they say). There, people living near new nuclear power stations receive a direct benefit from the development, over and above the new jobs in the area and the strengthening of the national power supply – they get discounted or free energy for life.
It would be a simple, eye-catching policy if a new shale gas pad meant that people in a certain circumference around it suddenly didn’t have to pay any gas bills ever again as a result.
It seems that the Government is creeping closer to this policy – David Cameron reportedly told the Liaison Committee just now that “he wants to see direct cash payments to households who allow fracking near their properties”.
If so, that’s a step in the right direction. I hope a fully formed, clear policy (like the French free energy system) will emerge soon, rather than ministers creeping up on it by a series of public readjustments and reconsiderations as happens all too often. If they do, it could well invigorate the pro-shale side of the debate, which has so far been winning the war of facts but losing the war of perceptions.