Michael Bradshaw of Warwick Business School, a professor of global energy, on government plans to speed up the planning process for shale drilling.

The fundamental challenge is that benefits such as improved energy security through reduced import dependence and the associated improvements in the balance of payments are national goods, while the potential negative environmental impacts are felt locally.

County councils are likely to find themselves in an impossible situation of being pressured by central government to make quicker decisions, while being subject to increased pressure from environmental groups and concerned locals to reject shale gas planning applications.

The government maintains that the current situation is in nobody’s interest, but what is needed is the right decision and in the early stages of development that may not be the quickest decision.

As far as the shale gas debate in the UK is concerned we are now in a Catch-22, only an exploratory drilling programme can answer the questions that remain about the scale of the commercial opportunity, its environmental impacts and the effectiveness of the regulatory regime to mitigate those risks; however, planners seem reluctant to grant planning permission because of the lack of a UK evidence base in terms of environmental impacts and their mitigation.

In the current context of a highly polarized debate there is a need to press the reset button to gain a consensus for a programme of exploratory drilling to provide the evidence that is needed to make an informed decision. Simply telling everyone to hurry up may prove counterproductive in seeking a ‘social licence to frack’.