The government has
released a report on the potential local
impacts of shale gas in response to a freedom of information
request. Several parts are heavily redacted, leading to accusations
that the government is
trying to hide fracking’s possible
But the Department of Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) says
it’s concerned there is a risk that “disclosure of early thinking,
could close down discussion”.
Such sensitivities are very real – although many people support
the idea of fracking for shale gas, polling suggests opposition
rises as the idea of the technology gets closer to home.
The Defra study sets out to try and find out – among other
things – what effect shale gas production has on house prices.
The report cites four North American studies that find shale gas
developments can have an impact on local house prices. Three
studies looking at
Alberta, Canada found nearby shale gas wells could decrease
house prices by between 3 and 14 per cent. A fourth study focused
found fracking could increase property prices in some cases, but
deflate them in others.
Defra cautions against applying those studies’ findings to the
UK context, however. Among other reasons, it points to differences
in the property markets in the two countries.
Nevertheless, Defra probably does have a view on the likely
effect in the UK – we just don’t know what it is. Three sections of
the report that may discuss the potential impact on house prices in
the UK have been redacted.
Responding to the freedom of information request that pushed
the government into releasing the report, Defra argues:
“… we have had to balance the public
interest in withholding the information against the public interest
in disclosure … there is a strong public interest in withholding
the information because it is important that officials can consider
implications of potential impacts and scenarios around the
development of the shale gas industry and to develop options
without the risk that disclosure of early thinking, could close
This isn’t the first time the department has avoided releasing
information about the effect of energy infrastructure on house
prices. Last month,
Defra declined a request to release research on windfarms’
impact on property prices because “the reports are only partially
complete and any conclusions drawn from such unfinished analysis
would be misleading”.
Despite the absence of an official prognosis on the effect of
fracking on house prices, the public seems to have already formed
opinions about hosting shale gas developments in their
A range of polls have explored whether or not people are happy
to have fracking in their areas. Most suggest that while there’s
broad support for shale gas extraction, enthusiasm wanes the
closer people’s homes are to the developments.
Department of Energy and Climate Change’s tracker survey,
conducted in March, shows 29 per cent of people support shale gas
extraction. 22 per cent of respondents said they opposed shale gas
extraction, while 44 per cent said they neither supported nor
opposed. Similarly, a
University of Nottingham survey finds a majority support shale
gas development: 49 per cent of respondents say extraction should
be allowed, with 31 per cent opposed.
The same survey found
support is decreasing, however. In July 2013, 58 per cent said
extraction should be allowed.
Most recently, a
UK Office of Unconventional Oil and Gas (UKOOG) poll found
57 per cent of respondents supported shale gas production. The
poll question came primed with positive information about shale gas
that may suggest careful interpretation, however. The full question
“Natural gas from shale is found both
onshore and offshore, typically a mile or more underground. For the
rest of the survey please answer in relation to onshore shale only.
Producing natural gas from shale uses a technique called hydraulic
fracturing (often called fracking). This involves creating tiny
fractures in the rock deep underground, freeing the gas. Fractures
are created by pumping a fluid containing 99.5% water and sand and
0.5% approved non-hazardous chemicals down at high pressure. The
British Geological Survey has estimated that the UK has 1,300
trillion cubic feet of natural gas from shale. If just 10% of this
could be recovered, it would be enough to meet the UK’s demand for
natural gas for nearly 50 years or to heat the UK’s homes for over
100 years. From what you know, do you think the UK should produce
natural gas from shale?”
Nonetheless, it seems a majority of the public support fracking
at least abstractly, at the moment.
But it’s a different story when people are asked whether they
would want it in their local community. We
previously looked at a range of shale gas surveys, and found
that most polls show a majority of people oppose the idea of
fracking in their local area:
Carbon Brief’s own polling from August last year found
just 18 per cent would support a shale gas well within 10 miles
of their home. This wasn’t a result unique to shale gas –
enthusiasm for all forms of energy infrastructure fell dramatically
if people were asked about it being installed nearby.
a YouGov poll from December last year found support for shale
gas production was very sensitive to how far away shale gas
developments were from people’s homes – with much lower support for
developments within a mile than “elsewhere in the county”.
With a somewhat fractious debate over the UK’s shale prospects,
the government may be wise to withhold work in progress analysis
from the public domain. On the other hand, many people already hold
opinions about shale gas, and the scale of opposition from the
public, sometimes on the basis of not much information at all,
already presents problems to the industry.
Ultimately, whether it’s wind power or fracking, the
more robust information about the local impacts of energy
infrastructure that makes it into the public domain, including its
impact on house prices, the better informed the public will
Update, 11th August, 14.15: The chart
was updated to fit our house style.