Event: The UK’s Constituency Shale Map

24 February 2015

Speaking at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Unconventional Oil and Gas were:

  • British Geological Survey (BGS) Director of Science Dr Rob Ward
  • ComRes Head of Political Polling Tom Mludzinski
  • ComRes Head of Infrastructure Research Nick Allen

Chairing the session was Conservative MP Nigel Mills.

Rob Ward

Opening his remarks, Dr Ward highlighted the resource estimate reports published thus far by the BGS.

He explained that shale was widespread in the UK's rock, but exploitable resources were available in three principal areas: Northern England, the Midland Valley and Northern Ireland; the Wessex Basin and the Weald; and Wales.

Meanwhile, there were a number of other locales subject to a more speculative form of interest, though he cautioned that the creation of a resource estimate did not necessarily indicate commercial viability or technical recoverability.

In addition, Dr Ward noted that his organisation was considering the spatial relationship between shale gas-endowed areas and the presence of aquifers.

The BGS had produced a series of individual constituency maps that showed how shale gas resources coincided with the boundaries of Parliamentary seats, Dr Ward said.

These would be made available to download on the BGS website, he added.

Tom Mludzinski

Mr Mludzinksi opened by noting that in general, pre-election polling had showed an ever-decreasing margin between the two major parties.

Having begun at an advantage, Labour had lost some vote share since 2013, while the Conservative vote had remained flat and UKIP had risen to third place in many polls, he summarised.

He emphasised the growing significance of smaller parties including the SNP, and the impact of the Liberal Democrats' potential capacity to hold on to seats, despite poor polling performance.

ComRes expected the SNP to rival the Liberal Democrats as the third largest party in the coming Parliament, Mr Mludzinksi said.

Overall, he told the audience, the company was predicting a hung Parliament.

He noted that key issues of concern for the public were concentrated on the fields of the economy and health, but the cost of living was also a major theme.

He emphasised the significance of energy bills among householders' preoccupations, and raised the potential impact of a recent drop in wholesale oil prices.

Nick Allen

Following on, Mr Allen noted the increase in public awareness of the issue of fracking, explaining that general public consciousness of this subject had remained stable recently after its initial ascent out of obscurity.

However, awareness did not necessarily confer a strong understanding of the issues, and many citizens did not know how they felt about shale gas. Half of the public did not have a strong opinion on the subject, ComRes had found.

He nonetheless noted differences in outlook on shale gas based on voting intention, with Conservative voters showing generally strong levels of support while Labour voters were relatively evenly balanced. Liberal Democrats also showed a mixed picture but with somewhat less hostility.

Mr Allen also revealed that there was a significant gender divide in support for shale gas, with many more men supporting the energy source than women.

He recounted that most opposition derived from localised concerns, with the most significant issue cited by voters the risk of earth tremors, followed by the risk of water pollution, and only then the potential for contributing to damaging climate change.

When it came to the positive attributes associated with the technology, shale gas was seen as a source of cheaper energy and job creation, he added.

Mr Allen also said that the impact of any Government support for shale gas on maintaining voters' sympathies showed a mixed picture.

Key constituencies for fracking activity were Horsham, Worsley and Eccles South, Fylde and Beverley and Holderness, he noted.

Concluding, he emphasised the uncertainty of the coming election and the potential weakness of any coalition. This would leave policy open to significant renegotiation on a sector-by-sector basis, he suggested.

Questions

Asked about the conflict between party positions overall and the potential for individual candidates to raise localised concerns, Mr Allen agreed that tensions could arise, and suggested that council seats could also prove highly significant.

However, Mr Mludzinski observed that many voters tended to look to national party policy rather than conducting in-depth research on individuals candidates' sympathies.

Mr Mills responded to an attendee's question about SNP policy by noting that the party had recently announced a moratorium on further fracking activity in Scotland.

He asked how public support for shale gas compared to support for nuclear and renewables.

Pr-nuclear sentiment was "higher than people think", while wind energy appeared to enjoy diminishing support, Mr Allen observed. 

Mr Mludzinski noted that initial opposition to a specific project could give way to a more favourable view as citizens became used to its realities.

Anna Haswell, Senior Political Analyst and Content Marketer
Anna Haswell
Senior Political Analyst and Content Marketer

As Senior Political Analyst at DeHavilland, Anna Haswell leads on financial services policy, as well as covering media issues. In her capacity as Content Marketer, she is also responsible for DeHavilland's briefings and analysis output, working across teams to ensure relevant messages reach current and prospective clients alike. She is a graduate of the University of Oxford and Goldsmiths, University of London.