Government moves to champion Britain's fledgling shale oil and gas industry are likely to backfire because any fracking boom they might foster would be curbed by a shortage of rigs, fracking equipment and qualified staff, a new report warns.
The Chancellor recently announced huge tax breaks for fracking companies along with financial incentives to the communities around potential sites in a bid to stimulate the nascent industry. But 54 per cent of respondents in a survey of the UK's oil and gas workers said government plans to frack for oil and gas across much of the UK in the coming years are unsustainable.
Any fracking activity would also put extra pressure on wages and equipment in the UK's traditional hydrocarbon sector, which is already stretched for resources in the face of an oil and gas boom in this country and around the world, according to the survey's 3,000 respondents. The survey was carried out by Oilandgaspeople.com, the industry recruitment consultant.
Kevin Forbes, its chief executive, said: "Fracking has come along at the worst possible time. The existing oil and gas industry is already maxed out with companies struggling to recruit after more exploration licences in the North Sea were awarded last year than ever before." Mr Forbes added that fracking requires very specialised equipment that can take a long time to build as well as expert consultants, engineers and rig workers. With a worldwide shale boom potentially just around the corner, there are likely to be a huge shortages in all areas, he warned.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, releases oil and gas from shale by blasting a mixture of sand, water and chemicals into the rock at high speed. It has been linked to earth tremors and water pollution, and was banned in the UK for about 18 months after the UK's first fracking activity near Blackpool was found to have caused two minor earthquakes.
However, following an investigation, the government gave the green light to fracking in December, and is now pushing the shale industry hard.
But it is coming up against fierce opposition. A protest at a potential fracking site in Balcombe, West Sussex, has been going on for more than a fortnight and looks set to expand this week, with up to 1,000 more protesters expected.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: "The industry, represented by the UK Onshore Operators Group, believes there is enough capacity and resources to allow exploration in the UK. BIS [Department for Business] will be working closely with the onshore industry to ensure any future emerging needs are addressed."
Ken Cronin, head of the UK Onshore Operators Group, said the next three years would see a limited number of wells drilled as companies explored potential fracking sites to determine the level of recoverable hydrocarbons they contained. This would leave plenty of time to secure the necessary equipment, in the event of a shale gas boom, he said, adding he was confident of being able to find the resources needed.