The past week was a topsy-turvy one for the fracking industry in Europe, where leaders and residents are sharply split over whether frackers should be allowed to tap shale reserves for natural gas.
The U.K. government is so anxious to see fracking companies get to work that it confirmed it will offer big tax breaks to help encourage the sector. The country’s chief finance minister, George Osborne — whimsically dubbed the chancellor of the Exchequer — confirmed during his autumn budget update that the tax breaks would be put in place. He claimed a fracking boom would bring “thousands of jobs” and “billions of pounds of investment.” (Memo to the chancellor: Frackers have been known to lie about these things.)
While North Sea oil drillers pay as much as 81 percent tax to the U.K. government, Osborne told Parliament that taxes for fracking would be set at just 30 percent. (American state governments, by comparison, often pay frackers to help them offset the costs of drilling.) It’s all part of Osborne’s bid to reduce households’ electricity bills by £50, or about $82, a year, partly by reducing power companies’ environmental taxes, known as green levies.
The tax break plan sparked anger when it was first floated back in the summer, touted at the time by Osborne as the “most generous” tax regime for frackers in the world. And last week’s confirmation that the government would move forward brought more of the same. From The Independent:
Andy Atkins, Friends of the Earth’s executive director, said: “Yet again the long-term health of our economy has been completely undermined by the Chancellor’s short-sighted determination to keep the nation hooked on dirty and increasingly costly fossil fuels … MPs say they are unjustified — and they could be illegal.” The green group claims that Mr Osborne’s shale gas tax breaks could potentially breach EU law because they may represent “unlawful state aid” — putting shale gas operators in a “more favourable tax position” than the traditional North Sea producers.
Meanwhile, in Romania, anti-fracking protesters and unhappy locals sent Chevron packing after storming an exploratory drilling site. Reuters reported on Saturday:
U.S. oil major Chevron halted exploration works for shale gas in eastern Romania for the second time in two months on Saturday after anti-fracking protesters broke through wire mesh fences around the site.
Thousands of people have rallied across Romania in recent months to protest against government support for shale gas exploration and separate plans to set up Europe’s largest open cast gold mine in a small Carpathian town. …
On Saturday, about 300 riot police were deployed in Pungesti, 340 km (210 miles) northeast of capital Bucharest, to try to prevent an equal number of protesters, mostly local residents, from entering the Chevron site. Some broke through into the site, however.
The activists chanted “Stop Chevron” and held banners saying “No drilling allowed here”. Dozens were detained by police.
A valiant effort, but Chevron was back at work by Sunday.