Which political party is most supportive on UK shale gas?

The polls open tomorrow for what some commentators are saying will be the closest run general election in decades.  We thought we’d take one last look at the political support for UK shale gas before the nation votes.

Overall, you might think that it is the Conservative Party that has shown the greatest support for shale gas and fracking in recent years.  David Cameron is often quoted as saying his government is “going all out for shale”, and they were the first to show and real support for the extraction of onshore natural gas from shale in their 2015 manifesto.

But a closer inspection of the various party manifestos tells a different story.

www.oesg.org.uk review of 2015 manifesto mentions of fracking

We analysed the published manifestos of the five main parties in England, searching for the terms shale, shale gas, unconventional gas and fracking to see how often they were mentioned.  We also made a subjective assessment of whether those mentions were supportive or unsupportive.

As you can see from the graph, the Green Party and UKIP mentioned our search terms (in combination) a total of 13 times each – although the Green Party mentions were all unashamedly and very clearly unsupportive as one might expect.  But nobody seems to be seriously predicting either of these parties to be governing Britain any time soon.

The big surprise was just how many times shale gas was referred to positively by the Liberal Democrats, with double the number of supportive mentions than the Conservatives.

The Liberal Democrat party is proud of what it sees as its ‘green’ achievements in the last Parliament, including more than trebling the amount of electricity obtained from renewable sources.  As a mostly centre-left party, you’d expect it to be a champion of environmental causes, and it claims to be the party that has campaigned the longest on environmental matters.

Which is why, for some, it might come as a shock to see it backing fracking.

But this is presumably borne from the pragmatic recognition that Britain will continue to need large quantities of natural gas for decades, and that it is much more environmentally sound to produce our own rather than rely on imports.  The Liberal Democrats will no doubt also acknowledge the role of natural gas in helping to substitute for dirtier coal in electricity production, alongside renewables.


How might the election result impact the future of shale gas development?

There’s only one poll that really matters – and that doesn’t take place until Thursday 7 May, which means that, at least for now, we can only guess at who might be in charge for the next five years.

Based on recent polling, the Conservatives and Labour are broadly neck-and-neck in the election race, followed by UKIP and then the Liberal Democrats, with the Green Party trailing behind on around 5% of the vote.

That means we’re very unlikely to see any of the mainstream political parties achieve an outright majority, and therefore much more likely to see another coalition government or some other sort of power sharing agreement between one or more parties.

It’s probably safe to say that it’s unlikely we’ll see the two main contenders joining forces on 8 May.

Taken at face value, one would have to say that a Conservative-led coalition government partnered with the Liberal Democrats looks most likely to accelerate shale gas exploration into possible future production.  The Labour Party appears to have ruled out a coalition or other power sharing agreement with the Scottish National Party, and may also therefore find itself leading a coalition partnered with the Liberal Democrats.

Whatever the outcome of the eagerly awaited 2015 general election, it’s clear the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats all support safe and responsible shale gas extraction.  The only significant difference that the colour of government is likely to make is the speed with which that happens.