How to make Britain fall in love with fracking

I wrote at the beginning of this year (here and here) that if we want the British to change from a nation of Nimbys to a nation of open-minded people ready to embrace change, we’ll need to come up with some cash.

Think about windfarms. Who loves them? Landowners making fortunes from them. Who hates them? People who have to look at them, but who don’t make fortunes from them. Would the latter hate them so much if living near them meant they were exempt from council tax, never had to pay for any power ever again – or better still, got a regular income for every year the turbines affected their view? I strongly suspect not.

It is the same with fracking. As it stands, landowners in the UK don’t own the rights to fossil fuels under their land – the Crown does. So they (obviously) aren’t that into fracking. This that seems a shame, given how transformational fracking has been in the US.

But Jim Ratcliff, founder of chemicals giant Ineos, has a solution much along the lines we have discussed.

Ratcliff, says Dominic O’Connell in the Sunday Times, is a “keen student of America’s shale gas revolution”, where the fact that landowners own everything under their soil has created a huge group of shale millionaires, and even billionaires.

Ratcliff wants to create the same kind of rich people and the same kind of enthusiasm for fracking here. He wants to “cut to the chase” and pay landowners (and councils) a huge pile of cash regardless of what their official rights are. Under his plan, 4% of gross sales go to the landowner and another 2% to the council.

That’s an offer which goes way beyond the 1% the industry has suggested it will offer (to councils only) in the past. He reckons that this will see the north – where jobs and money are in short supply and where most of the UK’s shale beds are – “welcome the frackers with open arms”.

I think he is right.

With a bit of luck, the north of England will find itself home to a whole new breed of the super-rich, and the rest of us will see the impact in our energy bills. We may even see a cheap-energy driven revitalisation of our manufacturing sector. It’s all about incentives.