Oil and gas reserves around London

MQT on 2014-10-22
Session date: 
October 22, 2014
Question By: 
Tony Arbour
GLA Conservatives
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


Given that prospectors have recently struck oil in Surrey, and that the well in question could alone be worth £2bn, is the Mayor receptive to the idea of further and increased oil and shale gas exploration in the London region? Does he think such a development could well make London the Aberdeen of the South?


Answer for Oil and gas reserves around London

Answer for Oil and gas reserves around London

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Tony, absolutely right.  I would love to get fracking in London.  Unfortunately, it looks unlikely that there is any exploitable shale gas in the London region, much to my disappointment, if I may say.  That is what the geological survey says.  Of course, we are doing all sorts of things and working with a company called KiWi Power to reward householders for their surplus energy and installing loads of solar and so on but, alas, I cannot pretend to you that London is going to turn into the Dallas of the 21st century. 

Tony Arbour AM:  I do not know where you get your figures from, Mr Mayor.  If you are talking about the strict boundaries of London, you may be right.  However, my question talks about neighbouring areas of London, viz the Weald Basin.  I have in front of me the central estimate from the British Geological Survey (BGS) which says there are 4.4 billion barrels there, which will create, again at a very low estimate, 46,000 jobs.  Do bear in mind of course that the jobs, even in Aberdeen and in Dallas, are probably reflected in the numbers of people who are employed even in this city. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I understand. 

Tony Arbour AM:  To believe that the only people who are employed in drilling for oil are people who wear high-visibility jackets and yellow helmets is completely wrong.  Therefore, with the greatest respect - and you know I have the greatest respect for you and your researchers - I would say that the central premise of your answer is wrong.  

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Do you think there is shale gas to be fracked under London? 

Tony Arbour AM:  No, I did not say that.  I said that the central premise is wrong.  Your premise is not based on the question I asked you about the areas adjacent to London, viz the Weald Basin. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I see.  I am with you. Yes.  I will get you the figures.  You are quite right.  It is about the ambient ‘shot’, yes. 

Tony Arbour AM:  The point that I am making is that, indeed, the ‘shot in the arm’ to the economy would be vast.  Is it not a fact, Mr Mayor, that most of the objections to exploiting natural resources such as oil and gas on mainland England come from scaremongering by Greens and Liberal Democrats and people of that kind? 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  It is total rubbish, yes. 

Tony Arbour AM:  Are you familiar and do you think Londoners are familiar, Mr Mayor, with Wytch Farm in Dorset, which is the largest onshore oilfield in the whole of Western Europe and which is generating 20,000 barrels of oil a day?  There are no complaints about it.  The locals think it is wonderful.  They welcome the great shot in the arm it gives to that local economy.  On that basis, do you not think it would be a good thing for you to advocate the exploitation of these natural resources that I have indicated? 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I do, Tony.  I do not know whether you have but you possibly have not studied many of the articles I have written recently about this in the Daily Telegraph. 

Tony Arbour AM:  I have memorised them, Mr Mayor!

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I now understand your question and I completely agree with you, of course.  Although London does not have any reserves itself, there is no reason why the bonanza should not lead to benefits for the London economy. 

There is at the moment nothing like a bonanza, basically because of the way the rights are structured.  We have a deferential and monarchical system in this country that assigns all these mineral rights to the Queen.  She has control over any oil, gas and coal.  I am a fervent opponent of this and for these purposes I am a strong republican. 

Tom Copley AM:  Hooray!

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  It is completely ridiculous that landowners and householders have rights to diamonds and titanium - or something like that - and other precious metals but not to hydrocarbons.  That is, in my view, why there is a huge fracking revolution going on in America and there is not one here.  There is absolutely no incentive for the householder or the property owner to get on and do it.  It is all taken by the state and there is no motive to get going.  That is the change that needs to be brought into the law to give people the rights to the stuff that exists beneath their properties. 

Tony Arbour AM:  Given your powers of persuasion, why are you dismissing the fact that you will be able, for those people who live close to London, to get exactly the same benefits from Her Majesty as the residents of Dorset are currently getting from Wytch Farm? 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I am not dismissing that.  They should.  The trouble is that they are being frustrated by ‘not-in-my-backyard’ people (NIMBYs) and also by the fact that there is no clear financial incentive for them to get fracking.  That is why, to the best of my knowledge, I do not think we have fracked a cubic centimetre of gas in this whole so‑called ‘fracking revolution’.  They have not taken anything. 

Tony Arbour AM:  Of course, I am not simply referring to fracking.  I am referring to drilling and I have given you the figures which have been produced by the BGS.  The fact of the matter is that you are the most powerful voice that we have for London and I suspect that when you become the Member of Parliament (MP) for Uxbridge you will continue to be the most powerful voice for London. 

Therefore, I would like to ask you in the light of your reply - which I have to say was quite unexpected in the sense that you have criticised the rules for extracting minerals - whether when you get into Parliament you will promote a Private Member’s Bill. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Tony, you need to look at it.  That is the problem. 

Tony Arbour AM:  I am just putting a suggestion to you, Mr Mayor, that when you get into Parliament you might like to promote a Private Bill which will do something to liberate these riches. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Yes.  The paradox ‑‑ 

Darren Johnson AM:  You are assuming he is going to be on the back benches, then? 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I will just briefly explain.  What happened was that in about 1918 or 1919 or something like that the whole thing got going in the United States of America and it was obvious that oil wells were being created everywhere in America and people wondered whether we could have a similar thing in this country.  However, it was decided that there would be too many rows between neighbours about whose hydrocarbons or gas they were because obviously they can flow beneath the ground from one property to another.  It was decided that in order to get extraction going, you should make it a public good and you should assign the rights to the Queen. 

The paradox has been of course that by making it everybody’s it has become nobody’s and nobody actually wants to extract it. Nobody has a powerful financial incentive to extract it.  That is what we should deal with. 

Tony Arbour AM:  Will you respond to the point that I made?  You will have the opportunity and it may well be that you are not going to be restricted to the back benches when you return to Parliament. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  If I return to Parliament, you mean.  Let us not count our chickens. 

Tony Arbour AM:  Yes, indeed, if the residents of Uxbridge do something ‑‑ 

Roger Evans AM (Chairman):  Can I just stop you?  We are supposed to question the Mayor on his role as the Mayor rather than speculating about other jobs that he may hold. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Hear, hear.  A future of Secretary of State for Energy. 

Tony Arbour AM:  In the remaining 18 months of your mayoralty, Mr Mayor -- 

Roger Evans AM (Chairman):  Yes, that is better. 

Tony Arbour AM:  ‑‑ and wearing your two hats, will you promote a change in the law to enable this to happen? 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  You can rest assured that I will be wearing my ‘ten-gallon’ hat as a proud promoter of hydrocarbon extraction in this country and particularly in London. 

Tony Arbour AM:  You will be the J R Ewing [character in the US television series Dallas] of City Hall.  Thank you.