As befits the UK's head of fracking, Cuadrilla boss and government employee Lord Browne is busy raising cash to finance an unconventional gas boom across the UK.
With more than 60% of the country set to be drilled, Browne has recognised there is a problem: this is going to cost rather a lot of money. Of course you can make money from providing finance to people, and to both benefit from the lending, investing - as well as the drilling - Browne has recently launched a new venture: Riverstone Energy (RE). http://frack-off.org.uk/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/FT-riverstone.pdf
The drive to industrialise the UK countryside for new forms of gas is going to need lots of up-front cash to pay for licenses and equipment. And you only get a payback after you've spent a ton of dosh in the first place: Cuadrilla, for example, have so far spent more than 100m, are 2.5 years behind schedule and have precious little to show for it.
Other UK drillers are similarly struggling. Scots driller Dart Energy is desperately selling anything it owns to stay afloat after the Airth community blocked its drilling plans. West Country driller UK Methane similarly recently lost an investment deal (apparently due to 'contractual differences'); even the UK government's Enterprise Finance Guarantee appears to be pulling out of all things fracking http://www.heraldscotland.com/business/company-news/loan-removal-forces-fracking-patent-sale.21955773
The Financial Times reckons that RE is to be floated on the stock market so that the likes of pension funds and individual investors can put their money in. Investment bankers Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan are said to be preparing the groundwork for a public launch.
Yet with extensive contacts in finance and a history of raising money through 'private equity' (i.e. large institutions and wealthy individuals), why is Browne considering going to the stock market, with its associated high cost and heavy regulatory burden?
The fracking Czar is attempting something very subtle here. By offering city institutions and individuals a chance to invest in fracking and its associated technologies, Browne is attempting to build public support behind his gas schemes. At present the City and the public won't benefit at all from the UK's fracking mania. If they can invest in it, Browne is thinking, then it's more likely they'll throw their support behind it.
As the befits the man who sits on the fracking throne, Browne last month announced he'd invest 'whatever it takes' to get Cuadrilla drilling. That was perhaps a little blunt. Now Browne has revealed his cards: Riverstone Energy will be the frackers' new - publicly financed - banker.