Britain has given the green light to gas “fracking”, just days after David Cameron said the controversial technique could help bring down household energy bills.
Edward Davey, the Energy Secretary, this morning lifted a ban on the drilling for shale gas, which was put in place after the UK’s first project near Lancashire caused tremors last year.
Enormous potential: The areas marked in red show locations where it would be possible to extract shale gas
His decision will allow companies to explore for the new energy source across swathes of countryside in the south, north-west and north-east of England.
The first company to drill for Britain’s shale gas – Cuadrilla Resources – will now be able to resume its operations near Blackpool, with new controls guarding against the risk of mini earthquakes.
Mr Davey said there is the “potential for a very exciting shale gas industry in the UK” but this must not “come at the expense of local communities of the environment.”
Britain has trillions of cubic feet of shale gas covering up to 60 per cent of the countryside but environmental groups and rural communities are concerned the landscape could be scarred and polluted.
The Energy Secretary said there will be tight environmental controls on the drilling, which will be “continuously checked, monitored and evaluated”.
He said there would be no philosophy of “drill, baby, drill” championed by US politician Sarah Palin, as Britain will not exploit the resource at the cost of the environment.
At a briefing in London, Mr Davey said shale gas could “contribute significantly to our energy security” but it is too early to tell exactly how much can actually be got out of the ground safely.
He said his decision to allow drilling is based on scientific evidence about the safety of the technology, in which water and chemicals are pumped into the ground at high pressure to fracture the rocks and release gas.
The Energy Secretary also said exploiting shale gas will not stop Britain’s efforts to tackle climate change by bringing down carbon emissions.
“I know there are some people who think this is a bad environmental decision but I think they’re wrong. Do they want to see more home grown gas or more imported gas?
“We need gas regardless, in place of dirty coal. Yes gas emits carbon but is it not better that we use gas from this country than gas shipped from across the world?”
The push to extract shale gas is strongly supported by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor.
George Osborne last week announced that there would be a new Office for Unconventional Gas to help set up regulations and speed up production of resources.
The Prime Minister also voiced support on Tuesday, saying Britain “should take part in fracking and unconventional gas because this might be a revolution that we should be involved in”.
“It would be a big risk just to ignore what is happening in the gas market,” he said. “If we ignored it completely, you could be giving your economy much higher energy prices than is necessary.
“America’s success in unconventional gas is giving them low energy costs and cutting their carbon at the same time.”