UK fracking could start within months.
With the Paris climate change summit in the rear-view mirror, big questions remain over how much the United Kingdom will rely on renewable energy in the future and how much it will look to unconventional fossil fuels, or shale gas.
Britain awarded another 132 new onshore oil and gas exploration licences this month, giving developers access to more land for shale gas fracking for the first time in seven years.
Britain is estimated to have substantial amounts of gas trapped in underground shale rocks, and the prime minister David Cameron has pledged to go “all out” to extract these reserves, to help offset declining North Sea oil and gas output.
The latest awards conclude Britain’s first onshore oil and gas licensing round in seven years, according to Reuters.
Overall, the government awarded 159 licences and 75 per cent of the blocks covered were related to shale gas or oil, the government said.
Companies that obtained new licences include the established shale gas companies IGas, Egdon Resources, Cuadrilla Resources and Ineos, which won 21 new licences.
“We currently import about half of our gas needs, but by 2030 that could be as high as 75 per cent,” said the energy minister Andrea Leadsom.
“That’s why we’re encouraging investment in our shale gas exploration, so we can add new sources of home-grown supply to our real diversity of imports.”
Catherine Howard, a planning partner at the law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, said: “The real challenge companies face is obtaining planning permission from local planning authorities, as the refusal of Cuadrilla’s applications in June demonstrated.”
Cuadrilla was refused planning permission for two shale gas projects this year, but the government has since announced it would use new powers to make its own decision on the matter.
After a year of research, a task force on shale gas chaired by Chris Smith, who served in Tony Blair’s cabinet from 1997 to 2001, recently concluded that the UK can safely develop a shale gas industry and that exploratory drilling should proceed.
“It is only when we have a better understanding of how much gas could be recovered in the UK that the public can make an informed decision about supporting it,” Lord Smith said.
“We know roughly where there are shale rocks and where there is likely to be shale gas, but exactly how much is genuinely recoverable no one knows at the moment.
“I am convinced that fracking can be carried out in the UK safely and usefully,” he said.