Energy Minister Michael Fallon said this week it has issued more than 300 licenses for onshore oil and natural gas exploration since a ban on shale gas hydraulic fracturing was lifted. “The government has been busily promoting shale development since a moratorium on “fracking” was removed in December, and there are already over 300 licenses for onshore exploration and development, conventional and unconventional, a fifth of which are substantial,” Fallon said.
Fallon said the government expected to continue its push to develop a shale gas boom through the launching of a new round of licensing next year. At the same time, he promised the hoped-for shale boom will only be accomplished in conjunction with “robust regulation” and a plan to cut in local communities on its benefits in an effort to counter grassroots opposition over the feared environmental consequences of widespread fracking. “Shale gas has great potential and we have the right regulation in place so the U.K. benefits as quickly as possible in terms of energy security, investment and jobs,” Fallon said. “But development must be done in partnership with communities. We are working hard with industry on a package of community benefits and to ensure that their concerns are properly met.”
What exactly those “sweeteners” will be remains unclear.
Parliament’s cross-party Energy and Climate Change Committee last month issued a report on shale gas in which it warned a “skeptical public” will need to be won over before the shale gas can be fully exploited. “Communities affected by shale gas developments should receive and share in some of the benefits,” the report concluded. “The government must ensure that the public have confidence in the new Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil, demonstrating clearly that any potential conflicts of interest are avoided.”
Fallon’s comments came as shale gas developer Cuadrilla announced the first exploration well in the “home counties” of southeastern England would be drilled this summer.