The UK government has proposed new rules to simplify granting of access for fracking while the British Geological Survey said there are decent reserves of shale oil in southern England.
The new rules would allow underground access for shale oil and gas developments under 300 metres without the landowners’ permission, however, people living above ground would receive a voluntary payment of £20,000 per well.
Meanwhile a report by the British Geological Survey (BGS) has been released, estimating there are about 4.4 billion barrels of shale oil in vast parts of southern England. The Weald Basin itself, stretching from Wiltshire to Kent, is expected to hold about 2.2-8.5 billion barrels of shale oil.
However, the likelihood of finding shale gas – the more desired material for the UK government, which could be used to generate electricity – was said to be negligible.
"It's not a huge bonanza. But we have to see what happens and we won't really know the answers until we have got some more drilling and testing," said Robert Gatliff, director of energy and marine geoscience at the BGS.
The BGS stressed that the numbers are for resources and not reserves. Shale oil exploration in the US has only been able to access up to 10 per cent of the total oil.
By comparison to the Weald Basin figures, around 40 billion barrels of oil have already been extracted from the North Sea.
When asked if the findings were a let-down for the Government, Energy Minister Michael Fallon replied: "It's not a let-down or a let-up. It is what it is.
"It's a potentially home-grown source of energy that we simply cannot afford to ignore. That is why we're encouraging this development through streamlining and simplifying the regulatory process while protecting the environment."
He went on: "We are keen for shale and geothermal exploration to go ahead while protecting residents through the robust regulation that is in place.
"These proposals allow shale and geothermal development while offering a fair deal for communities in return for underground access at depths so deep they will have no negative impact on landowners."
When asked why the Government was promoting the use of a fossil fuel, Mr Fallon said: "There's nothing particularly green about tankering oil all the way across the world from the coast of Africa or from Russia if we have it here."
The minister insisted that shale gas, oil and geothermal operations would be carried out at depths so deep they will have "no negative impact on land owners or home owners".
But Greenpeace UK energy campaigner Lawrence Carter said: "Stripping away people's property rights while trying to kick off a Klondike-style shale oil rush in the Home Counties is a highly toxic policy mix.