A new college to train engineers for the UK’s oil and gas industry, including hydraulic fracturing operations, has been launched in Blackpool.
The National College for Onshore Oil and Gas, to offer a range of advanced qualifications up to honours degree programmes, will be based at Blackpool and The Fylde College (B&FC).
The incentive to set up the new training centre came from the UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG) body representing the onshore oil and gas industry.
"This is very positive news for Blackpool, the Fylde coast and the whole of Lancashire. B&FC are delighted to be able to contribute to the country's energy industry and ultimately production capacity,” said principal of B&FC Bev Robinson.
"Crucially, this will drive long-term investment in the region, meet the demand for highly skilled labour and secure local jobs. To be named as the hub for one of the National Colleges is a privilege."
Earlier this year, UKOOG released a report estimating that the development of shale gas in the UK could create over 64,000 jobs and provide a £33bn investment opportunity for British business.
Representatives of companies involved in shale gas extraction have welcomed the announcement.
"We are delighted that the new National College for the onshore oil and gas industry is to be headquartered at Blackpool and The Fylde College,” said Francis Egan, CEO of Cuadrilla, which is currently seeking planning permission to drill, hydraulically fracture and test the flow of gas from exploration wells on two sites in the Fylde area.
Greg McKenna, director of non-operated assets at Centrica Energy, said: "High-quality training programmes are extremely important to the future of the energy industry, as year on year the UK is faced with a growing shortage of engineers.
“Initiatives such as the National College will help us tackle this issue and allow young people greater access to training opportunities, which will lead to skilled jobs.
The construction of the new Advanced Technology Centre at B&FC, which will provide room for the new fracking training hub, has been launched by the UK energy minister Matthew Hancock.
"The geological evidence of the potential of shale gas is clear. The question is how much we can extract – and the only way to find out is to start exploring,” Hancock said.
"Just like when North Sea oil was in its early stages, exploring the potential of shale gas is important to fully understand the impact.”
Cuadrilla believes that Lancashire's Bowland basin has the potential to become a leading shale gas resource.
It suspended test drilling in the region in June 2011, however, following two earthquakes in April and May of that year, one with a magnitude of 2.3 and the other 1.4. The epicentre of the tremors was thought to be about 500 metres away from a well in Weeton, Lancashire.
An independent report by experts later concluded that the hydraulic fracturing was the probable cause of the tremors, but it was due to an "unusual combination of geology" at the well site and was unlikely to be repeated. However, the possibility of future induced tremors was not entirely ruled out.