Dozens of new shale gas exploration licenses involving hydraulic fracturing have been awarded as the UK government hopes to kick-start an industry that promises to deliver energy security and create tens of thousands of jobs.
However, the move, coming only a week after the UK signed an ambitious global deal aiming to reverse the climate change, is seen by many as a sign of the government’s ongoing prioritising of polluting fossil fuel-based resources over developing truly clean renewables.
The 93 new onshore licenses covering oil and gas exploration in 159 blocks have been announced by the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) only hours after the UK government revealed it will be cutting solar energy subsidies by more than 60 per cent.
"Last month we set out the vital role gas will play in the UK's transition to a low-carbon future,” said Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom.
"The licences offered today move us a step closer - driving forwards this industry which will provide secure, home-grown energy to hard-working families and businesses for decades to come."
Yet several experts, including the chairman of Task Force for Shale Gas Lord Chris Smith and former energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey, warned that developing shale gas won’t move the UK anywhere near to meeting its emissions reduction commitments, unless it also invests into the development of carbon capture and storage technologies.
Last month, the UK government scrapped a £1bn competition to develop carbon capture and storage systems for fossil fuel-fired power plants.
Energy giant Ineos, which has been awarded 21 new shale gas licenses, said it may start exploratory drilling in a year with commercial exploration to commence in a five-year time frame.
According to Ken Cronin, chief executive of industry body UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG), developing shale gas exploration using the controversial hydraulic fracturing or fracking method, will reduce the UK’s reliance on fossil fuel imports, as well as facilitate the move towards low carbon economy.
"We need to ensure that the 84 per cent of our homes that use gas for heating can continue to do so and that the 30 per cent of electricity produced by gas can be met using UK sources,” Cronin said.
"We need to help meet the goals of the Government to eliminate coal from the system and ensure that we can also use gas and oil from our own country to produce products that are so vital to our everyday lives, like clothing, medicines, cosmetics and computers."
Before the companies can start exploring the fossil fuel resources on the land covered by their licenses, they will first have to obtain landowners’ consent, Environment Agency assessments and planning permission – a process that can take several years.
Yesterday, the Tory-dominated Parliament approved fracking under natural parks.