Britain lifts ban on shale gas fracking
Britain this morning lifted its ban on shale gas exploration as it aims to become a European leader in a sector that has transformed the US energy market and counter a fall in the UK's natural gas production.
The method is seen as very controversial in Ireland. Resources firm Tamboran Resources is pursuing plans to drill for natural gas in Leitrim and Fermanagh.
The green light on shale gas fracking from Energy and Climate Change secretary Edward Davey comes about 18 months after UK authorities halted the unconventional exploration after the process set off earth tremors at one site.
"I am in principle prepared to consent to new fracking proposals for shale gas, where all other necessary permissions and consents are in place," Mr Davey said in a ministerial statement.
Europe's largest gas consumer, Britain had, in May 2011, put a temporary stop to hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" for shale gas, a process in which water and chemicals are injected at high pressure into rock formations to retrieve trapped gas, after earth tremors were measured near a fracking site close to Blackpool.
Fracking can resume immediately, but explorers need to operate under tighter rules including more thorough assessments for seismic risk and installing a so-called traffic light system where operations will be automatically stopped in certain conditions.
Currently, only shale gas firm Cuadrilla Resources has an exploration licence for shale gas in Britain. The company said its fracking work would not resume before March due to new permits now required.
"I think with this announcement that there are other companies who will apply for exploration licences," Simon Toole, the Department of Energy and Climate Change's head of licensing, exploration and development, said.
Approval to resume shale gas exploration had been widely expected before the end of the year as Mr Davey said in October that he hoped to lift the ban.
The British government announced this month that it would create a dedicated government office to simplify regulation and to offer tax breaks to the shale gas industry.
Britain's domestic natural gas reserves are dwindling, and national production has been dropping since 2004, turning the country from a net exporter into an importer of natural gas.
The British Geological Survey estimates Britain's onshore shale reserves at 5.3 trillion cubic feet (150 billion cubic metres), which would be enough to meet Britain's gas consumption for one and a half years, although UK shale gas exploration companies such as Cuadrilla Resources have put their figures as high as 200 trillion cubic feet.