LONDON Dec 17 Britain's latest licensing round
to allow companies to explore for shale gas will be launched in
early summer, the government said, forecasting a high number of
awards as part of a plan to kick-start the sector.
Geological studies show Britain to have large shale reserves
which could reverse a rising dependency on energy imports, but
more drilling is needed to see whether the deposits are economic
as gas has not yet been proved to flow from the rocks.
Unveiling an environmental assessment on the impact of
further shale drilling in Britain, Energy Minister Michael
Fallon told reporters on Tuesday he expected strong demand for
the licensing round scheduled for mid-2014.
"We could be doubling the amount of onshore licences in this
round," Fallon said, adding the government expects to issue
The round, Britain's 14th tender for onshore areas, has been
delayed by around four years after the licensing process was
suspended following earth tremors caused by shale gas
exploration in Lancashire, northwest England.
The government's support for shale development comes despite
strong local and environmental opposition to the controversial
extraction practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, used
to develop shale and unconventional gas blocks.
Before the licence round is given the green light, the
government must consider responses to its environmental impact
report as part of a consultation which will be open until March
"Today marks the next step in unlocking the potential of
shale gas in our energy mix," Fallon said, adding that in a high
activity scenario, Britain could produce more than three times
the country's current gas demand in the 2020s, creating up to
"But we must develop shale responsibly, both for local
communities and for the environment, with robust regulation in
place," he added.
The environmental report found existing regulations would be
robust enough to ensure that the adverse impacts of shale gas
production, which critics say include water contamination and
heavy traffic near drilling sites, are minimised.
Separately in a letter made public on Tuesday, British Prime
Minister David Cameron warned the European Commission not to
propose European Union-wide legislation to regulate the nascent
Companies have shown a growing interest in Britain's shale
gas resources over the last year, encouraged by a geological
study which doubled an estimate of the country's gas resources,
and new tax breaks to support shale development.
France's GDF Suez and Britain's Centrica,
two heavyweight energy firms, have both signed up for positions
in UK shale, while oil major Total has said it would
like to explore for shale in the country.