28 July 2014
The government has opened the bidding process for new licences to extract shale gas, using the controversial fracking process.
About half the UK is open to exploration, but tightened rules cover areas of outstanding beauty. Companies granted a licence to begin test drilling will also need planning permission and environmental permits.
The coalition sees shale gas as a major potential energy source. Critics of fracking warn of environmental dangers. Fracking involves blasting water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into shale rock formations to release the gas held inside.
In announcing the so-called 14th onshore licensing round, Business and Energy Minister Matthew Hancock said: "Unlocking shale gas in Britain has the potential to provide us with greater energy security, jobs and growth."
"We must act carefully, minimising risks, to explore how much of our large resource can be recovered to give the UK a new home-grown source of energy."
Robert Gatliff, Science Editor at the British Geological Survey told the BBC it would still be some time before full scale drilling would start.
"The first stage, you'd review all the data you've got. Then you'd want to drill one or two exploration holes and then take samples of the shale and see exactly what the content is and see which have got the most in and which bits are likely to fracture best to get the most oil out."
An agreement to proceed with drilling would still be subject to planning permission and permits from the Environment Agency. He said that although surveys suggest there is between 820 and 2000 trillion cubic feet of gas embedded under the UK, "there's no way we'd get all that out".
"If you look at what happens in the US, and that's where you've got to look because that's where they've drilled thousands of holes, they're not getting more than 5%," Mr. Gatliff said.
"In Britain we're so crowded and we've got these beautiful areas, that reduces the amount we can get out as well."