Local government officials gave the energy company IGas permission to drill the first hydraulically-fractured well in Britain Wednesday.
IGas and several other energy firms believe portions of the UK are sitting atop abundant, commercially viable natural gas.
“The UK is at a critical juncture in the future of our energy mix and supply as we move away from coal towards lower carbon energy sources,” Stephen Bowler, CEO of IGas, told CityAM. “We rely significantly on gas in the UK, not just for electricity, but also in heating eight out of 10 homes and as a raw material in the manufacture of many everyday products.”
Local government officials gave IGas permission in November to explore the site, but not drill, to see if the geology is suitable for fracking. Fracking involves injecting a water, sand and chemical mixture deep underground to break open shale formations and release oil and natural gas.
The UK is one of the few countries in Europe to allow fracking, but local opposition kept fracking plans on the sidelines for years. The UK officials overruled local objections to fracking in Lancashire to issue the first fracking permits in Western Europe since 2011.
Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth oppose fracking and claim to have gathered more than 186,000 signatures to ban fracking in the country, claiming it has no “democratic mandate” and risks causing earthquakes and groundwater contamination.
The British Geological Survey has actively investigated claims fracking could cause earthquakes and found no evidence to substantiate them.
“We have been through an exhaustive environmental impact assessment on this,” Francis Egan, CEO of the gas company Cuadrilla, told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). “We have assessed everything; noise, traffic, water, emissions, etc. The Environment Agency are entirely comfortable with it.”
The UK estimates it has 26 trillion cubic feet of shale gas reserves, according to a 2013 report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Energy analysts say that even in the most favorable circumstances, large-scale development of fracking in the UK is at least five to 10 years away due to legal and regulatory barriers.
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