The Oil and Gas Authority (OGA), which allocated the land, said that a further 132 blocks were still undergoing environmental assessments, with the results expected “later in the year”.

The first 27 blocks, each around 10km2 , are located mainly in the North East, North West and East Midlands. The second tranche is also largely clustered in the North of England.

UK Energy Minister Lord Bourne said that onshore oil and gas –  often recovered by fracking – would “play a key part in providing secure and reliable energy to UK homes and businesses for decades to come”.

Lord Bourne said: “It’s important we press on and get shale moving, while maintaining strong environmental controls. Investment in shale could reach £33 billion and support 64,000 jobs creating financial security for hardworking people and their families, whilst providing a cost-efficient bridge to lower-carbon energy use.”

Today’s announcement marks the latest Government action to fast-track fracking, after Energy Secretary Amber Rudd announced last week that she was writing to local councils to urge them to speed up planning decisions.

Campaigners described that move as “bulldozing fracking applications through the planning system”, and today’s announcement was greeted with a similar backlash.

Battle of Britain

Greenpeace head of UK energy and climate, Daisy Sands, said the news represented the “starting gun for the fight for the future our countryside”.

“Hundreds of battles will spring up to defend rural landscapes from the pollution, noise and drilling rigs that come with fracking,” she said.
“The government is backing the destructive fracking industry with tax breaks and stifling local opposition. This government is ignoring sound economic and environmental evidence to back clean renewable energy which is a better bet for jobs, investment and the climate.
“People finding out that they are in the fracking frontline will not take kindly to the bypassing of democracy as fracking is forced through with the new draconian planning guidance. People who love and live in the countryside and who care about climate change will not stand for a government which is bypassing democracy, scarring our most beautiful landscapes and damaging the climate.”

Energy trilemma

In June, Lancashire Council refused two planning applications from shale developers Cuadrilla after a series of public protests.

However, the business lobby group, the Institute of Directors (IoD), said the announcement showed the UK was finally ready to take advantage of its shale reserves.

IoD senior infrastructure policy adviser Dan Lewis said: “Shale offers an opportunity for the UK to address the three most important energy challenges we face. Fracking can help us to ensure secure supplies of energy, produce it affordably and reduce emissions.

“We currently import the gas we need to generate electricity and heat our homes from overseas, but it makes sense to produce it here if possible.

“Shale extraction and associated industries can provide jobs and tax revenues for the UK.  With oil and gas prices falling, and North Sea production collapsing, we face a significant challenge to catch up with the US and keep industry in the UK. The longer we delay, the more we lose out.”

Brad Allen


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