Lancashire is set to become the centre of Britain’s energy future, after regulators gave the green light for fracking to return.
A report published today by the Department for Energy and Climate Change said that energy giant Cuadrilla Resources should be allowed to restart work at its drilling rig in the Lancashire countryside.
But it admitted that earthquakes felt in parts of the county last year were caused by the controversial technique, and demanded operators stick to strict new guidelines.
An energy expert has said the county will become “a centre of excellence for the fuel of the future” when the fracking industry arrives in the county.
Campaigners against the plans called a full scientific study into the industry, and urged regulators to tighten up on practices.
Today, the man leading the work said the countryside near Preston is the next target of the controversial gas extraction programme.
Mark Miller, chief executive of Cuadrilla Resources, revealed it will carry out its next fracking work at its Becconsall site, near Hesketh Bank, where it has been carrying out exploration work.
Mr Miller said it expected the process to restart in the summer, after a six-week public consultation was completed by the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
He said: “Following that period of comment, we would expect DECC to make a its final recommendation, and then one or two months following that, we would expect to resume our frack programme.
“That will see us go to our Becconsall site first and then our Grange Hill site (at Singleton) after that.”
He added that Cuadrilla expected to be in a position to know whether it will start commercially extracting gas in Lancashire before the end of the year, and said it was “optimistic” it would.
Today, an energy expert warned other countries across Europe are gearing up to steal a march on the UK in the controversial process of fracking.
Professor Joseph Howe, director of the Centre for Sustainable Development at the UCLan, predicted that 1,600 jobs will be created in the county and help keep valuable skills in the county.
He said: “We have nuclear energy and renewable energy expertise here and throwing shale gas into that mix can position Lancashire as a hub for the UK’s energy future.
“There are highly-skilled people who are losing their jobs in companies such as BAE Systems, and if we can retrain them, we can retain those skills.
“Shale gas has the potential to plug the gap between our energy present and our energy future, and Lancashire has an opportunity to be at the forefront of that.
“We have to seize that opportunity now because, if we do not, there are plenty of other countries out there which will.”
In a report published by the DECC today, a panel of international experts called on the Government to allow ‘fracking’ to resume in Lancashire.
They said: “We see no reason why Cuadrilla Resources should not be allowed to proceed with their shale gas exploration activities.”
They also called for tighter regulations on any new fracking sites in the UK, to ensure the risks of creating any further earthquakes are minimised.
The findings of their report will be subject to a six-week consultation before Energy Secretary Ed Davey is asked to rubber-stamp the recommendations this summer.
Professor Howe said regulators had to ensure the system which controls the industry was “world class”. He said: “Nothing less than world class will be good enough and, if we achieve that, we will have another set of skills here in Lancashire which can shape the future of the UK energy industry.”
Green campaigners Friends of the Earth called for a full scientific assessment of all the impacts.
Andy Atkins, the charity’s executive director, said: “We don’t need earth tremor-causing fracking to meet our power needs – we need a seismic shift in energy policy.
“Earth tremors aren’t the only risks associated with fracking, it’s also been linked to air and water pollution and produces gas that causes climate change. A short consultation on one of the problems is inadequate.”
Graham Bentley, of the Ribble Estuary Against Fracking group, said it wanted to see the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Environment Agency (EA) take a greater role in overseeing Cuadrilla’s work.
He said: “The Government want this to go ahead and that’s what we expect to happen, but Cuadrilla have to be seen to be doing the right things.
“If we’re going to rely entirely on the operators, that is a lot of trust in them, and at the end of the day they are in it for profit.
“I don’t think they are fully in control and the regulations need to be more specific to fracking.”