Estimated resources in northern England alone could far exceed the country's energy demands for 40 years
Cuadrilla to start UK fracking operations in weeks
Shale gas developer Cuadrilla will start fracking at its Preston New Road site in northwest England in the next few weeks, it said on Wednesday, as it announced government approval for a second well.
Hydraulically fracturing, or fracking, involves extracting gas from rocks by breaking them up under high pressure with water and chemicals, and was halted in Britain seven years ago after causing earth tremors.
But the government is keen to cut its reliance on imports as North Sea supplies dry up, and after tightening regulation of the industry it gave consent in July for Cuadrilla to start fracking at a first well at Preston New Road.
Following approval for a second well at the site, Cuadrilla said on Wednesday it would begin work "in readiness to start hydraulically fracturing both wells in the next few weeks".
The British Geological Survey estimates shale gas resources in northern England alone could amount to 1,300 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas, 10 per cent of which could meet the country's demand for almost 40 years.
Attempts to extract the gas are controversial, however, with local communities and environmentalists concerned about the potential effect on the environment and ground water, and arguing that extracting more fossil fuel is at odds with the country's commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
British energy minister Claire Perry said consent for the second well had been granted after the company had met a number of criteria, including showing it had the necessary funds to carry out work at the site until at least June 30, 2019.
Cuadrilla first attempted to frack gas near Blackpool in the north-west of England in 2011, but the practice led to an earth tremor registering 2.3 on the Richter scale.
The company said the quakes were caused by an unusual combination of geological features at the site, but they led to an 18-month nationwide ban on fracking while further research was carried out.
The government has since introduced a traffic-light system which immediately suspends work if any seismic activity of 0.5 or above on the Richter scale is detected, and has increased monitoring standards such as ground water checks.
Fracking consent was introduced in 2015 as an additional step to the government's regulatory regime and ensures environmental, health and safety permits have been obtained.