Davey: Let’s get fracking

By Charles Maggs

A ban on drilling for underground shale gas, otherwise known as fracking, has been lifted, the energy secretary has announced.

There are large supplies of natural gas sitting under the UK, especially in Lancashire, and its drilling could prove lucrative.

"Shale gas represents a promising new potential energy resource for the UK. It could contribute significantly to our energy security, reducing our reliance on imported gas, as we move to a low carbon economy," energy secretary Ed Davey said.

"My decision is based on the evidence. It comes after detailed study of the latest scientific research available and advice from leading experts in the field."

The procedure for fracking involves extracting natural gas from shale rock by injecting highly pressurised fluids into the shale area creating channels through which the gas can be extracted.

After the gas has been removed the area is filled with cement and water. All of this takes place as much as a mile underground, but it has been controversial in the US where some have suggested that 'produced water' (water that has been pumped down and come back) is dangerous even after it has been processed.

The US' economy has benefited greatly from fracking and its advocates here say it can make the UK less energy dependent on Russia and the Middle East, but many oppose it on environmental grounds.

Fracking was banned in the UK last year after the process led to a minor earthquake in Lancashire, but Davey is confident the procedure will be safe from now on.

"We are still in the very early stages of shale gas exploration in the UK and it is likely to develop slowly. It is essential that its development should not come at the expense of local communities or the environment. Fracking must be safe and the public must be confident that it is safe," he added.

"We are strengthening the stringent regime already in place with new controls around seismic risks. And as the industry develops we will remain vigilant to all emerging evidence to ensure fracking is safe and the local environment is protected."

But shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint played down the potential economic benefits from fracking.

"Labour has always said that fracking should only go ahead if it is shown to be safe and environmentally sound. If the government believes that this is the case then we will look carefully at their proposals," she said.

"But the idea that this form of gas extraction can have the same impact here in the UK as it has had on gas prices in the United States is considered wishful thinking by most experts."