Lancashire could still be the heartland for the shale gas industry after a raft of new licences were issued.
Gas companies such as Cuadrilla have been offered permission to explore for oil and gas across the north of England and the Midlands in the 14th round of licences granted by the Oil and Gas Authority.
In Lancashire two new areas are up for exploration. One, is between Samlesbury, Wheelton and Darwen, which has been offered to Aurora Energy Resources Ltd, and a second is on land east of Chorley covering Healey Nab, Belmont, Rivington and Horwich. That licence has been offered to Osprey. A further 132 areas are set to be awarded subject to further environmental assessment and conditions to protect wildlife and habitats.
Two of those are in Lancashire, the first centred around Glasson Dock, Cockerham and Galgate and the second which covers Quernmore and Dolphinholme.
Companies which have been successful in securing the 27 licence areas that do not require further assessment have been told they will formally be offered those licences later this year. The companies would still need planning permission before being allowed to frack. OGA chief executive Andy Samuel said: “With almost 100 applications received, the 14th onshore round has attracted significant interest and high-quality proposed work programmes from a range of companies.”
Energy minister Lord Bourne said: “As part of our long-term plan to build a more resilient economy, create jobs and deliver secure energy, we continue to back our onshore oil and gas industry and the safe development of shale.”
Cuadrilla, which is appealing against two refused applications to frack for shale gas in Lancashire and which has secured a licence for a new area between Barnsley and Doncaster and another for an area between York and Bridlington.
North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce chief executive Babs Murphy welcomed the move. She said: “Lancashire still has the potential to become the hub for fracking in this country, bringing huge economic benefits and jobs to the county.
“But with all these new licences having been announced, other areas could put themselves in a position to take that from us if we are not careful. If we continue to be stuck in this long and drawn out planning process, our county could miss out on the biggest opportunity for development it has ever seen.”
But anti-fracking campaigners have condemned the news.
Furqan Naeem, Friends of the Earth North Campaigner, said: “Opening up huge swathes of Northern England to a fracking blitz will only provoke more anger, because wherever fracking has been proposed, it has been opposed by local people.”
Francis Egan, CEO of Cuadrilla, said: “We are very pleased to be offered these new exploration licences.
“Whilst wecontinue to progress our shale gas exploration work in Lancashire, we welcome the potential for exploration in Yorkshire along with the associated benefits of new jobs and economic growth we believe it will bring.
“Our first priority will be to talk with local communities.”