As the battle over fracking shows no sign of letting up, ultimately the Energy Minister will have to decide the future of the shale gas industry in this country. Here, the newly appointed minister LUCY NEVILLE-ROLFE shares her thoughts on fracking.
Lancashire sits above a rich vein of shale rock deep beneath the surface which could create an exciting new industry with considerable benefits across the country.
As the new Minister for Energy, I am committed to delivering an economy that works for all, ensuring the benefits of economic growth and investment are spread as widely as possible.
The consultation on the Shale Wealth Fund that we announced on Monday is an important part of making this happen.
It will give everyone a say in how up to 10 per cent of the tax revenues from fracking can be reinvested into local projects and infrastructure in communities and regions hosting shale sites.
We propose initially to set the maximum pay-out at £10 million to each community or region associated with an individual shale site over the lifetime of the site, which is likely to be around 25 years.
It does not stop there. As part of the consultation we are also now proposing options to give some of the proceeds to individual local residents, after the Prime Minister changed the plans as part of her drive to deliver a thriving economy for everyone.
This important change will ensure that there is a greater focus on control for local communities – including proposals to transfer funds directly to individual households rather than local authorities.
Being an ex-businesswoman, I strongly believe shale is an exciting opportunity not to be missed.
It could have an extraordinarily positive effect on our economy similar to the US experience, creating a large number of jobs for local people, as well as benefits to a wide range of other businesses throughout the community.
Indeed, according to a report published by Ernst & Young, investment in shale could reach £33 billion and support 64,000 jobs in the oil, gas, construction, engineering and chemical sectors – meaning more financial security for working people and their families.
In addition to this, we will also need new sources of home-grown gas in the future as the vast majority of households in the UK still use gas for heating and cooking and will do for some time to come.
In fact, it is predicted that by 2030 on current trends we will be importing around 75 per cent of our gas supply.
However, I am determined to ensure that a burgeoning fracking industry goes hand in hand with protecting the environment as we move to lower carbon emissions and greater energy security.
The UK has been successfully regulating gas and oil drilling for over 50 years and has some of the toughest regulations of anywhere in the world in place to limit and monitor emissions.
This means that we can continue to tackle climate change whilst taking advantage of the benefits this new industry could provide.
We have also gone further and confirmed that fracking will not be permitted in wells drilled from the surface of a number of protected areas, including Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Parks and Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
Most importantly, we are not taking any chances with safety and have strong controls in place overseen by the Environment Agency, Health and Safety Executive and the Oil and Gas Authority.
This will ensure that the people of Lancashire, and the whole of England, can take advantage of this exciting new industry as companies press forward with exploration to find out just how much shale gas we can get to power our homes and businesses.