Fracking Plans For Two-Thirds Of England
Two-thirds of England could be opened up to the highly controversial process of fracking under a Government-backed drive for shale gas.
Energy firms will be given the chance to bid for licences to drill across every county, apart from Cornwall, including National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Energy minister Michael Fallon said shale gas exploration could bring growth, jobs and energy security to the UK.
The announcement has prompted an angry response from environmentalists who said the plans would cast a "dark shadow" over many communities in Britain.
Critics of the process of using high-pressure water to blast gas from rock deep underground say that it is highly damaging to the environment with risk of pollution from the waste water. Fracking†has also been found to cause earth tremors.
A report by engineering giant Amec set out the potential benefits of shale gas, including the creation of between 16,000 and 32,000 jobs, and £100,000 to communities where sites are based.
Mr Fallon said that shale gas production in the United States was having an "enormous impact" on household bills.
He said: "It has the potential to have an impact here. It can reduce our dependency on liquid natural gas.
"We face the prospect of having to import 70% of our gas by 2030 if we have not found any shale by then."
Greenpeace said that allowing fracking on such a large scale - half of Britain and two-thirds of England - would create enough waste water to fill 40,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Tony Bosworth said: "These plans cast a dark shadow over many communities across Britain who could now face the threat of fracking in their backyard.
"The Government admits shale gas and coal bed methane development could have significant impacts on local people and the environment, while experts say they won't bring down energy bills."
Fracking has proved to be hugely controversial, sparking protests in areas including Balcombe in Sussex.
The† Amec report, which said as many as 2,880 wells could be drilled across Britain, warned that communities at the heart of fracking projects would be badly affected by site traffic.
It said that they would see as many as 51 truck journeys a day for three years.
Consultations will be held in the coming months, and a new licensing round to allow companies to explore for shale gas will be launched in the summer.
Mr Fallon forecast a high degree of interest from companies, with between 50 and 150 licences issued.
He said: "There could be large amounts of shale gas available in the UK, but we won't know for sure the scale of this prize until further exploration takes place."
A report out earlier this year by the British Geological Survey suggested there could be enough shale gas in the north of England to supply Britain for 40 years.
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