UK Prime Minister David Cameron has called on Britons to back the controversial energy extraction process of “fracking”.
In a newspaper editorial, Cameron said not supporting the technology would mean a massive missed opportunity to cut fuel bills and create tens of thousands of jobs. He insisted it is safe if properly regulated.
Hydraulic fracturing, to give it its proper name, retrieves shale gas and oil trapped in tight layered rock formations by blasting water, sand and chemicals at high-pressure deep into the ground.
Many Britons remain sceptical and recent weeks have seen protests at one drilling site in Balcombe, West Sussex, south of London.
Environmental groups say fracking can trigger small earthquakes, pollute the water supply and despoil the countryside.
Around Europe worries have led to a ban in France and protests in Germany, while Poland, which has encouraged fracking, has seen disappointing results.
It has been estimated that Britain might have major shale reserves but the amount which could be developed commercially is still uncertain.
Just days before Cameron spoke out, Britain’s Environment Agency proposed new guidance that could further delay the already lengthy application process for launching shale and other unconventional oil and gas exploration.
Shale firms already complain that the UK’s complex application process takes months longer than in the United States, discouraging investment.
Developers already need to make nine separate applications to the EA for a single exploratory well. They also have to get planning permission from the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Health and Safety Executive.
In a technical guidance document on its website, the Environment Agency proposed taking longer than normal to decide whether to give an environmental permit for onshore oil and gas exploration if a site is of “high public interest”.
If approved, the agency said that the new guidance could increase the time scale for granting environmental permits from the current 13 weeks to six months or more to give it time to consult properly with local communities.
The proposal is part of a consultation document which people can comment on until October 23. The agency will then consider the responses before publishing a final version of the guidance later this year.