THE GOVERNMENT yesterday gave energy firms the green light to resume exploring offshore shale gas reserves in the UK – despite splits over its potential impact on consumer energy prices.
Exploration using hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” – which smashes rocks deep underground to get gas out of them – had been banned in the UK since last summer following concerns the process was causing earthquakes.
Yesterday the ban was lifted by energy minister Ed Davey, who announced plans for rigorous safety checks on the procedure.
Following the announcement, splits emerged over how much shale gas would lower consumer energy bills.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said there was potential for prices to come down, while Conservative energy minister John Hayes said fracking could have a “significant” impact on unit gas prices, citing the example of US shale gas, where gas prices have tumbled.
However, Davey sought to downplay the impact shale gas will have on the economy and the pace at which it will start to affect consumer bills.
“We are still in the very early stages of shale gas exploration in the UK and it is likely to develop slowly,” he said.
Fracking was banned when small tremors were felt in Lancashire following drilling by energy company Cuadrilla Resources.
Cuadrilla chief executive Francis Egan yesterday welcomed lifting the ban, and said: “Today’s news is a turning point for the country's energy future.”
This week Prime Minister David Cameron told a parliamentary committee: “You see America becoming virtually self-sufficient in gas, and there is the opportunity of unconventional gas-shale gas-here in the UK.”