Shale gas firm finds 'vast' gas resources in Lancashire
An energy firm which has been test drilling for controversial "shale gas" in Lancashire has said it has found vast gas resources underground.
Cuadrilla Resources began testing for gas on the Fylde Coast in March, using a technique known as "fracking".
It said it had found 200 trillion cubic feet of gas under the ground, which if recovered could provide 5,600 jobs in the UK, 1,700 of those in Lancashire.
Opponents to the process believe it produces damaging carbon emissions.
A small protest, organised by Campaign Against Climate Change, was held outside The Imperial Hotel in Blackpool on Wednesday, where Cuadrilla met to announce its findings.
Fracking involves the hydraulic fracturing of the ground using high-pressure liquid containing chemicals to release the gas.
Campaigners have warned developing the fossil fuel could draw investment away from the UK's potentially huge renewable industry.
The gas is found in shale formed from deposits of mud, silt, clay and organic matter.
The total amount of gas that Cuadrilla estimates to be in the shale formation it's been exploring is huge.
It's more than 10 times the reserves known to exist under the UK's part of the North Sea - more than the total known in all UK fields, in fact.
But total gas isn't the same thing as useable gas; and how much of it can be extracted is another matter, as the company acknowledges.
Before it can extract any of it, it will have to satisfy the government (and local residents, perhaps) that the process is safe, which might not be straightforward given the association that has been mooted between "fracking" and small earthquakes close to the existing exploratory wells.
Then there is the question of whether the economics work out.
If it is extractable at a good price, there is a large chance that this one field will put a major dent in the government's climate change ambitions, which depend most of all on switching electricity generation to low-carbon fuels - which shale gas most definitely is not.
The process has caused controversy in the US on environmental grounds, where there have been claims from some householders that the subsequent release of gas has caused illness and polluted drinking water.
In Lancashire, the tests were halted in June when two earthquakes occurred in the nearby Blackpool area.
Cuadrilla said it was expecting to find out within the next 30 days whether or not its work contributed to the tremors.
Cuadrilla's chief executive, Mark Miller, said the process would not pose a threat to UK groundwater.
He said the company hoped to drill up to 400 wells in Lancashire to extract some of the gas it had found under the ground in the area.
Mr Miller said thousands of highly skilled jobs would be created, with posts paying an average wage of £55,000.
Cuadrilla hopes to drill as many as 400 wells over the next nine years and up to 800 over 16 years if gas extraction is successful.
Mr Miller said they could be grouped in units of 10 on each football pitch-sized site, reducing their impact on the landscape.
He said each well is drilled and then fracking takes place over several weeks, after which the well can potentially produce gas for up to 30 to 50 years.
"When they are done right, someone driving by on a country road or walking their dog, it will be hard for them to see our sites as they will blend in with the Lancashire countryside," he said.
Phil Thornhill, from Campaign Against Climate Change, was one of those protesting outside the meeting.
He said: "Those jobs could and should be in green energy. We need a revolution in the economy to really deal with climate change effectively.
"We need to be moving much quicker than we are to a low carbon economy, that would be a lot of jobs, a lot of development.
"They could create jobs in renewables if they put the investment there."
A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said it had to ensure any operations which went ahead were properly regulated.
"We welcome the news that Cuadrilla believe there to be good quantities of gas contained in the shale covered by their licence," he said.
"Our priority is to ensure that their operations are properly regulated and they face the same rigorous regime that all oil and gas operators must adhere to.
"The shale gas industry in the UK is in its infancy, and the eventual scale of the recoverable gas from this site is still unclear, but nothing will temper the government's firm and unbending commitment to safety and environmental protection.
"Any development must sit with our plans for a strong portfolio of energy sources as we move to a low carbon economy, including renewables, nuclear and clean coal and gas."