New licences for UK shale gas exploration

fracking test site Image copyright PA

The Oil and Gas Authority has awarded a raft of new licences to explore for oil and gas on the mainland of the UK.

The 93 licences to explore 159 blocks of land could pave the way for more controversial hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking.

Large parts of North East and the North West of England have been opened up for exploration.

There are also licence blocks in the Midlands, the South of England and Wales.

Around 75% of the exploration licences relate to shale oil and gas, which typically requires fracking.

The Oil & Gas Authority said a total of 95 applications for licences were received from 47 companies, covering 295 Ordnance Survey Blocks

Among the biggest winners were Ineos, with 21 licences, Cuadrilla, IGas and Southwestern Energy.

Ineos said it was "committed to full consultation with all local communities and will share 6% of revenues with homeowners, landowners and communities close to its shale gas wells."

National Parks

The licences give rights to companies to explore for shale oil and gas, but do not give automatic permission to drill.

Planning permission to build rigs and drill land needs clearance from local or central authorities.

Areas opened up for exploration include land around Chesterfield, Sheffield, Barnsley, York, and Preston, Burnley Bolton, and Chester.

Blocks of land adjacent to national parks including the Lake District, the Peak District and the North York Moors are also now open for exploration.

This week, MPs voted to allow fracking for shale gas below national parks and other protected sites.

Analysis: Richard Anderson, BBC business reporter

This doesn't mean we're about to see fracking wells springing up across the UK - far from it.

For a start, the planning process remains incredibly onerous - those companies that have just been awarded licences are embarking on a very long and trying journey.

Indeed many questions remain about whether producing meaningful amounts of shale gas in the UK will be possible.

Despite the government's best efforts to push through fracking, some experts believe the obstacles are simply too great.

Read more: Why the fight over fracking could get nasty

Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom said: "Alongside conventional drilling sites, we need to get shale gas moving... Now is the time to press ahead and get exploration underway so that we can determine how much shale gas there is and how much we can use."

But environmentalists questioned the wisdom of the government's policy on fracking.

"The government is ignoring evidence of the risks and the wishes of local communities, by weakening regulation and opening up more of the country to fracking," said Rose Dickinson of Friends of the Earth.

"Spreading the fracking threat to new areas will only increase opposition to it. Despite having had licenses for years, the industry still hasn't been able to persuade anyone to give fracking the go ahead."

Fracking in the UK has encountered some strong local opposition.

Earlier this year, councillors in Lancashire rejected Cuadrilla's application to drill a handful of shale gas exploratory wells.

There would be too much noise and the impact on the landscape would be too great, they said.

But the final decision will be made by central government.

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