Lord Browne, the former BP chief executive, said Lancashire has the potential to be the capital of Europe's emerging shale gas industry, in a scenario he predicted could help to create as many as 50,000 jobs across the UK.
Now a director of the shale gas "fracking" company Cuadrilla, Lord Browne said Lancashire had the potential to do for the fledgling hydrocarbon industry what Aberdeen has done for the oil sector. Technically known as hydraulic fracturing, fracking is the process used to dislodge natural gas from shale by blasting a mixture of sand, water and chemicals into the rock.
"My own view is that Lancashire has huge potential ... If they had the will they could perhaps become the centre of shale gas for Europe, much as Aberdeen became the centre of oil and gas for Europe. It is not inconceivable," Lord Browne told The Independent.
Lord Browne's Lancashire shale gas ambitions, however, are hanging in the balance after the UK's sole operational fracking site – located near Blackpool and run by Cuadrilla – was suspended last June following earthquakes in the area.
The Government is reviewing whether to allow the site to reopen or place a moratorium on the controversial practice which has been banned in France and Switzerland.
A report into seismic activity and fracking after the Blackpool earthquakes concluded in November that it is "highly probable" that there was a connection.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is examining the report and said it expected to make a decision "soon" on the future of fracking at the Cuadrilla site and across the UK.
Lord Browne, who is hopeful that the Government will approve Cuadrilla's plans to resume fracking, said the shale gas industry "will be of enormous benefit to the nation if it works out well. We could potentially double the reserves of gas in the UK, we could add 50,000 jobs maybe, and probably even reduce the price of gas."
Lord Browne added that, even if Cuadrilla gets government approval to resume fracking, much work needs to be done to win over the general public, which has grown wary of the practice after hearing horror stories linking it to water pollution and earthquakes in the US. The industry is on hold pending the Government's decision on fracking. If, as expected, it gives the go-ahead, it is likely to unleash a rush for shale gas.
"We are confident we can do it safely and we don't affect the environment, but it's all very well us saying that: we have to convince everybody. You always do with something which is new. All new energy takes time and I think people are very smart, they need to be convinced. Engaging the stakeholders is absolutely crucial," Lord Browne added.
Opinion is divided over the potential for fracking in the UK. Cuadrilla estimates that there are 200 trillion cubic feet of shale gas in the Bowland basin in Lancashire alone. But some observers believe estimates are over-ambitious.