The great rush: Government to give green light to mass exploration for shale gas

'Fracking' exploration could affect 60 per cent of UK, despite safety fears

More than 60 per cent of the British countryside could be exploited for shale gas, government documents show, as ministers prepare to give the go-ahead for developing the country's most significant new energy source since North Sea oil.

The Independent understands that Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary, will soon end the current moratorium on shale gas production, which was put in place after fracking caused two small earthquakes near Blackpool in 2011.

His decision will pave the way for a significant increase in shale gas exploration. The Chancellor, George Osborne, is also expected to announce the creation of a new Office for Shale Gas to co-ordinate and speed up production as part of his autumn statement next week. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the use of pressurised liquid to propagate fractures in rock and release natural gas.

Maps, drawn up by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and seen by The Independent, show the extent of potential development.

They suggest more than 32,000 square miles – or 64 per cent of the countryside – could potentially be exploited for shale gas and is being considered for exploration licences.

It includes vast swathes of the South of England, the North-west and North- east and the Central belt in Scotland.

Meanwhile, government emails released to the environmental group Greenpeace under the Freedom of Information Act show the extent to which officials in both the DECC and the Environment Agency have gone to reassure the public about the risks.

A briefing on a proposed environmental risk assessment of fracking by the Environment Agency notes that the project must be completed quickly to allow the industry to develop.

"Government policy is clear, it wants the industry to develop. However, the main barrier is the public perception of the risk it poses to the environment," the Environment Agency's adviser on climate change, Martin Diaper writes.

In April, concerns were raised in the Sussex village of Balcombe about proposals by US firm Cuadrilla to drill for shale. Cuadrilla had permission for exploratory drilling but residents became alarmed after a study by Durham University suggested fractures from drilling could reach the water supply. Initial guidance from the Environment Agency was unequivocal. It read: "The agency would not allow hydraulic fracking to take place in an area where there are aquifers."

But that was not released to the public. Instead the Environment Agency's head of climate change suggested the wording be changed so not to provide "too stark" a stance.

The "dash for shale gas" is being promoted in Government by Mr Osborne. However, the Liberal Democrats are more sceptical. "We keep saying to the Tories that their shale gas revolution won't be acceptable to people who live next door to it," said a source close to Mr Davey.

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, also predicted opposition to fracking which would "pale in comparison" to the anger over wind farms. "Pinning the UK's energy hopes on shale gas is a reckless gamble," he said. "We should instead be investing in clean, safe, renewable energy."

A spokesman for the DECC said: "There is a big difference between the amount of shale gas that might exist and what can be extracted. It is too early to assess the potential for shale gas but the suggestion more than 60 per cent of the UK countryside could be exploited is nonsense." He said a geological survey had been commissioned, which would report its findings next year.

An Environment Agency spokesman said: "We take the potential environmental risks very seriously, and have undertaken a thorough assessment of those risks."

For the full emails, see www.greenpeace.org.uk/energydesk

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable