An expert report yesterday revealed East Lancashire is sitting on huge reserves of underground gas – greatly increasing the prospect of widespread drilling close to our towns.

It brings the prospect of fracking along the M65 corridor north of Blackburn through Burnley to Colne and down the Rossendale valley.

The British Geological Survey’s study of shale gas resources in Lancashire doubled estimates of reserves and extended the potential drilling area from the Fylde near Blackpool right across the East of the county.

Most of the Ribble Valley and the Trough of Bowland have no gas reserves, the report said.

Experts on both sides of the bitter argument over whether fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, of shale rock to produce natural gas was safe said the M65 corridor and Rossendale Valley were now prime candidates for the process.

Last night the battle lines for a bitter dispute were already being drawn with opponents claiming the technique causes mini-earthquakes, water contamination and inflammable gas to come through taps.

Greenpeace’s Lawrence Carter said the area was now ‘in line for potential fracking’ and Manchester University geology professor Ernie Rutter said it was a “prime target’ for the technique which he supports.

East Lancashire Friends of the Earth co-ordinator Brian Jackson reacted by saying: “I am horrified.”

Blackburn MP Jack Straw said: “This is good news.”

The next set of oil and gas exploration licences will be issued early next year and a Department of Energy spokesman confirmed that parcels of land in East Lancashire would be among those on offer.

The BGS report estimates there may be 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas present across Lancashire and Yorkshire ‘Bowland Basin’, double previous estimates, and highlighted key areas where it was available close to the surface and in larger quantities further underground and both.

Much of Blackburn with Darwen sits on lower and deeper reserves but the surrounding area between Chorley and the borough, land eastwards through Hyndburn, Burnley and Pendle and the Rossendale Valley south from Bacup to Ramsbottom are identified as sitting on both sources of shale gas. These areas of double reserves are seen as key targets for companies seeking the type of exploration licences Caudrilla has been using to drill in the Fylde basin.

Energy Minister Michael Fallon described shale gas as ‘an exciting new energy resource’ and announced measures to encourage shale gas drilling as part of its infrastructure plans.

Once experimental drilling has established gas is economically recoverable, commercial drilling could take place within five years producing hundreds if not thousands of wells linked to extensive pipelines.

Drill heads are able to exploit resources over a wide area underground once established through high-pressure water jets.

There is also controversy over how much of the gas can be economically extracted with experts estimating only 10% is recoverable.

This could be 130 trillion cubic feet, far in excess of the three trillion cubic feet of gas consumed in the UK each year.

BGS technical director Prof Mike Stephenson said: “Shale gas clearly has potential in Britain but it will require geological and engineering expertise, investment and protection of the environment.”

Mr Carter said: “Yesterday’s announcement puts the M65 corridor and Rossendale Valley in line for potential fracking. This could mean between 50,000 and 100,000 fracking wells, a steady stream of trucks passing through communities, environmental risks such as water contamination and as yet unknown impacts on property prices.”

Prof Rutter said: “This makes East Lancashire a prime target for drilling licences next year. This has huge potential for boosting the economic revival of the area. It is safe. Once people starting seeing the pounds in their pockets, they will be less worried about environmental concerns.”

Colne-based Mr Jackson said: “The economic benefits are questionable and the potential environmental effect disastrous. My message to the oil and gas companies is ‘frack off’.”

Mr Fallon unveiled a package to encourage fracking development including streamlined planning guidelines, tax incentives to encourage exploration,up to £100,000 in ‘community benefits’ and one per cent of revenues from productive wells for local neighbourhoods.

Pendle Tory MP Andrew Stephenson said: “This is good news and could kick-start economic recovery. Fracking has an important role to play in our future energy mix.

“I would be happy to see experimental licences granted in Pendle next year.”

East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce chief executive Mike Damms said: “This is an important development for the economy of the UK and East Lancashire.

“It needs to be balanced by a proper regulatory regime and a guarantee the benefits of fracking flow into the community.”

Caudrilla chief executive Francis Egan said: “The new resource estimate is fantastic news for Lancashire and the UK as a whole. It confirms the huge natural gas volumes contained within the shale rock.”

Lancashire County Council leader Jennifer Mein, said: “This report will add to the already considerable level of commercial interest in exploiting Lancashire's shale gas reserves.”


FOR: Ernie Rutter, Professor of Geology, University of Manchester

Yesterday’s report on the shale gas potential of the Bowland formation suggests that there may be substantial exploitable resources, which will have to be tested by exploratory drilling.

Shale gas potentially can go a long way towards meeting UK energy needs for up to 60 years, according to how much can be recovered in a safe and well-managed regulatory framework.

It can reduce substantially our nation’s dependence on expensive and politically unreliable gas shipped from the middle east or by pipeline from Asia. It can provide baseload electricity generation capacity and help stabilize domestic gas prices.

It produces less greenhouse gas emissions than coal burning. We cannot switch off carbon-based fuels overnight, and carbon capture and sequestration technology can be applied in due course to gas burning. As the American experience has shown, it can help power a new industrial renaissance, creating new jobs in areas where they are desperately needed.

However, there is a price to be paid for such a major industrial operation. There will be an environmental impact for some local communities for the year or two that operations are locally carried out and land remediation completed.

However, economic benefits of the gas production must be targeted by way of compensation to communities and landowners affected and this must be built into the regulatory scheme. The disruption is only temporary, however.

There is no reason to doubt that operations can be carried out with no significant risk to water supplies (gas-bearing formations are 2.5km deep, whereas aquifers are more than 100 m deep) and there is no significant risk of earth tremors.

Worldwide 2.5 million fracking operations have been carried out since 1947 to stimulate oil and gas wells without inducing significant amounts of seismicity. We put our lives in the hands of engineers many times every day of our lives, and shale gas extraction is no different.

AGAINST: Lawrence Carter an energy campaigner at Greenpeace UK

Yesterday’s announcement could have a profound impact on the lives of people across Lancashire.

To extract even 10% of the gas that is estimated to be trapped in rocks under Lancashire could require the drillng and fracking of between 50,000 and 100,000 wells.

This could mean the industrialisation of the countryside, with thousands of trucks, significant environmental risks and as yet unknown impacts on property prices.

The good news is that it is highly unlikely that fracking company Cuadrilla will be able to extract anywhere near 10% of the gas. US government advisors suggest that only around 4% of the gas in in the rocks is likely to be extracted – and that’s only if it is profitable to do so.

Despite this, you can bet that Cuadrilla will frack as much as it can, including under homes, to exploit as much of this gas as possible.

Cuadrilla has consistently tried to hoodwink the people of Lancashire into believing that shale gas will deliver cheaper energy and thousands of jobs.

But we believe that impacts on household bills would be “basically insignificant”. This would suggest that the promised jobs boom would not materialise, since the vast majority of these jobs would be in industries like steel that would grow only if energy prices came down.

At the same time, the cost to communities could be huge.

A recent study by Duke University in the US found that instances of water contamination were up to 23 times higher in areas around fracking wells.

There is also, of course, the very serious threat of climate change, which is already affecting weather patterns in the UK.

We simply cannot afford to endlessly exploit fossil fuel reserves if we are to ensure that we leave a clean, safe environment for our children to live in.


What is ‘Fracking’?

‘Fracking’ involves drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well.

The process is carried out vertically or, more commonly, by drilling horizontally to the rock layer. The process can create new pathways to release gas or can be used to extend existing channels.

Why is it called ‘Fracking’?

It is shorthand for hydraulic fracturing and refers to how the rock is fractured apart by the high pressure mixture. Experts also refer to a "frac job" and a "frac unit".

What are its advantages?

It allows drilling firms to access difficult-to-reach resources of oil and gas. In the US it has significantly boosted domestic oil production and driven down gas prices. It is estimated to have offered gas security to the US and Canada for about 100 years, and has presented an opportunity to generate electricity at half the CO2 emissions of coal.

The industry suggests fracking of shale gas could contribute significantly to the UK's future energy needs.

What exactly is shale gas?

Shale gas is mostly composed of methane. Methane is ‘natural gas’ and is the gas used to generate electricity and for domestic heating and cooking. Shale gas is produced using technologies developed since the 1980s that enable gas to be recovered from rocks (mostly shale) which were previously considered to be unsuitable for extracting gas.

How dangerous are the induced earthquakes caused by fracking?

The two main induced earthquakes in Lancashire in 2011 were very small. To put them into context, they were less powerful than some of the earth tremors that have been associated with coal mining in the 1950s and 60s and that occur today.

What will be the likely impact will be on groundwater?

There are two potential impacts on groundwater. The first is associated with the supply and consumption of water for fracking as groundwater may be considered as a source of this water. The second is contamination of groundwater.

What is the chance of these risks occurring?

There is a broad regulatory framework that already exists. The use of fracking, shale gas technologies and associated activities is covered within the existing regulatory frameworks.

Can shale gas meet the UK energy needs?

Estimates of the amount of recoverable gas and the gas resources are variable. It possible that the shale gas resources in UK are very large. However, despite the size of the resource, the proportion that can be economically recovered is the critical factor. If the amount of recoverable shale gas does prove to be large this will be a significant indigenous source of gas for the UK and may reduce our reliance on imported gas.

Will it affect the government’s energy strategy?

Environmental campaigners say that fracking is distracting energy firms and governments from investing in renewable sources of energy, and encouraging continued reliance on fossil fuels.

Why the controversy?

The energy industry and the government believe this is a cheap source of energy (and tax revenue) but environmentalists fear it will cause major problems with earthquakes and land and water contamination. It is new part of the battle between those who believe boosting industry and the economy is the way to a better future and those who fear for our way of life and our countryside.

Who decides whether it goes ahead?

The government’s Department for Energy and Climate Change issues licences for the process but local councils will be required to grant planning permission after consulting the Environment Agency. The final decision on controversial applications will be given by Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles.