Energy Minister Michael Fallon says Blackpool could face a two-way fight with Preston to become the nation’s fracking capital.
Mr Fallon addressed a conference held in the resort aimed at convincing Fylde coast businesses of the benefits the shale gas industry could bring to them.
And speaking to The Gazette after his speech to around 380 delegates at the Winter Gardens yesterday, he said: “There’s an opportunity here for the town that is ready to seize it, and for the local colleges like Blackpool and The Fylde College that want to be a centre for skills training.
“There is a huge opportunity here for the town that wants to bring this together and embrace the potential of shale.”
Mr Fallon added: “This is an industry that’s going to develop in clusters.
“We’ve seen what happened in Aberdeen – a very small fishing harbour which has been transformed into the oil capital of Europe and one of the great oil centres of the world.
“There’s huge potential here for a town in Lancashire, Blackpool or Preston possibly, to be the centre of a whole new industry.”
Preston City Council, last month, declared it wanted to be known as a “frack friendly” authority in a bid to become a base for the shale gas industry either regionally or nationally.
A new Ernst and Young report, commissioned by the onshore oil and gas industry, which was partially funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, claims an estimated £33bn will be spent on bringing 4,000 shale wells into production in the UK by 2032 (including £2.3bn spent on steel casing and well heads, and £4.1bn on water waste management).
Fifty high-tonnage drilling rigs will be required for peak production years, which the report says could heat up to 20 million homes.
At yesterday’s conference, which was organised by the North West Energy Task Force, Mr Fallon also announced new measures for companies wanting to carry out fracking as well as a £2m fund to support innovative ideas to produce or explore for shale gas, particularly focused on projects reducing environmental impact.
The controversial process involves injecting liquid into the ground at high pressure to release the gas inside rock.
Cuadrilla hopes to find out whether it would be feasible to carry out the process at Roseacre. It also has a test drilling site at Little Plumpton.
New rules issued by the Department for Energy and Climate Change mean firms who wish to carry out the process have to assess the potential environmental risks from their projects at an early stage, as had been recommended by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering.
During his speech, Mr Fallon said the Government was behind shale gas “as a priority”. He added: “We’re at the start of what I think is one of the most exciting industrial journeys of our lifetime.
“The Government is committed to playing its part in the development of this new industry.
“I think we will look back on this Blackpool conference, perhaps in five years time, and say the search for shale got serious and started here in Blackpool.
“Today’s the date, let’s get ready for shale.”
Mr Fallon had entered the venue through a side door while protesters from across the Fylde coast and further afield gathered in St Johns Square. He later visited Blackpool and The Fylde College as part of his visit to the resort.
The Ernst and Young report claims in the last four years there has been a 41.1 per cent increase in the number of chemical, process and engineering graduates from universities and a 21.7 per cent rise in geology graduates.
It also says there will also be 6,100 site development jobs at the industry’s peak with typical salaries between £36,000 and £160,000.
Coun Simon Blackburn, leader of Blackpool Council, which was represented at the conference, said: “There is no doubt that if shale gas extraction was to take place on the scale that’s being discussed there is the potential for huge benefits in the region and for Blackpool.
“Although the people of Blackpool haven’t had their say on the issue of fracking, it’s our duty as a council to investigate any potential option that could bring much needed employment to the town.
“We will continue to monitor the progress of the proposals as they develop.”
Daryl Platt, executive director of commercial development at Blackpool and The Fylde College said: “We support many industries on the Fylde coast and across Lancashire to supply job ready students with the skills, knowledge and training to make an immediate impact in the workplace.
“Should these jobs become available, we would already be well placed with expert tutors and suitable courses, from apprenticeships through to degrees, to meet labour demand.”