The Government is to spend £5.6m on a national fracking college headquartered in Blackpool.
The cash from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills aims to help local people train and find work in the onshore oil and gas industry.
But anti-fracking campaigners have criticised the announcement as wasting money on fossil fuels and because a decision is yet to be made on whether fracking can go ahead at two sites on the Fylde following a six week public planning inquiry.
Gas exploration company Cuadrilla has appealed a county council refused decisions to drill and test frack for gas at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood. A report is due in July and Communities Minister Greg Clark will then rule on whether the controversial process can go ahead.
But ahead of that, the Government has announced funding for a series of five national skills colleges including for onshore oil and gas which will have its HQ at the energy college planned for Blackpool Airport.
It said the college, which is set to open its doors in September 2017, will deliver the specialist skills the industry needs and encourage more students to consider working in the onshore oil and gas industry so the UK can maximise value from its onshore hydrocarbon reserves.
Colette Cohen, chairman of NCOOG and head of Centrica’s UK oil and gas production business, said: “This is excellent news. The vision for the National College for Onshore Oil and Gas is to develop a top quality skilled British workforce to help deliver a national resource in a safe and environmentally sensitive way.
“This funding will allow us to progress quickly with the establishment of the college and open new exciting training and career opportunities to local people.”
Francis Egan, chief executive of Cuadrilla, said: “We are delighted to hear that the National College for the onshore oil and gas industry is to receive this funding from the Government.
“This is a clear vote of confidence in the necessity for skills to be developed locally for a productive shale gas industry. As it is headquartered at Blackpool and The Fylde College will provide our local young people with a great opportunity to learn disciplines to subsequently take advantage of new jobs the industry will create, both right on their doorstep.”
Bev Robinson, principal and chief executive of Blackpool and The Fylde College, said: “The investment in technical and professional training and education is welcomed.
“The National College will provide a clear route for careers in this emerging industry, supporting the growth of a range of employment opportunities within Lancashire and across the country.”
Ken Cronin, CEO of UKOOG, the trade association for the onshore oil and gas industry and supply chain, said: “The creation of the National College for Onshore Oil and Gas sets out the ambition of this industry right from the start to commit to training people in this country. I would like to thank all of the partners in this venture for the hard work in getting us this far.”
Fylde anti-fracking campaigners said the move was a waste of taxpayers’ money.
Preston New Road Action Group spokesman Claire Stephenson said: “There is no future in the UK for onshore oil and gas development through fracking.
“Reports produced on UK fracking have confirmed this is a short-term industry at best in the UK. There is no long-term future for college graduates in fracking.
“The government is throwing away millions on a dying industry when it should be committing to measures to stave off the consequences of climate change and investing in renewable energies. It frustrates us, when many of us locally are faced with losses of tens and hundreds of thousands of pounds per household on our property values, to see the government wasting money on such short-term strategies.”
Ebony Ava Johnson, from Frack Free Lancashire, said: “The government decision to back shale gas is misguided and out of touch with public opinion. The latest government survey from DECC showed lowest ever level of support for shale gas at 19 per cent.”
Helen Rimmer, North West Campaigner Friends of the Earth said: “The Government is slashing support for clean energy at the same time as it is throwing public money at unproven and dirty fracking. Opposition to fracking is rising all the time with Lancashire County Council and thousands of local residents against Cuadrilla’s attempts to frack the Fylde.
“Young people need jobs - not an over-hyped industry that will leave a legacy of climate change. Greg Clark must throw out Cuadrilla’s appeals and back job-creating clean energy.”