An international company is said to be looking at plans to frack for gas in the Irish Sea.
US-based Nebula Resources has been granted three licences by the Department for Energy and Climate Change to look for gas deposits in the shale rock under the sea bed off the coast of Lancashire.
The area stretches west of Blackpool and up into the Morecambe Bay area.
It is reported the company believes the reserves there could exceed those in the Bowland Shale area which runs beneath the Fylde coast.
The British Geological Survey has estimated the UK’s total offshore shale gas resources could be up to 10 times the size of the resources available onshore.
Although technical problems of fracking in a marine environment are said to be challenging, the volume of gas present, in the region of 250 trillion cubic feet,could make it economically worthwhile in years to come.
In an interview with the BBC, Dr Chris Cornelius, of Nebula Resources, who was a founder member of Cuadrilla which is exploring in the Bowland Shale area, but who left the firm more than three years ago,said the project would determine whether it was possible to tap the undersea resources to supply Britain’s energy needs.
He said: “Certainly offshore shale gas is a new concept, and there’s no reason with the UK’s history of offshore development we can’t develop these resources.”
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves injecting high pressure water, chemicals and sand into the shale rock to release natural gas trapped there.
Environmentalists and people living in the area close to onshore fracking wells have expressed concerns about damage to water and the environment.
It is thought such opposition would not pose as big a threat to any fracking industry developing offshore.
According to the Department of Energy Climate Change (DECC), the licences grant the company exclusive rights to the designated areas for two years, but the firm has to prove it can raise the funds before being allowed to start exploratory drilling.
Prof Richard Davies, director of Durham Energy Institute said that it was not clear that gas could be economically recovered from under sea resources.
He said: “The cost of an offshore well is dramatically higher than an onshore well and shale gas wells produce quite small volumes of gas.”
New plans ‘will not be welcomed’
An anti-fracking group say they will be carrying out their own investigations into the latest drilling proposals.
Ian Roberts, chairman of Residents Action on Fylde Fracking (RAFF), said: “It’s not something we welcome by any means.
“We are still not comfortable with it because it is still shale gas exploration and the fear is waste will be dumped at sea.
“Although it’s not a blight on communities we would still have grave reservations and will be looking into this in more detail.”