Lancashire could still be the heartland for the shale gas industry despite 27 new licences across the county being issued.
Gas companies such as Cuadrilla have been offered permission to explore for oil and gas across the north of England and the Midlands in the 14th round of licences granted by the Oil and Gas Authority.
In Lancashire two new areas are up for exploration. One, labelled SD62 is between Samlesbury, Little Harwood , Wheelton and Darwen whichhas been offered to Aurora Energy Resources Ltd.
The second is on land east of Chorley covering Healey Nab, Belmont, Rivington and Horwich, a licence offered to Osprey.
A further 132 areas are set to be awarded subject to further environmental assessment and conditions to protect wildlife and habitats.
Two of those are in Lancashire, the first centred around Glasson Dock, Cockerham and Galgate which is given the number SD45 and the second SD55 which covers Quernmore and Dolphinholme. Other areas include land surrounding Wigan and Skelmersdale.
Companies which have been successful in securing the 27 licence areas that do not require further assessment have been told they will formally be offered those licences later this year.
OGA chief executive Andy Samuel said: “With almost 100 applications received, the 14th onshore round has attracted significant interest and high-quality proposed work programmes from a range of oil and gas companies.”
Energy minister Lord Bourne said: “As part of our long-term plan to build a more resilient economy, create jobs and deliver secure energy supplies, we continue to back our onshore oil and gas industry and the safe development of shale gas in the UK.”
Cuadrilla, which is appealing against two refused applications to frack for shale gas in Lancashire and which has secured a licence for a new area between Barnsley and Doncaster and another for an area between York and Bridlington. The news has been welcomed by many businesses who say that Lancashire could still be the hub for fracking and benefit from jobs.
North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce chief executive Babs Murphy said: “Lancashire still has the potential to become the hub for fracking in this country, bringing huge economic benefits and jobs to the county.
“But with all these new licences having been announced, other areas could put themselves in a position to take that from us if we are not careful. If we continue to be stuck in this long and drawn out planning process, our county could miss out on the biggest opportunity for economic development it has ever seen.”
Rob Green, from the North West Energy Task Force, said: “Though we are pleased there are now additional sites in Lancashire, today’s announcement of onshore oil and gas licencing in Northern England and the East Midlands shows that other areas of the country are competing for investment and catching up on Lancashire’s head start.
“Lancashire is however still in the lead. It has the potential to be the home of one of the first wells in the country to be hydraulically fractured and therefore the centre of UK shale gas.”
Energy compnay Cuadrilla too has welcomed the licences.
Francis Egan, Chief Executive of Cuadrilla, said: “We are very pleased to be offered these new exploration licences.
“While wecontinue to progress our shale gas exploration work in Lancashire, we welcome the potential for exploration in Yorkshire along with the associated benefits of new jobs and economic growth we believe it will bring.
“Our first priority will be to talk with local communities.
“We recognise that some members of the public will have concerns and there continues to be a good deal of misinformation circulated regarding onshore shale exploration.
“We have a responsibility to ensure people understand the facts and are not misled by harmful scaremongering.
“Onshore exploration and fracking can and will be done safely, securely and in an environmentally responsible way.”
The new areas are Block SE95 in the South Cleveland Basin and Block SE40f in the Gainsborough Trough.
The company said for the next year activity in the new exploration licence areas will largely centre on desktop studies and in some cases carrying out seismic surveys.
This will give detailed data on the geology deep underneath the licence areas, helping to assess where exploration sites could subsequently be located.
But anti-fracking campaigners have condemned the news.
Furqan Naeem, Friends of the Earth North Campaigner, said: “Opening up huge swathes of Northern England to a fracking blitz will only provoke more anger, because wherever fracking has been proposed, it has been opposed by local people.
“The Government’s own report into the rural economy impacts of fracking highlights a myriad of concerns, including a drop in house prices, impacts on tourism, and increased noise and traffic congestion – not to mention local environment and climate risks. These offered licences to frack will cause yet more anxiety for people living under the cloud of fracking, now that the Government is allowing companies to drill right through aquifers that are used to supply household drinking”
Daisy Sands, of Greenpeace, said: “Hundreds of battles will spring up to defend rural landscapes from the pollution.
“The Government is backing the destructive fracking industry with tax breaks and by stifling local opposition.
“It seems clear that the Government is responding to the vigorous lobbying from the fracking companies by ignoring both the economic and environmental evidence that clean, renewable energy is a far better bet for investment and the planet.”