Secretary of state, Ed Davey, has said that the ‘safe and responsible’ exploration of shale gas will not threaten the UK’s climate change targets.

In a speech delivered to the Royal Society, Davey hailed the role that shale gas could play in the UK’s transition to a low-carbon economy.

He said: “Gas, as the cleanest fossil fuel, is part of the answer to climate change, as a bridge in our transition to a green future, especially in our move away from coal.”

Davey was responding to the findings of a recent report by DECC’s chief scientific advisor, Professor David Mackay and Dr Timothy Stone, senior advisor to the secretary of state, which assessed the potential greenhouse gas emissions from UK shale.

The report found that the carbon footprint of shale gas would be significantly less than coal and that its use would have a relatively small net effect on the UK’s emissions. However, the report does warn that in order to limit global cumulative greenhouse gas emissions, a worldwide agreement must be put in place on emission reductions.

On the back of the report, Davey called for the development of shale gas “in an economically viable and environmentally friendly way”.

However, Davey also warned: “Here at home we must not and will not allow shale gas production to compromise our focus on boosting renewables, nuclear and other low carbon technologies. UK shale gas production must not be at the expense of our wider environmental aims – indeed, if done properly, it will support them. I am determined to make that happen.”

A DECC commissioned study by the British Geological Survey found that the UK has ‘considerable’ shale gas reserves; however, it is still not known how much of the gas could be commercially recoverable.