The government has opened the door for shale gas companies to begin exploratory drilling across the UK in order to determine the fuel’s potential in the UK.

According to new statistics released today by the British Geological Survey, the UK could have 13 hundred trillion cubic feet of shale gas reserves – more than double previous estimates.

In order to determine how much of the projected gas is recoverable, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has published a report designed to provide the shale gas industry with how DECC will support exploratory drilling in order to determine how much shale gas is commercially recoverable. However, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is keen to note that the amount of recoverable gas will be “substantially lower” than the stated reserves.

The report contains new guidelines for planning shale gas developments that will streamline the process. DECC will also be undertaking a new consultation on tax incentives designed to encourage shale gas exploration.    

Also detailed in the new report are plans for a new package of community benefits for local communities affected by fracking. Under the proposals £100,000 in community benefits will be paid out for every well that is approved. In addition, 1% of all revenues generated by fracking will be paid out to communities.    

Energy minister Michael Fallon said: “Shale gas represents an exciting new potential energy resource for the UK, and could play an important part in our energy mix. The next step for industry is to establish how much gas is technically and commercially recoverable.

“With the package announced today on planning, environmental regulations, and community benefits, it is clear that we want to encourage a shale industry that is safe and that doesn’t damage the environment. Development must be done in partnership with local people. We welcome the commitments from industry on community benefits.

“This will provide a welcome boost for communities who will host shale exploration and production as well as offering strong assurances that operators will engage with them and work to the highest health, safety and environmental standards.

“From money off bills, playgrounds, sports halls or regeneration schemes, people will see real and local advantages from shale gas production in their area.”

Reacting to the news, REA chief executive Gaynor Hartnell said: “If the environmental impacts of using shale gas prove to be acceptable, and if the public is happy to host the infrastructure, it is better than reliance on imports. Gas can certainly play an important transitional role, but shale gas should not be a distraction from renewables. The UK needs eventually to produce electricity with virtually zero carbon emissions. If shale gas can revolutionise our economy, we must invest the proceeds in building a resilient energy system for the future, dominated by renewables.”

Lawrence Carter, energy campaigner at Greenpeace, attacked the government’s commitment to shale gas, he said: “The idea that shale gas is going to get the economy moving again is groundless. There’s a huge difference between the amount of gas in the ground and how much fracking companies will be able to commercially extract. Even if they do manage to get some gas out, the fracking industry’s own research reveals that production wouldn’t reach meaningful levels until well into the next decade. If shale is the answer to Britain’s economic malaise then the Chancellor is asking the wrong question.”