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Fresh row as shale roadmap revealed
The Government today stepped up its support for shale gas, sparking a fresh row with environmental groups over the controversial process of 'fracking' for energy.
A report by engineering giant Amec set out the potential benefits of shale gas, including the creation of between 16,000 and 32,000 jobs, and £100,000 to communities where sites are based.
Energy minister Michael Fallon said shale gas exploration could bring growth, jobs and energy security to the UK.
But Greenpeace accused the Government of wanting to open two-thirds of England up to fracking, creating enough waste water to fill 40,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools, while villages could experience up to 51 truck movements a day.
Friends of the Earth energy campaigner Tony Bosworth said: "These plans cast a dark shadow over many communities across Britain who could now face the threat of fracking in their backyard.
"The Government admits shale gas and coal bed methane development could have significant impacts on local people and the environment, while experts say they won't bring down energy bills."
Consultations will be held in the coming months, and a new licensing round to allow companies to explore for shale gas will be launched in the summer.
Mr Fallon forecast a high degree of interest from companies, with between 50 and 150 licences issued.
Ministers published a "regulatory roadmap" for shale gas setting out permits developers need before drilling, saying it clarified the "robust processes" that operators need to comply with to get a licence.
Amec's strategic environmental assessment identified the potential for increased traffic and water demand to be "significant" in particular localities.
The report said there could be between 14 and 51 vehicle movements to a fracking site each day over a 32 to 145-week period.
"This could have an adverse impact on traffic congestion, noise or air quality, depending on existing roads, traffic and air quality," said the report.
Annual water use of shale gas exploration could be up to nine million cubic metres, around 18% of mains water currently supplied to energy, water and waste firms, said the report.
Mr Fallon said traffic volumes would be a "key consideration" in the planning process for shale gas permits.
He cited the growth of shale gas production in the United States which was having an "enormous impact" on household bills.
"It has the potential to have an impact here. It can reduce our dependency on liquid natural gas.
"We face the prospect of having to import 70% of our gas by 2030 if we have not found any shale by then."
Fracking has proved to be hugely controversial, sparking protests in areas including Balcombe in Sussex.
A map published by the Department for Energy and Climate Change showed huge areas of England and Scotland, and parts of Wales, where shale gas reserves could be found.
Energy minister Michael Fallon said: "There could be large amounts of shale gas available in the UK, but we won't know for sure the scale of this prize until further exploration takes place.
"Today marks the next step in unlocking the potential of shale gas in our energy mix. It is an exciting prospect, which could bring growth, jobs and energy security.
"But we must develop shale responsibly, both for local communities and for the environment, with robust regulation in place."
Greenpeace energy campaigner Anna Jones said: "Michael Fallon is desperate to put a positive spin on this report, but what it actually shows is that the Government wants to open two-thirds of England up to fracking, with all the associated risks.
"Enough waste water to fill 40,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools could be created, and tiny villages could experience up to 50 truck movements per day. Fallon has also ignored the report's lower jobs estimate, which is just 2,500.
"There's no public mandate for this industrialisation of the English countryside and for digging up new forms of fossil fuels. With even the fracking companies admitting UK shale won't bring down bills, and the community sweeteners being described as "crumbs off the table" by MPs in affected areas, you can understand why opposition is growing across the country. The Government has a fight on its hands."
Mike Jones, who chairs the Local Government Association's Environment and Housing Board, said: "The community benefits of fracking should be enshrined in law, so companies cannot withdraw them to the detriment of local people.
"Each fracking scheme is a matter for local decision-making and local communities have the power to use the planning system to decide whether or not fracking schemes take place.
"Not only should communities be listened to when they voice their opinions over proposed fracking schemes, they should be fairly remunerated for any gas which is found in their backyards."
Keith Taylor, the Green Party's MEP for south-east England, said: " The report suggests that up to 2,880 wells could be drilled in the UK creating over 100 million cubic meters of waste water. Communities near fracking sites will have dozens of heavy trucks passing by every day, causing noise and air pollution.
"The Government is ramping up their pro-fracking rhetoric ahead of issuing the next round of licences but campaigners and concerned residents won't be tricked into believing the hype. We know that fracking is unlikely to cut bills and that it will contribute to climate change."