Centrica has secured interests in three exploration licences to drill for gas in the coal beds of south Wales.

Centrica announced it has secured interests in three exploration licences to drill for gas within the coal beds of south Wales.

It has secured interests in three licences close to Rhondda, Caerphilly and Pontypridd in south Wales. The company will hold 100 per cent interest in two licences, with a shared interest in a third.

The licenses have been secured as part of the UK government's 13th Onshore Licensing Round, which was announced in November 2007. The licensing round is open to companies looking to explore possible hydrocarbon sites across Britain and includes all previously unlicensed areas of the UK above the low-water mark.

Centrica, the parent company of British Gas, will commence pre-development studies later this year and a planning application is expected in late 2009. Subject to planning and internal approvals, drilling could commence in 2010, with possible development by 2014.

Coal-bed methane, an emerging technology used to drill into depleted coal fields to access gas trapped within the rock structures, is relatively untried within the UK, but well developed in North America where Centrica's North American subsidiary, Direct Energy, has drilled more than 160 coal-bed methane wells.

Sam Laidlaw, chief executive of Centrica, said: ‘As part of our continued investment programme to secure long-term energy supplies for our British Gas customers, emerging technologies such as coal-bed methane offer an opportunity to maximise the UK's own energy resources.’