The move has been prompted by the war in Ukraine, leading the government to look for ways to increase domestic sources of energy, reduce the UK’s reliance on overseas imports, and explore options to boost domestic energy security. The UK aims also to become a net exporter of energy by 2040 and sees further exploration as vital as the nation transitions to low-carbon forms of energy.
In a statement, business and energy secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said: “In light of Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and weaponisation of energy, strengthening our energy security is an absolute priority.
“To get there we will need to explore all avenues available to us through solar, wind, oil and gas production - so it’s right that we’ve lifted the pause to realise any potential sources of domestic gas.”
Under the new licensing round, the NSTA (North Sea Transition Authority) is expected to make a number of new blocks of the UK Continental Shelf available for applicants to bid for over 100 licences.
These licences will enable developers to search for commercially viable oil and gas sources and will require them to seek regulatory approval for any activities conducted within their licensed area, such as drilling or construction of infrastructure.
Similar caveats are applicable to developers of shale sites, which can only go ahead with local support and must be carried out with the necessary licences, permissions and consents prior to commencing operations.
In July this year Kwasi Kwarteng, former secretary of state for Business, Energy & lndustrial Strategy (BEIS), asked the British Geological Survey to conduct a desk-based review into shale gas extraction. The review recognised that there is currently limited understanding of UK geology and onshore shale resources, and the challenges of modelling geological activity in relatively complex geology sometimes found in UK shale locations.
Three test wells have been hydraulically fractured in the UK to date, and government believes more sites should be drilled to gather better data and develop an understanding of UK shale gas resources.
Commenting on today’s development, Honorary Professor Andrew Aplin, Department of Earth Sciences, Durham University, said: “Shale gas is not a rational answer to the UK’s energy crisis. Even if exploration were successful, shale would only make a significant dent to UK imports if, over the next 15 years, thousands of successful wells were to be drilled at hundreds of sites across northern England.
“This would represent a huge increase in onshore drilling activity and require widespread public acceptance. The price we pay for the gas wouldn’t change - but the increased production would be highly inconsistent with the government’s net zero strategy. Our focus should be reducing demand for gas rather than increasing supply.”
“The moves to license new oil and gas fields and to lift the moratorium on fracking are unlikely to have a significant impact on energy bills, especially in the short term,” added Prof Jim Watson, Professor of Energy Policy and Director, UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources. “It is essential that any new developments are compatible with statutory carbon budgets and targets. In particular, there is huge uncertainty about the economic viability of fracking, and it may take a long time to produce relatively small amounts of gas.”
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