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The British government is preparing to offer up fracking licenses across some two-thirds of the UK's entire territory for shale oil and gas exploration by next summer as London eyes the drilling of over 2,800 new wells.
The shale push would have the potential to supply about 25% of the UK's annual gas needs and create up to 32,000 jobs, according to a government-commissioned report by engineering giant Amec.
A new map published by the British government on Tuesday shows that shale gas exploration licenses will be made available for almost every county in England on a 37,000-square-mile chunk of territory that stretches from the center of Scotland to the south coast.
Companies will be able to apply for the new licenses next summer, but there won't be an immediate drilling bonanza due the permitting process that follows.
Currently, there are 176 exploration license areas covering 7,300 square miles in the UK—mostly in Lancashire, Cheshire, Yorkshire and Sussex--and once the new licenses are offered up, only the county of Cornwall will be excluded.
Earlier this year, the British Geological Survey estimated that a large area in the center of the country could contain around 1,300 trillion cubic feet (36.8 trillion cubic meters) of shale gas in place, even a small fraction of which could meet local demand for decades.
UK Energy Minister Michael Fallon referred to the upcoming shale licensing bonanza as "an exciting prospect, which could bring growth, jobs and energy security".
"We have seen the enormous impact that shale gas extraction in the States has had on its economy, both on household bills and industrial prices. It has had a strong impact there and it has the potential to have an impact here," Fallon was quoted as saying.
The government is seeking to secure support for the fracking push by promising communities £100,000 in benefits from shale gas companies during the initial exploration period, following by a 1% share of the revenues if fracking succeeds and gas is produced.
These promises have not, however, diminished the opposition to fracking in the UK. Environmental groups warn that large-scale fracking will overrun British villages with industry traffic and pollute and waste large volumes of water.
British advocacy group Friends of Earth said a road map for shale natural gas development in the country casts a "dark shadow" over affected communities.
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