Energy company Cuadrilla has announced that it intends to apply for planning permission to drill for shale gas at two new sites in Lancashire, in order to determine whether they are appropriate for fracking.
The firm, which ceased operations at an exploratory drilling site in West Sussex in January, has identified two sites at Roseacre Wood and Little Plumpton near Blackpool that it believes are appropriate for shale gas extraction via the controversial method.
“The company intends to apply for planning permission to drill, hydraulically fracture and test the flow of gas from up to four exploration wells on each of the sites”, it said in a statement.
It is thought that if permission is granted, fracking could begin early in 2015.
The news will be welcomed by the government, which has offered fracking firms sizable tax breaks, but will be greeted less warmly be environmentalists.
The controversial process works by blasting rocks with water and chemicals so they fracture and release the natural gas contained inside. It has been linked to water contamination, methane leakage and increased risk of earthquakes.
A recent study suggested that pregnant mothers living close to fracking sites might be more likely to give birth to babies with heart and neural defects, though its authors stressed that more research was needed.
Furthermore, critics have questioned the impact that a UK fracking boom would have on climate change. Though shale gas is lower carbon than alternatives such as coal, it is still a fossil fuel, and the government’s suggestion that fracking will lower the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions has been disputed.
These concerns have ensured that fracking firms have been met by determined protests across the UK. Protestors camped outside Cuadrilla’s West Sussex site, near the village of Balcombe, from July to October. Over 100 people were arrested.
“These plans will be met by stiff opposition from local people rightly concerned about having the UK’s first attempted multiple-well fracking operation under their feet”, Friends of the Earth campaigner Helen Rimmer told the BBC.
“Fracking isn’t the answer to our energy problems. Experts say it will do little to tackle climate change – and even Cuadrilla has said it won’t cut energy bills.”