Several hundred fracking sites could be built across the UK under new plans to be announced by the government.
Several hundred fracking sites could be built across the UK under new plans to be announced by the government.Reuters

National parks, urban commons and cities across the UK are to be opened up for fracking and other forms of oil and gas exploration, ministers are to announce.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is expected to announce a new round of onshore oil and gas exploration licensing, with around two-thirds of Britain potentially on offer to exploration companies.

Large areas of London are expected to be made available, along with parts of south Devon, north Norfolk, the South Downs, Yorkshire and the Cotswolds, according to a Sunday Times report.

This week, fracking company Cuadrilla will submit a planning application to Lancashire county council for a site at Preston New Road and another at Roseacre, both near Blackpool in the northwest of England.

Francis Egan, chief executive of Cuadrilla, said the first quantities of gas from the sites could enter the national grid by late next year.

Egan suggested that around half a dozen fracking sites, each with 10 to 20 wells, would be needed to obtain gas lying beneath each 100 square kilometres of land. This could means several hundreds of fracking sites and thousands of wells across the north of England.

Energy minister Michael Fallon was at an oil and gas conference in Houston, Texas last week, encouraging US companies to seek exploration permits when the licensing round begins in July.

A spokesman for Fallon told the Sunday Times: "The word fracking has a lot of baggage attached to it but it has been proven you can do it in national parks and other sensitive areas like cities without serious impacts.

"Such operations could fit into towns and cities too. The sites are smaller than many other industrial activities."

A new report commissioned by the DECC from the British Geological Survey suggests that Britain could be sitting on potentially vast quantities of resources locked in shale rocks beneath a substantial area of southern England between Weymouth in the southwest and the Weald in the southeast.

The report follows separate research published last year which said that there is enough gas beneath the Bowland area of northern England to potentially meet Britain's energy needs for a number of decades.

Earlier this year, emails released under freedom of information rules revealed that UK government officials privately collaborated with shale gas executives to help the shale industry manage public opposition to fracking. The revelation prompted criticism that the government was acting as an arm of the gas industry.