Ed Davey, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, announced yesterday that drilling and using fracking for shale gas can in principle resume, and that his Department will be prepared to consent to new fracking proposals subject to obtaining all necessary consents and approvals, and the mitigation of seismic hazards.

This announcement follows the conclusion of an investigation into the seismic tremors which occurred after fracking commenced in Lancashire in April 2011. The Government has conceded that ‘appropriate controls are available to mitigate the risks of undesirable seismic activity’ and has accepted all recommendations in the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering’s joint report in March 2012. Certain controls are to be introduced: including the requirements for (i) prior review assessing seismic risk and the existence of faults, (ii) a fracking plan to be submitted to DECC, (iii) seismic monitoring to be carried out before, during and after fracking, and (iv) the introduction of a traffic light system so that operations can be easily stopped if unusual levels of activity are observed. Ed Davey went on to explain that operators will be required ‘to take a more cautious approach to the duration and volumes of fluid used in the fracking itself’.

In his announcement Mr Davey also discussed the environmental and health and safety concerns associated with fracking and emphasised the increased involvement of the appropriate agencies for all such operations. He touched upon the importance of communication between communities and energy companies. The Government has established a Strategy Group on Shale Gas at senior official level, with representation from the main departments engaged in shale gas regulation (the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive) to improve the coordination of regulation and of the work of the various bodies.

It is envisaged that future action will involve (i) a report on the shale gas resources of Great Britain from the British Geological Survey which will be published early next year, (ii) the establishment in DECC of the new Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil as announced in George Osbourne’s annual statement, (iii) a review being conducted by the Environment Agency of the implications of shale gas for its regulatory responsibilities, and (iv) taking steps to open the way to new onshore licensing in collaboration with DECC.

This announcement provides encouragement from the Government for energy companies to explore and tap into this new potential source of gas in Great Britain.

The written ministerial statement is available through the DECC website here.