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North West could face more fracking after new oil and gas licences awarded

A shale gas rig near Banks in Southport Credit: PA Images

More than two dozen new areas in northern England and the Midlands could face fracking after new licences were awarded for oil and gas exploration.

Some 27 areas, including sites near Preston, have been awarded to companies to explore for oil and gas as the Government seeks to push forward with a shale industry in the UK.

A further 132 areas, including parts of the North West, are set to be awarded licences subject to further environmental assessment and conditions to protect wildlife and habitats.

Energy Minister Lord Bourne said:

"As part of our long-term plan to build a more resilient economy, create jobs and deliver secure energy supplies, we continue to back our onshore oil and gas industry and the safe development of shale gas in the UK."

"This is why the OGA (Oil and Gas Authority) has moved quickly to confirm the winners of licence blocks which do not need further environmental assessment."

"Keeping the lights on and powering the economy is not negotiable, and these industries will play a key part in providing secure and reliable energy to UK homes and businesses for decades to come."

– Lord Bourne, Energy Minister
anti-fracking protesters Credit: PA Images

But Greenpeace said the announcement had fired the starting gun for the "fight for the future of our countryside".

Spokeswoman Daisy Sands said:

"Hundreds of battles will spring up to defend our rural landscapes from the pollution, noise and drilling rigs that come with fracking."

"The Government is backing the destructive fracking industry with tax breaks and by stifling local opposition."

"It seems clear that the Government is responding to the vigorous lobbying from the fracking companies by ignoring both the economic and environmental evidence that clean, renewable energy is a far better bet for investment and the planet."

– Greenpeace Spokeswoman Daisy Sands

Andrew Pendleton, Friends Of The Earth Head of Campaigns, said:

"Opening up huge swathes of Northern England to a fracking blitz will only provoke more anger and controversy, because wherever fracking has been proposed, it has been opposed by local people."

"The Government's own report into the rural economy impacts of fracking highlights a myriad of concerns, including a drop in house prices, impacts on tourism, and increased noise and traffic congestion - not to mention local environment and climate risks."

"These offered licences to frack will cause yet more anxiety for people living under the cloud of fracking, now that the Government is allowing companies to drill right through aquifers that are used to supply household drinking water."

– Andrew Pendleton, Friends of the Earth