Defying environmental protests and barricades by activists, the UK government is preparing to open for drilling thousands of square miles thought to contain rich deposits of shale gas, and the search will include the use of hydraulic fracturing.

Energy Minister Michael Fallon said the government is “widening the search for shale” and has warned that households “right across the south” should prepare for fracking near their homes, the Telegraph reported.

Fracking — pumping water, sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressure to extract hydrocarbons trapped in rocks — has been protested at multiple sites in the UK.

The government is hoping incentives to local communities will help build support for the ambitious exploration and drilling program.

Local areas will receive £100,000 upfront payments for any fracking, even for dry holes.

For producing wells, communities will receive one percent of revenues earned by producers from selling gas.

“Ministers hope the benefits will help assuage fears of Conservative MPs with constituencies in the south of England who are worried at public hostility to fracking, amid concerns about the impact on the landscape and environment,” the Telegraph said.

The Treasury is publishing draft laws this week to give tax breaks to shale gas companies.

“Recent reports have tackled public concerns about water contamination and usage, as well as confirming that the risks to public health are low. We have robust regulation in place and now is the the time to press ahead,” Energy Minister Michael Fallon said.

Only about 7,300 square miles has been licensed for oil and gas drilling, including parts of Cheshire, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Surrey and Sussex.

But under the government’s plan, up to 32,000 square miles could be opened for drilling under licene auctions next year, according to reports.

Special permits would still be needed from the government and landowners before fracking could take place, the Telegraph said.

“A British Geological Survey study earlier this year revealed that shale gas trapped in the rocks under northern England and Wales alone could be enough to fuel the UK for more than 40 years. However, much of this area cannot be explored because it has not yet been licensed for drilling,” the report said.


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