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Image courtesy of Total SA

French giant Total will become the first “oil major” to invest in the UK’s shale gas industry, the BBC reported.

“Total is to spend tens of millions of pounds buying substantial stakes in firms with drilling licences in the north of England, where other large energy firms such as Centrica and Gaz de France have already invested,” the report said.

The British Geological Survey estimates there may be 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas in the north of England.

If Britain can extract 10% of its estimated gas reserves, it could supply the entire country for 50 years, the BBC said.

In August, Prime Minister David Cameron said the UK should support fracking. He said it is safe if practiced properly and could add thousands of jobs and reduce energy bills.

Last month, the Department of Energy and Climate Change  said more than half of the UK could be suitable for fracking.

The British government is proposing to share oil and gas revenues with local authorities to incentivize them to open their lands to exploration and production.

Local areas could collect £100,000 in “community benefits” and 1% of production revenues under the government’s plan.

Anti-fracking groups are opposing the plans.

Greenpeace representative Lawrence Carter told the BBC: “Total, a French company who can’t frack in their own country because the French government has stopped the French countryside being ripped up have now turned their sights on the UK countryside where the UK government seem happy to allow the industrialisation of our green and pleasant land.”

But business lobby group, the Institute of Directors, has said shale gas could be a “New North Sea” for Britain.

Total has a global workforce of over 97,000 people and sales exceeding €200 billion.