Minister Cool over Prospects for Exploitation of Shale Gas; PLANNING RULES 'WILL STAND IN THE WAY OF DEVELOPERS'
Byline: DAVID WILLIAMSON
TRAPPED underground gas will be a "game-changer" in the American energy markets but is unlikely to be a source of wealth on a par with North Sea oil in Britain, a government minister said yesterday.
South Wales has been identified as a possible area where shale gas could be tapped but Conservative energy minister Charles Hendry warned that planning rules will stand in the way of developers who want to start drilling.
But Bridgend-based Coastal Oil and Gas , which is seeking permission to do exploratory drilling in the Vale of Glamorgan, is convinced shale gas is an energy source Wales cannot afford to ignore.
A spokesman said: "If it turns out to be good, it could be like another North Sea."
Aware that environmentalists are concerned about possible side-effects and want to see the UK move away from fossil fuel dependency, he nevertheless argued that exploiting shale was a step in the right direction.
He said: "Everybody wants to be in a nil-emission economy but you can't get there overnight. It's cleaner than oil and hopefully it's available."
The gas is obtained through a controversial process called "fracking" by which a mixture of water, sand and chemicals is pumped underground into fissures in layers of shale, hundreds of feet beneath the ground.
The gas is released and then flows to the surface.
Pressure group Vale Says No claims this would be "potentially catastrophic" and is staging a protest at the potential drilling site at Llandow on April 14.
Vale of Glamorgan Conservative MP Alun Cairns is lobbying for a moratorium on exploration.
He said: "Mining of shale gas has significant uncertainties. There has been a devastating impact in the US on communities and the environment in some areas.
"My fears are that similar environmental damage and damage to communities surrounding the area could take place." He added: "The developers are trying to say the impact of exploration is not significant.
"I'm worried that the discovery of significant amounts of gas would then tip the balance in favour of the developers should they wish to mine the gas. …