May 17 (UPI) -- The British economy could get a new lifeline by tapping into domestic resources of shale natural gas, the British secretary for energy said Thursday.
"Shale gas development is of national importance," Greg Clark, the British secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, said in a note to Parliament.
The British government estimates shale basins in the country may hold more than 1.3 quadrillion cubic feet of natural gas, a level the government said could help an economy as natural gas imports are on pace to increase from about 45 percent of demand to 76 percent by 2030.
Though efficiency has helped revive a North Sea energy sector faced with maturation concerns, the British economy still depends on foreign supplies. Imports are on pace to account for 72 percent of British gas by 2030, compared with 53 percent last year.
Clark said the mix of liquefied natural gas and imports through Norwegian and European pipelines means the British economy has a stable source of supply.
"However, we believe that it is right to utilize our domestic gas resources to the maximum extent and exploring further the potential for onshore gas production from shale rock formations in the United Kingdom, where it is economically efficient, and where environment impacts are robustly regulated," he said.
Cuadrilla Resources is on schedule to carry out the first-ever hydraulic fracturing effort in the United Kingdom in the third quarter of this year. There is no benchmark yet for drilling into shale basins in the country and Cuadrilla was the target of widespread protests from opponents of hydraulic fracturing.
The British government has sided in favor of oil and gas companies and in 2016 published a 600-page ruling that said shale natural gas work in the country was a national interest.
According to industry trade group U.K. Onshore Oil and Gas, total British energy production has been on decline for nearly two decades. That trend could be reversed with onshore shale gas production, which could protect the British economy from external shocks.
Ken Cronin, the chief executive at the trade group, said money paid for imports isn't driving the domestic economy forward. To achieve a domestic gas sector, the government needs a policy framework to support the fledgling industry.
"Today's announcement goes some way to ensuring that our energy security is protected and the benefits we have already seen flowing into communities become much more widespread," he said in a statement.