Call for fracking to get started in UK

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Media captionLord Smith: "Shale gas can be safely and usefully developed in the UK - provided the very highest, strictest environmental safeguards are in place"

The UK needs to start fracking to establish the economic impact of shale gas, an industry-funded body has said.

The Task Force on Shale Gas says only after fracking has begun will it be possible to determine how much gas can be recovered.

It said shale could create thousands of jobs and improve UK energy security, but doubted if it would cut prices.

However, the report was criticised by Greenpeace, coming just days after a climate deal was agreed in Paris.

"Whatever planet the UK fracking lobby inhabits, it can't be the same one where world leaders just reached a historic deal that puts fossil fuels on the wrong side of history," Greenpeace said.

"If the UK government is really committed to keeping its end of the Paris deal, it must rethink its support for fracking and back safe, cheap clean energy instead."

The Task Force on Shale Gas said without reliable estimates of how much gas could be recovered, companies would not start to develop the industry.

The report calls on the government and local communities to allow initial exploratory wells.

Chairman of the task force, Lord Smith, said that shale could help cut emissions by replacing more polluting coal: "We need to be even clearer... about shale gas providing a bridge to a low carbon future."

However, he said he doubted whether shale gas would cut UK energy prices "because its almost impossible to tell if that is true or not".

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Image caption Shale gas production has reduced energy prices in the US

Property prices

Unlike previous reports, it does not attempt to estimate how much employment the industry could generate, but argued that thousands of jobs could result.

It admitted that the impact on prices of properties affected by fracking was uncertain and that owners of homes near fracking sites could see values fall.

Lord Smith said: "They are understandably worried. The evidence that we can see particularly from the States is that there is a dip in value but then it recovers."

He said that both the industry and government must ensure that any community payment scheme directly compensates property owners: "The people most directly affected should get some direct benefit."

Shale gas production has reduced energy prices in the US, but the UK is part of a wider EU gas market and the volumes of shale gas produced here would be modest in EU terms.

Lord Smith criticised the government's recent decision to axe funding for carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology because it was crucial to creating a shale gas industry.

Final report

"One of the things that we highlight in this report is our disappointment that the government's decision to abandon the Carbon Capture and Storage fund," he said.

The report is the fourth and final document from the Task Force on Shale Gas.

The body, which is funded by the fracking industry, was set up "to provide an impartial, transparent and evidence-based assessment of the potential benefits and risks of shale gas extraction to the UK".

An earlier report called for a new regulator for the industry to improve public confidence in the sector.

In July the task force said that fracking could be done safely in the UK with "rigorous regulation".

The government has said it will make a final decision on whether to allow shale gas drilling at two sites in Lancashire, after it was rejected by Lancashire County Council in June. An appeal will be heard next year on plans by the energy firm Cuadrilla to frack at Roseacre and Little Plumpton.

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