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Energy

Britain clears the way for fracking

New bidding for licenses to explore for shale gas in the United Kingdom has begun, ending a three-year hiatus. Britain is looking to reduce its reliance on foreign energy imports.

The United Kingdom began accepting licensing bids on Monday from companies looking for shale gas, three years after a series of earthquakes led to a suspension of hydraulic fracturing.

To the chagrin of conservationists, the search for onshore oil and gas will also be allowed in British national parks in "exceptional circumstances."

London is eager to promote the controversial practice, known as fracking, despite public concerns that it could damage the environment.

The government argues that the extraction of shale gas could bolster Britain's energy security by reducing its reliance on imports, boost the economy and create jobs.

"Done right, speeding up shale will mean more jobs and opportunities for people and help ensure long-term economic and energy security for our country," said Business and Energy Minister Matthew Hancock.

Drilling not automatic

While the new licenses are a first step in the exploration process, they do not grant companies explicit permission to drill.

Once a license is given out, a company still needs to obtain health and safety permits, as well as an official guarantee that drilling would not harm the environment.

In 2011, fracking caused two earthquakes with magnitudes of 2.3 and 1.5 in northern England, leading the government to suspend all operations.

The search for shale gas has prompted protests in Britain and around the world. France has banned the practice outright and Germany is weighing following suit.

cjc/uhe; ipj (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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