The bidding process has opened in the UK for licences to allow companies to begin exploring for onshore oil and shale gas deposits. The ‘fracking’ process used to extract such deposits – which has been linked to localised earth tremors – is controversial, with environmental pressure groups and many residents of the areas where such deposits are located being largely opposed to the government’s plans.

Up to half of the UK is potentially open for exploration and possible drilling, but in the case of National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, World Heritage Sites and other protected sites, drilling will only be permitted under “exceptional circumstances”.

In addition to obtaining exploration licences from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and before drilling itself will be permitted, interested companies will have to obtain planning consent, permits from the Environment Agency and approval from the Health and Safety Executive. Where companies wish to frack on or near protected sites, they will need to submit a particularly comprehensive and detailed Statement of Environmental Awareness, but unless “exceptional circumstances” apply, the government has said that such applications will be refused.

The UK’s newly-appointed Minister of State for Energy, Matthew Hancock, has stated that he would like to see companies being able to start drilling within six months of submitting applications.

Details of how to apply for a licence are available at