AN ENERGY giant today “fired the starting gun” on its fracking programme by launching a seismic survey to pinpoint prime sites across swathes of northern England.
Ineos Shale said it was pressing ahead with plans to lodge test drilling applications by the end of the year, and using the summer to find the best sites for fracking in northern areas where where it holds licences.
The firm said it was looking to set up meetings with parish and town councils in Yorkshire, Cheshire and the East Midlands in the coming weeks in a bid to “tackle public concern in areas close to potential exploration sites”.
Ineos is also planning to bolster its team by making six appointments - including a geophysicist, an operations geologist and a commercial director - as it takes steps to scale up the business.
Chief executive Gary Haywood said: “We are firing the starting gun on our programme.
“Up until now, the 3D seismic data that has been shot in England covers around 400-odd kilometres. Over the next 12 months we hope to top that by shooting more seismic data than has ever been shot in the UK.
“We are ramping up the level of activity quite significantly to see if the geology is suitable for the industry in the UK. The economic benefits will be substantial, if the rocks are suitable and it’s successful.”
Ineos Shale emerged as one of the biggest players in the UK’s nascent fracking industry when it won 23 licences in the Government’s 14th licencing round. It has vowed to invest £650 million to establish 30 wells.
He added: “We think the next one to two years will be very important for determining what the potential is for shale in the UK.”
Fracking has been a hugely contentious issue in Yorkshire. Later this month, North Yorkshire County Council will consider an application by Third Energy to use the method at Kirby Misperton, in Ryedale.
Mr Haywood said Ineos will carry out its seismic survey over the summer, before lodging planning applications for core drilling at the end of the year.
It expects to press ahead with core drilling - which establishes whether a site is viable for fracking - in 2017, before submitting a separate planning application to carry out test fracks at the beginning of 2018.
He said the firm was committed to meeting and addressing the concerns of local people and would hold public exhibitions where it would listen to concerns.
He added: “There is no question that there is some level of opposition and we are aware of that, and surveys have shown there is not much movement on that.
“We did events in Scotland when we talked to 5,000 people but found that they don’t have the facts and read scare stories in the press.
“We are in this for business so people will be cautious about believing what we will tell them. We would say listen to the arguments and listen to the independent bodies like the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering.”
Speaking about the opposition from the SNP, Mr Haywood said he was worried that fracking was becoming a “political football, which won’t be good for the industry in Scotland”.
Ineos Shale said it recruited three “pioneers” of the US fracking industry in 2014 as exclusive consultants to help drive through the plans.
The consultants - Dan Steward, Nick Steinsberger and Kent Bowker - have all previously worked for Mitchell Energy, which played a key part in the commercialisation of shale gas in the United States.