Wednesday's inaugural meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Unconventional Oil and Gas was used by Energy Minister Michael Fallon to send a strong message to the shale industry, and the media responded to help drive this home.
Although some reports, such as the one from former Energy Minister Charles Hendry, highlight the relatively low impact domestic shale gas is likely to have on the UK market; the forming of UGO (that's the acronym for the Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil that they'd like to catch on), the removing of the moratorium stopping work in Lancashire and now this commitment to supporting exploration - it is clear that the new Energy Minister has his own views on the subject.
The crux of Fallon's points is that there is now no reason industry to think that initial exploration and an assessment of feasibility should not to take place. While shale has unique challenges, Fallon said, they were not unprecedented. In fact, conventional gas and coal bed methane has been extracted onshore since 1918 with 2100 wells operating already. So, he suggests, far from holding the sector back they are seeking the right framework to develop this while being mindful of the impact it could have on environment and recognising public concerns.
Fallon has always been an advocate of a role for gas within the energy mix and he once again confirmed his view that it will play a part for many decades. But he recognised the need to reduce the impact on the environment and also "to boost cleaner development and greener growth". The economic and jobs benefits from enabling this industry, Fallon noted, would most likely be in areas of low growth and higher-unemployment. The spoon full of sugar perhaps?
Duarte Figueria, Head of UGO was quick to point out that its role will not be as a regulator but it will inform the process of what is required by companies wishing to explore shale opportunities. It will also ensure that planning development and proposals are in the best interests of the UK and address the concerns raised. It's key purpose, however, will be to make sure engagement is effective and thorough. There can be no mistake that genuine public consultation is going to be vital to the success of this industry. This was emphasised by Tony Grayling, Head of Climate Change and Communities at the Environment Agency, which treats the work on shale gas as significant thereby attracting "greater than normal level of public consultations and public scrutiny".
Fallon opened his remarks insisting the need for a "calm and rational debate, one that isn't played out on twitter" he included rash, one-sided news pieces in this point too. But if that is going to be achieved effective and honest consultation is going to be needed throughout. The proposals being developed for community benefit (apparently similar to the ideas being discussed for onshore wind) are also undoubtedly going to play a part in the acceptability of this technology and its progress. We can expect something on that before the summer recess.