Jan 13 - France's Total becomes the first oil and gas major to enter Britain's shale gas market by acquiring a 40 percent interest in two licences. The $48m deal is relatively small but as Joanna Partridge reports it could help the UK finally get a shale oil and gas industry off the starting blocks.
The message to Britain's politicians was clear. Many Brits don't want to see fracking, shale gas extraction, on their doorstep. SOUNDBITE: Vanessa Vine, Britain and Ireland Frack Free, saying (English): "This technology cannot be regulated, it is dangerous. France has banned it and now a French company is being sanctioned by our Prime Minister to come and frack here." France's Total has become the first major oil and gas company to strike a deal to look for it in Britain. It's bought a 40% interest in two licences in the Gainsborough Trough area for up to $48 million. The investment is tiny in industry terms, but is seen as paving the way for other investments. And that's raised alarm bells among environmentalists. Shale gas extraction involves injecting chemicals, water and sand underground at high pressure to fracture rock formations. Campaigners fear the process could pollute water, ruin sections of the countryside and add to global warming. But Britain's government supports the exploration. Shale could help reduce the country's growing dependence on gas imports and increase energy revenue. It's offering tax breaks to companies involved and has promised financial benefits to areas affected by the exploration. SOUNDBITE: David Cameron, British Prime Minister, saying (English): "Shale is important for our country, it could bring 74,000 jobs, over £3 billion of investment, give us cheaper energy for the future and increase our energy security. I want us to get on board this cha nge that is doing so much good and bringing so much benefit to North America." Shale gas exploration has transformed the energy market in the U.S. Britain's unlikely to see the same kind of boom. But the country's shale resources are estimated to be over 400 times its annual gas consumption. With rising energy prices already an issue ahead of next year's election shale could become an even hotter political topic.