French oil giant Total joins shale hunt in Britain

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 13, 2014 at 10:09 am •  Published: January 13, 2014
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LONDON (AP) — France's Total has agreed to explore for shale gas in Britain, making it the first major oil company to enter the country's market in the face of widely publicized environmental protests.

Total SA, Europe's third-largest oil producer, said Monday it acquired a 40 percent interest in two exploration licenses in eastern Britain.

Environmental activists oppose the extraction of fuel from shale, known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, saying it contaminates ground water. The process injects hundreds of thousands of gallons of water laced with chemicals into the ground to shatter the rock and free the gas.

But Prime Minister David Cameron backed the deal, saying it would create jobs and increase Britain's energy security.

"A key part of our long-term economic plan to secure Britain's future is to back businesses with better infrastructure. That's why we're going all out for shale," Prime Minister David Cameron said in a statement.

The government stepped in to ensure that companies exploring for shale gas get necessary planning permission by offering host communities the chance to keep all of the business taxes generated by such projects, instead of the normal 50 percent. Local councils historically reluctant to accept such projects may be swayed by such incentives, particularly at a time when government austerity programs meant to reduce the deficit after the financial crisis have put the squeeze on local authorities.

"This is a naked attempt by the government to bribe hard-pressed councils into accepting fracking in their area," said Greenpeace climate campaigner Lawrence Carter. "(Business Minister Michael) Fallon is effectively telling councils to ignore the risks and threat of large-scale industrialization in exchange for cold, hard cash. But the proposal reveals just how worried the government is about planning applications being turned down."