The energy minister, Michael Fallon, said he would do anything he could to remove barriers to shale gas exploration and increase the pace of development.
He was giving evidence to the House of Lords economic affairs committee which is carrying out an inquiry into the shale gas industry.
Mr Fallon told the committee that the operators expected to drill 20-40 exploratory wells in the next 2-3 years and that significant production couldn’t be expected before then.
His civil servant, Duarte Figueira, Head of the Office of Unconventional Gas and Oil, responding to a question for the former Chancellor Lord Lawson, said half a dozen planning applications had been submitted in the last 12 months and there was currently one application under consideration.
Lord Lawson replied: “Just one? This is rather pathetic, isn’t it”
Lord Lawson described the rate of development as “snail’s pace”. He said “I am puzzled to see how there will be significant production in three years’ time at the pace you are going.” He said experience from the United States showed it would take many more exploratory wells before this could be achieved.
Mr Fallon said he would like to see significantly more than 40 exploratory wells in the next three years. “This is a huge opportunity”, he said. “Given the scale of the resource we need to urgently establish where it can be transmuted into a reserve. I shall be doing everything I can to step up the pace of exploration and where barriers or hurdles are brought to my attention we will go out and we will tackle them.”