LONDON (Reuters) - London Mayor Boris Johnson, tipped as a potential future prime minister, threw his weight behind Britain's shale gas industry on Monday, saying exploration should continue immediately.
"I don't know whether it will work in Britain, but we should get fracking right away," Johnson said in a newspaper column, referring to the process of hydraulic fracturing used to retrieve gas trapped in shale rock formations.
Britain last year temporarily banned the use of fracking after earthquakes were measured near a fracking site close to Blackpool, north west England.
The ban has not been lifted, but last week Britain's Chancellor confirmed plans to introduce tax incentives for shale gas exploration and created a dedicated shale gas office to simplify regulation.
Shale gas exploration has revolutionised the U.S. energy market, where an oversupply of gas has depressed prices and headed the United States toward energy independence.
"The result is that the U.S. is now competitive in industries such as fertilisers and chemicals that American politicians had long since assumed were lost to low-cost economies of the East," Johnson wrote in his regular commentary in the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Britain is becoming increasingly dependent on gas imports as domestic supply dwindles, with methane gas production last year slipping below imports for the first time since records began in 1960.
"And then in the region of Blackpool - as if by miracle - we may have found the solution. The extraction of shale gas by hydraulic fracture, or fracking, seems an answer to the nation's prayers," Johnson wrote.
UK shale gas firm Cuadrilla, which owns the sites near Blackpool believed to have triggered the earth tremors, estimated that some 6 trillion cubic metres of gas lie beneath its sites in Lancashire, enough to cover Britain's gas needs for 75 years.
(Reporting by Karolin Schaps; Editing by Helen Massy-Beresford)