LONDON, March 9 (Reuters) - French energy company Engie has sold its British shale gas interests to Swiss petrochemicals firm Ineos for an undisclosed sum, Ineos said on Thursday.
The deal means Ineos, which has invested heavily in expanding its British shale gas portfolio, now has access to more than 1.2 million acres of shale gas acreage, the most among any company involved in Britain's shale gas industry.
Ineos said it is taking over Engie's entire UK onshore exploration licence portfolio, which includes interests in 15 licences, including seven in which Ineos had a previous participation.
Substantial amounts of shale gas are estimated to be trapped in underground rocks and the British government says it wants to exploit them to help offset declining North Sea oil and gas output, create some 64,000 jobs and help economic growth.
But progress has been slow due to regulatory hurdles and public protests, with environmental groups concerned that fracking could contaminate groundwater and that it is incompatible with fighting climate change.
Engie was not immediately available for comment.
Shale gas fracking firms IGas and Cuadrilla confirmed the changes in licence ownership in which they are also involved. (Reporting by Karolin Schaps, editing by David Evans)