LONDON Britain must simplify regulations governing shale gas extraction or fracking to speed up the development of an energy source that has helped to transform the U.S. market, Prime Minister David Cameron said on Friday.
"On fracking, we do need to take action across the board to help enable this technology to go ahead," Cameron told a news conference in Brussels after a meeting of European leaders.
"There is a worry people are going to have to go through so many different permits in order to start fracking that they simply won't bother, so we need a simplified system."
Under pressure to do more to bring down rising consumer energy costs, Cameron has repeatedly urged the country to "get behind fracking", a technology he says would bring down bills and create tens of thousands of jobs.
Britain is thought to have big shale gas reserves, but opponents of the process say it can trigger small earthquakes, cause pollution and contaminate the water supply.
Operators who want to drill a well to look for gas need a licence from the energy ministry, permission from the Mineral Planning Authority and an Environment Agency permit. They must go through the process again if they decide to start production.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, retrieves gas and oil trapped in tight-layered rock formations by injecting high-pressure water, sand and chemicals. There have been protests this year in southern England over fracking.
High energy costs have also prompted a political debate in Britain over whether the government is doing enough to help squeezed households.
(Reporting by Adrian Croft; Writing by Peter Griffiths; Editing by Andrew Osborn)