LONDON (Reuters) - The British government announced new measures on Thursday to speed up shale gas planning applications to support development of the industry in Britain.
Weaning Britain off natural gas imports is one of the driving forces behind government support for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which extracts gas from rocks broken up at high pressure with water and chemicals.
However, environmental groups continue to be strongly opposed to fracking, concerned about potential seismic activity and water contamination.
The government said it will introduce measures to streamline and improve the regulation process for shale gas planning applications so decisions are made more quickly.
Recent decisions on shale exploration remain "disappointedly slow", the secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, Greg Clark, said in a written statement to Parliament.
It will also launch a consultation on whether exploration wells will be allowed to be drilled without the need for a planning application.
The government will also launch a new 1.6 million pound ($2.2 million) shale support fund over the next two years to build capacity and expertise in local authorities dealing with shale planning applications and set up a shale environmental regulator.
($1 = 0.7411 pounds)
(Reporting by Nina Chestney; Editing by David Goodman)