While controversy surrounding shale development has eased in the U.S., it is still roaring in the U.K., where operators like Cuadrilla Resources have faced stiff resistance to their efforts to develop gas resources locked in the Bowland Shale that stretches across central England.

For a country that, according to one U.K. Parliament Report from 2013, consumes about 84.9 Bcm (3 Tcf) of gas annually, the need for a reliable source of gas close to home is considerable in light of declining gas production from the North Sea and the increasing use of LNG from U.S. shale sources. The Bowland Shale may just be the answer to bridging the gap.

The estimated total shale resource of the Bowland Shale ranges from a low of 23.3 Tcm (822 Tcf) to a high of 64.6 Tcm (2,281 Tcf), according to a British Geological Survey report from 2013. The central estimate pegged gas resources at 37.6 Tcm (1,329 Tcf).

There have been no hydraulic fracturing activities in the country since 2011, when tremors brought an end to Cuadrilla’s fracturing operations of a vertical well near Blackpool. In August Cuadrilla began exploratory drilling operations at its shale gas site located in Preston New Road in Fylde, Lancashire.

Getting to August was a difficult road to travel for the company in that it saw its drilling rig vandalized while it sat in storage along with a near-constant presence of protestors at the site, where construction began in January.

Initial surface construction included the creation of a new site entrance, access road and well pad. Top soil on the pad was cleared for the installation of a protective membrane to create an impermeable barrier. The company also set up a dedicated viewing area near the site to allow interested members of the public to observe operations from a safe location.

With the arrival of a drilling rig on site in late July the company took another step closer to attaining its goals.

“We are very pleased to have taken delivery of the drilling rig to our shale gas exploration site. The drilling of the first horizontal exploration wells into U.K. shale rock will be an important milestone in unlocking a vital new source of natural gas for the country,” said Cuadrilla CEO Francis Egan. “With the decline of North Sea gas and our ever increasing reliance on gas imports, including shale gas imported from the U.S., developing an indigenous source of natural gas is critical for U.K. energy security, our economy, jobs and the environment. We are proud as a Lancashire company to be at the forefront of that effort.”

According to Cuadrilla, the operational plan is to drill two of four planned horizontal wells that it has received permission for this year. A pilot well will be drilled to about 3,500 m (11,482 ft). Samples will be taken from the pilot well at various depths within the shale rock to determine where to best drill the laterals.

Then the first two horizontal wells will be drilled to depths between 2,000 m and 3,500 m (6,562 ft and 11,482 ft), a press release said. The company estimates the wells will be completed before year-end 2017.