The British government announced measures on May 17 to speed up planning applications to support development of the shale gas industry.

Weaning Britain off imports is one of the driving forces behind government support for hydraulic fracturing.

However, it is impossible to know exactly how much shale gas might be underground—and more importantly, how much can be extracted—until fracking has started in earnest and the industry has been slow off the mark in Britain since the first fracking operation seven years ago was stymied by earth tremors.

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.

Therefore, the government said it would introduce measures to streamline and improve the regulatory process for shale gas planning applications so decisions are made more quickly.

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 (US$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.

Shale gas developers IGas Energy Plc and Cuadrilla Resources Ltd. welcomed the measures, particularly those to speed up the planning process.

"Our planning permission to drill and test just four shale gas exploratory wells in Lancashire was granted after a lengthy and costly three-year process. These timelines must improve if the country is to benefit from its own, much needed, indigenous source of gas," Cuadrilla said in a statement.

Environmental groups continue to oppose fracking, concerned about potential seismic activity and water contamination.

The Scottish government outlawed fracking last year after a public consultation found overwhelming opposition to it. (US$1 = 0.7411 pounds)